Fishing without a net

I’m not talking about a landing net for a bass in the title to this column. I’m talking about a safety net, something to catch you if you fall. 

It’s a scary feeling to know that if the decision you’ve made doesn’t work out you can’t go forward and you can’t go back. I knew that, though, back in February when I made the decision to fish all the Opens and nothing else. I wanted back into the Bassmaster Elite Series that bad. I couldn’t do anything else, no matter the risk.  

Back in February I was at the other circuit’s championship. I knew right then that I had to make a change. It was like I was fishing a Tuesday night tournament at a local lake. There just wasn’t anything happening other than the fishing. Disappointing isn’t a strong enough word to describe it.    

A Bassmaster Classic is an event in and of itself — forget the fishing. There are get-togethers, parties, fans all over the place and thousands of people walking through the Expo. You can’t go anywhere without being surrounded by fans of the sport. Something is happening every minute. There was none of that in February. I’ve fished five Classics. Each one was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I can’t say that about last February.  

So, it goes without saying that I’m super excited about winning the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open at Smith Lake and qualifying for the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. I’d leave for it in the morning if that’s when we were having it.  

But the championships weren’t the only thing that drove my decision. The fan base at B.A.S.S. tournaments was — is — a huge part of it as well. There’s nothing like walking up on stage and having a huge crowd scream and cheer for you. They all want to see your tackle, your lures, your boat and anything else you have on hand. A lot of them want a picture and an autograph too.

Other than the competition against other anglers whom I admire, it’s the fans who drive me. There’s just no replacing them, not for me, anyway.  

I’ll admit that internet and video coverage has its place. It’s an amazing development in our sport, but it doesn’t replace live humans. It just doesn’t. I can’t wait for next year. 

I do want to be honest about one thing though. That’s about where I’m at right now. There’s one Open left to fish so my return to the Elites is not guaranteed. But I’m in a really good place. If I catch a few fish at the 2021 Basspro.com Bassmaster Open at Grand Lake, I should be OK.

The last thing I want to mention is the support I received from my family, friends and sponsors. Walking away from one circuit and fishing nine tournaments trying to get into another circuit was a risk for them too. They accepted what I did. In fact, they encouraged it. If it had gone bad, they would have paid as big a price as I would have paid. All I can say about that is, "thank you," in as loud a voice as possible. Your support means more than you might know. 

I’m sure I’ll see and talk with many of you next year, and I’ll be the better for it.