A year as Classic champ

I want to start by telling you that I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last column. The new Elite season and preparing for the upcoming GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods have taken up a tremendous amount of time. Now that the Classic’s just a week away, preparation becomes even more important, but so does this column.

I hope to write several columns over the next couple of weeks and even a few during the Classic on Lake Conroe. My mind never stops churning as I get ready for it. I’m feeling good about my preparation and I’m super optimistic about my chances. The Classic is an easy tournament to get “up” for, and I want to make the most of my time and energy between now and Day 1.

This seems like the perfect time to tell you that I have thoroughly enjoyed being your Bassmaster Classic champion. Thank you all for making the experience so great! Yes, the money was nice and it’s created some business opportunities for me, but the very best thing about it has been the chance to meet so many of you.

As an Elite Series pro, I had a certain level of recognition on the road and at events. That increased exponentially after winning the Classic, and it’s very humbling. I’ve done my best to take the time to speak with everyone I could and to say “yes” to as many requests as possible. It’s been a great and very humbling experience.

I was especially rewarded by my efforts with Wounded Warriors in Action, taking these heroes fishing and raising money and awareness for a great cause. These veterans have become my friends, and I hope to work with them and support them for a long time to come.

I’ve gotten off to a little bit of a slow start in the Elite Series this year, but there’s no better time to turn that around than at the Classic. You probably know that only two anglers have ever won it twice in a row — Rick Clunn in 1976 and 1977 and Kevin VanDam in 2010 and 2011. I really want to be the third, but there are 51 extremely talented anglers who are determined to stop me by winning it themselves. 

Being the reigning Classic champ is awesome — the best thing that’s ever happened in my career — and I’m not ready to give it up just yet. I’ll give it everything I have on March 24-26, and I hope to put myself in a position to repeat when we launch on Sunday.

Someone asked me recently if it’s tougher to get psyched up for the Classic after having won it. I had three answers for that: No, no and no. Once you’ve won it and celebrated that moment with family, friends, fans and sponsors, you start thinking about doing it all over again. I can hardly wait.

I had my chance to win a Classic earlier in my career. I was sixth in 2005 in Pittsburgh, fifth in 2009 on the Red River and led going into the final day on Guntersville in 2014. When I won last year, it was my 15th Classic appearance, and I think it meant more to me because I had fished so many before and come so close.

Now, nothing less than another win will satisfy me. Another Classic title would be incredible, humbling and a dream come true.

Whatever happens, I promise you that I’ll leave it all out there on the water in my effort to win again this year.