Nine perfect days — that’s what it takes to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. You have to have nine absolutely perfect days on the water. I mean flawless. Can you imagine that?
Imagine going to your local lake, the lake that you fish at every week and having nine straight days of perfection in a row. Now, maybe that means you put 20 pounds in the boat that day. Maybe, for you, that’s perfection. But if you want to make it to the Elite Series that might not be good enough, because there’s another guy on the lake whose perfect day is 30 pounds. Imagine beating that guy nine times straight, and then imagine you’re not even on your lake — you’re being thrown around to new lakes all around the country, some of them thousands of miles from home.
Dude, I’m telling you. You really have to thread a needle to make it. That’s what a privilege it is just to be here. And man, am I grateful to be.
I tried for years to get here. Sometimes I’d have multiple top 15 finishes in the Opens, and I still wouldn’t make the cut. This past year just happened to be the one where it all lined up, the one where I somehow someway threaded that needle for nine straight days.
But you know what? So did everyone else in the field. This is the big leagues. Really, it’s the biggest league of all the big leagues. Even though I’ve fished in tournaments with some of these guys before, this is their home turf. Now, I’ve got to go up against Ott DeFoe on Cherokee Lake. I’ve got to try to compete with smallmouth masters like Kevin VanDam and Brandan Palaniuk on the St. Lawrence River and guys like Todd Faircloth and Dean Rojas at Toledo Bend.
Those are anglers who, even if they don’t live on a lake, they’re experts at getting a local level of knowledge out there. Many of the Elite guys know little secrets about each lake. They’ve got sources or experience or — in some cases, like Aaron Martens — just weird instincts about it all.
So how do I compete? A lot of people ask me if I’m psyched out going into my very first Elite Series tournament at Cherokee. I’m not. I’m psyched up. I’m preparing just like I do for every tournament, except for one thing: I’m making this year a master course in chart study and research to try and compete with these veterans, with the best of the best.
B.A.S.S. is actually an amazing resource for preparation. For the past few weeks, I’ve been scouring old tournament results, TV shows, magazine articles … really anything I can get my hands on to try to prepare. I’m trying to read everything Ken Duke or Steve Price or Tim Tucker ever wrote about a place, and I’m going over charts like it’s nobody’s business.
That’s a strategy that paid off for me last year at the Open on Lake Champlain. I studied the charts and found a honey hole that nobody seemed to know about. Each day, I drew a local co-angler and both days they couldn’t believe how I was catching fish and where I was doing it. It was a mother lode of 4- to 5-pound smallmouth, and even in a field of 200 boats, nobody was around me.
That’s what I have to replicate on the Elite Series. Yes, the field is smaller now. I’ve got around 100 guys to compete with instead of 200. But they’ve got the knowledge, the experience and the instinct to make walking through the eye of this needle even more challenging than qualifying.
As I get ready to make the long drive up to Cherokee, I hope I’m ready to walk the walk.