Kicking off the year right

Coming into the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series season, the road has been less than smooth.

When a guy just wants to fish, all the business surrounding the upcoming season can wear on you. It is full of partnership discussions, jersey and wrap design sessions and lots of back and forth. When you are fishing against the top 87 anglers in the world, you can’t let those things get in your way.

Bass fishing can humble the best of anglers whether you’re on the water or not. But the highs and lows of this sport will also build your perseverance and faith, which is how you get to fish at the Elite level.

Going into our first stop, the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite Series on the St. Johns River, I was just ready to put all the business stuff behind me and do my primary job — fish. I just came off a grueling tournament on Lake Toho in Florida, and it was time to recover and get my head back in the game.

You can’t let the tough tournaments get to you. We have three days of official practice before we fish an Elite tournament. Then, there are two days when the full field of anglers competes before the top 40 move on to Day 3, and Day 4 is reserved for the Top 10. So, we have very little time to worry about what happened in the last tournament. You just take what you learn and build on it. 

In my St. Johns practice, I felt like I found the fish I needed to do well, maybe not win, but enough to make the 40-man cut. Then the weather came. On Days 1 and 2, we experienced 40 mph winds that forced the tournament director to postpone fishing. It disrupted the fish but also shortened the tournament to three days, with the top 20 anglers fishing on Day 3. 

On opening day, I packed up my Yamaha powered Xpress X21 boat and travelled up the river 53 miles to an area south of Lake George. The wind and tide conditions changed the water level and slowed down the fish I had found in practice. I found four solid fish that landed me in 46th place. I was ounces out of the cut, so I knew I had to do something different for Day 2. 

I went north, found several creeks where the fish were staging for spawn. With my aluminum boat, I can get to water that many others cannot. I found colder water, and I picked up my Big Bite Baits Jerk Minnow and my favorite, a hematoma colored Fighting Frog. The Jerk Minnow is a heavier soft plastic jerk bait, so I can make it move faster, and that is what it took to get the fish to bite. That little minnow and frog helped me bring in more than 17 pounds that got me into 17th place. This meant I was fishing Championship Monday.

It was time to run with that momentum. Being my first championship day in an Elite Series event, I wanted to leave it all out on the water. I found myself going back north to catch what I could. I depended on my Cashion Elite rods and Sunline-spooled Daiwa reels to do the work.

The bite got tougher, so I relied heavily on my Humminbird Solixes and the 360 Mega Imaging to find the right creek and pick out fish in the laydowns and brush. Still using the Jerk Minnow and Fighting Frog, I was able to get my limit and move up five places to end the tournament in 12th. Perseverance was my friend this round. 

Up next, I was working the Expo at the Academy Sport + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. It was a great time meeting the fans and supporting my partners.

We also have our second Elite Series Tournament on Lake Chickamauga, Tenn. We are praying the weather clears up and water levels out. Until then, do the work and believe big.