Building on last year’s success

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Shane Durrance

During last year's tournament on the St. Johns River, Jake Whitaker stuck with what he likes to do — fish docks in canals with a wacky rig.

Starting a new season after placing fifth in 2020 Bassmaster Angler of the Year points and earning a 2021 Bassmaster Classic berth gives me a lot of excitement heading into this year. But I get excited every year, whether I do well the previous year or not.

That being said, it’s great going into the season with some good momentum. Having the year I had and even being in position to win a couple of tournaments, that’s a huge confidence boost.

I’m going to try my best to take all of that confidence and all the things I learned last year and build upon it. You can never really count on a previous year’s finishes to stack up into the next year, but it is nice to have some confidence rolling and some good momentum.

Probably the biggest lesson I learned last year was just to do what I like to do. Don’t get too carried away with what should be going on or what I think other anglers are doing.

If that equates to a Top 10 or a win or a 70th-place finish, then I can say I fished the way I want to fish. I didn’t get caught up doing stuff that I’m not confident doing.

Last year’s tournament on the St. Johns River was a good example of that. I stuck with what I like to do, which is fish docks in canals with a wacky rig. A lot of guys were doing different things, and some of it worked out for them. But I ended up in fifth place, so my plan worked pretty well too.

It is nice to start off the year going to a place where you’re semi-familiar. It’s good to have that understanding of the way the fishery works and where some of the better spots are.

But it’s always dynamic in Florida, and if we get a cold front, it could be totally different than in years past. So, while it’s nice going in knowing how it lays out, you've got to go into a tournament with an open mind no matter how many times you’ve been to that body of water. 

Last year, the weather kept us from having a full four-day event, and we had to get it done in three. It’s going to be important to see what the weather gives us this time, because everything hinges on water temperature.

The ideal situation in Florida is to have some cold weather before a tournament, but if we can get that warming trend to happen a few days before the tournament and last throughout the competition days, we could see weights like we saw in 2019 when Rick Clunn won with more than 98 pounds.

You could see upper 20-pound bags with really good fish being caught. But if it stays cold, it could be more like last year, where a mid-teens bag has you in the Top 10. 

Florida is so dependent on the weather, it’s going to be tough to know what to expect until that first tournament day. No matter what we face, I’ll be ready with my new Phoenix 921 Elite boat, and I’ll be sticking to what I’m comfortable doing.