100 hours of homework

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Richard Sheffield
Ross Barnett Reservoir

One hundred hours per lake. That’s my best guess on how much time it takes to get ready for a Bassmaster Elite Series event. That’s the minimum.

I’ve never been to 90 percent of the venues on this year’s Elite Series schedule. That means I’ve spent a lot of time this year doing my homework. After barely missing the cut at Okeechobee – I lost a couple big ones that could have really made a difference – I headed out on the road to Ross Barnett, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn. The farthest away from home, Rayburn, is a 13-hour trip from my place in Orlando.

At each one of those lakes, I’m spending about three days pre-fishing or about 36 hours just on the water. That’s before another three days of practice before the actual event – 36 more hours, before I ever catch a fish in competition. That’s not counting the countless research hours spent scouring B.A.S.S. archives and video footage of tournaments looking for the right bait combinations for each time of year.

What color has worked here in the past? What pattern? Where can I find fish?

I say none of this to complain but to illustrate how much work all of the guys put into each tournament.

As a rookie, it says a lot when I roll up to a marina and see guys like Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens and Greg Hackney there. It’s encouraging. In a lot of ways, pre-fishing feels a lot like its own little Elite Series tournament, except of course there’s no weigh-in stage and no checks at the end. I wonder sometimes if fans think we just show up to a place and in a couple of days figure it all out. But Elite Series anglers aren’t magic; there are guys with incredible skill, but that skill doesn’t get you anywhere if you’re not a hard worker.

Seeing the veteran guys where I am at tells me that I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing to keep up with them. Everyone is studying maps. Everyone is studying patterns. Everyone is driving countless hours on the road and spending countless others on the water learning how to fish and navigate these lakes.

Coming off of a top 20 finish at Okeechobee, I’m optimistic about the rest of the year. Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn and Ross Barnett all remind me a lot of Lake Seminole back home. They’ve all got a lot of timber, they’re all full of grass and they all have Florida strain largemouth. At least during pre-fishing, I felt very comfortable there. And I think if I continue to put the time in, I have a real chance to make my first Elite Series cut somewhere down south.