I wouldn't change anything

So, I’m standing there in line with Brandon Palaniuk, and we’re both waiting to weigh in our fish on the final day of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. I congratulated him because I had to have 24-25 pounds to even have a chance, and I knew I didn’t have that. He said thank you and invited me to go elk hunting in Idaho.

Of course, I wish that conversation had been the other way around, but I really don’t have any regrets about this season, or this event. I feel like I did what I could do and someone else just came out ahead.

Comparing this to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake, when I finished second to Edwin Evers, I have to say the AOY was a different deal. The Classic came down to Edwin having that one magical day. Grand is my home lake and 29 pounds is kind of unheard of.

But Brandon’s AOY title was the culmination of an entire season. He got the job done, and I congratulate him. I mean to have finished below 100 at Okeechobee and still come back to win the AOY is really something, and he has a lot to be proud of. 

On my end, I told myself not to dwell on it. I honestly would not change anything I’ve done this season. Even after the Dardanelle tournament — my worst event — I wouldn’t change anything about my equipment or the way I fished. 

When you lose the AOY title by 12 points, that can be a simple as the difference between 10th place and 22nd place or 30th place and 42nd place. It’s gotta be something like 1 1/2 to 2 pounds that it boils down to at the end of the season. That’s how fine the line is in professional fishing.

Honestly, that Classic loss hurt a little worse than the AOY title. I feel like I had a good year, but Brandon just had a little better one. 

So, here’s how I’m dealing with it: I’m 43, but I’m still learning how the fishing world works. I’ve been fishing the Elites for five years and every year I’ve gotten better, and that’s all that I can ask of myself.

What continues to drive that is my competitive spirit. Five years from now, it’s not going to be about Mille Lacs; it’s not going to be about having a bad event on Dardanelle. It will be about getting beat, and I don’t like that.

Each year, at the beginning of the season, my biggest concern is making sure I get into the Classic. The competition continues to get stronger, but this close finish in the AOY gives me a confidence boost to continue climbing and improving. 

It lets me know that I can compete at this level, and it motivates me to work even harder. When it’s my time, it’s my time.

It won’t be long until I’m sitting in a deer stand doing what I love to do during the offseason. I do a lot of thinking in the woods, and I’m sure I’ll have a few moments when I think “Dadgummit, I almost won it.” But I won’t spend much time with those thoughts.

Why? Because if I had to summarize my 2017 season in one word, I’d say “solid.” I don’t want to say “satisfied,” but I had a solid season, and I’ll look forward to moving on to next season.

And I would like to take Brandon up on that elk hunting offer someday.