Classic lessons learned

When you think about it, tournament bass fishing can be one of the most frustrating sports in the world. Most of our casts go untouched. Even the best anglers only win a very small percentage of the tournaments they enter, and it’s easy to get fixated on the stuff that goes wrong rather than on the things that go right.

It would be easy to fall into a very negative outlook about such things, but I try hard to be positive and to think that all of the things that don’t work out are really just endless opportunities to learn. If you don't take that approach, it could drive you crazy.

In 2013, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic was on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees (just as it is this year). It was the closest the Classic had ever come to my home in Oklahoma, and I had high expectations for myself. I truly thought it could be “my tournament to win.”

I finished 25th – inside the cut, but well out of contention. It was very disappointing, but I learned a lot and hope to use what I learned to help me have a much better Classic in 2016 … maybe even win it.

Media

I think my biggest surprise in 2013 was the amount of media coverage and the media demands that were placed on me because I was fishing close to home and wound up on a lot of people’s short lists to do well. The attention was flattering, but it was also extremely distracting and took up a lot of time.

I know what to expect this year, and I can’t let the media attention take my eyes off the ball again.

Family

Anyone who knows me knows how important my family is to me. In 2013, because the Classic was here in Oklahoma where a lot of my family lives, I had aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and a lot of other people near and dear to me converging on the event. Many of them had never been to a bass tournament before. Lots of them stayed at our home. During practice and even during competition I tried to have dinner with them and spend time with them. It was actually a lot of fun for me.

But do you know how tough it is to get a party of 18 or 20 seated at a restaurant for dinner? Do you know how much time that takes or how much time it takes away from tournament preparation … in the Bassmaster Classic?!

And that doesn’t even factor in the pressure I felt to do well and make a good showing in front of my family. I didn’t want to disappoint them. It’s not often they all gather to watch a tournament. The least I could do is win, right?

Well, this year I hope that everyone understands I won't be able to join them for dinner – at least not during competition. I’m thrilled that family is coming out for me and supporting me, but I’ll do them a lot prouder if I can treat the Classic like a regular tournament and save the family reunion for our regular summertime get together.

Preparation

Every time the Classic rolls around, it’s the biggest tournament of an angler’s life – especially if you haven’t won it before. That puts preparation at a premium. Everything from breaking in a new engine to figuring out the best way to use the storage space in a new boat is magnified. And when your focus is being stretched so thin, it can be nearly impossible to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.

I’m one of those guys who has to know that everything is ready well in advance in order to relax and feel good about things. I didn’t have that feeling in 2013, but I’ll do all I can to get there this year because the Classic only comes around once a year and you never know when you might be fishing your last one.

It means that I’m going to have to say “no” a lot more than I want to. I really like to say “yes” and to do as much as I can as often as I can to support family, friends, sponsors and the media. But if you say “yes” too often, it catches up to you – especially at the Bassmaster Classic.

Sponsors

In 2013, my sponsors put absolutely no pressure on me at the Classic. They understood the nature of the tournament, what it meant both to me and to them, and they gave me space and opportunity to focus.

Because they didn’t make any demands of me or put any pressure on me, I wound up putting more pressure on myself. Crazy, huh? I’m planning to handle it better this time around.

All in all, having the Classic so close to home is another dream come true, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also optimistic that I learned from my mistakes in 2013 and will have a better tournament this year. To family, friends, sponsors and media: Thanks for understanding. I hope we’ll be celebrating together when it’s all over!