If I could choose one word to describe my Bassmaster Elite win on Guntersville it would be “solidified.”
There was just this huge relief and after all the hard work, time, energy, money and everything, it was like “This is it — you did it. Your goal was to win one of these Elite events and you did it.”
I broke down a few times with my friends and my girlfriend because the emotions just run through you like crazy. You look back at where you started, what you’re doing now and how much it actually took to get there.
If I had won the first event I fished in 2017, it just would have been a party. Like, “All right, cool — I won.” But I live the Elites, I’ve seen the struggle and I’ve seen how hard it was to win. I like to put in the work to get the rewards, and I’ve put in the work. So, to get back on track after losing most of 2018 to a health issue made it that much sweeter.
Obviously, with poor performances in the first two events on the St. Johns River and Lake Lanier, the 2019 season did not start well for me, and I knew I had to get back in the groove. I made a couple of bad decisions and when I thought about it afterwards, I asked myself, “Why did you do what you did?”
The answer is because I was not in the swing of things. But, believe me, I got it all straightened out during the time off following Lanier, especially during the Bassmaster Classic. Seeing the guys fishing the Classic, I was like, “Dude, if you don’t get your butt in gear, you’re not going to be fishing the 2020 Classic next year” — and I really want to fish the Classic.
That gave me a lot of drive, and I did a lot of fishing during that time off — fun fishing and practicing. That got my head back in the game and making the right decisions.
Looking back at Guntersville, I think my win was a good example of this. I started out looking for the deep bite but having the confidence to completely switch game plans allowed me to capitalize on the shallow bite. I would rather have caught them offshore, but I scrapped all that and went to the grass, where I ended up winning.
On the second day, I started on my deep stuff, and it just wasn’t happening. I went to the grass and started getting bites; I caught some key fish, so I just ran with it. This was right there in front of my nose, so I kept doing it and it worked out.
Probably the most important element of my shallow bite was playing the wind on that final day. The current was blowing one way and the wind was blowing hard the other way, so I had to line up so I could make a long cast and immediately lay the line down on the water to avoid getting a big bow in it.
That allowed me to work my topwater bait at the right angle so it would come over the sweet spot each time. If I threw it wrong, I’d get a bow in the line or the bait flip over in the waves. I figured it out pretty quickly, and I just kept rolling it.
As far as the rest of the season, I’ve been on a run ever since finishing eighth on Hartwell, so it feels great to be going in the right direction. But in no way, shape or form am I backing off at all. We have three regular events left, and I can still fall out and miss the Classic.
I still have to work my butt off to stay in the points for the Classic. My goal is to stay high enough in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points where I don’t have to worry about catching them at the AOY Championship. I absolutely want to catch them, but I want to make sure there’s no way I miss the Classic.