Wrapping up a rocky rookie run

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Jesse Tacoronte is searching for that first keeper in the back of a creek early on Day 3.
Bassmaster Marshal P Gorzsas

What do you think of the schedule? That’s the question people seem to be asking me the most right now. With what I would agree is a rocky first year as a rookie on the Bassmaster Elite Series, everyone wants to know how I’m feeling about next year.

But here’s the deal — I’m not ready to answer that question yet. Before I can focus on next year, I’ve got to focus on rehabbing.

After a full year on the Elite Series trail, I’m finally taking care of something I should have done before the year ever started. In a few days, I’ll go in for the first of two shoulder surgeries; hopefully, by the time my boat hits the water in February for Lake Martin, I’ll be finally fishing at 100 percent.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and I guess that’s true. I know that I should have probably taken a medical waiver this year, because my shoulders have been slowly grinding themselves to bits since before I ever fished my first Elite Series tournament. I tell you, it’s been a year of battling through constant pain and lack of sleep. Launching boats, driving, landing fish and obviously casting are all affected by your arms. Literally everything I did this year was a battle.

Now, I say all of that to say this: None of that pain is an excuse.

I had some great moments this year, but I didn’t meet the expectations I put on myself when this all started. As it stands, I’m sitting well outside of the Bassmaster Classic bubble in AOY standings. Winning that tournament has been a goal of mine since I started competing in bass fishing. I bet every other competitor out there would tell you the same thing. But here I am, close enough to have a shot. And I’ve got one more year to qualify in.

For me, 2018 is going to be make it or break it on the Bassmaster Elite Series. So, what do I really think of the schedule?

I think it’s going to be fantastic. Even with a pair of clipped wings, I had moments this year where I felt like I belonged. At Okeechobee, I caught a 29-pound bag during my second Elite event. That was a huge confidence booster, and a big lesson, too, as I fell just short of the Top 12.

At Dardanelle, I had them figured out really well and on the second day and came up a fish short of a limit. In the end, I tied with Fred Roumbanis for the last check and his first day bag broke the tie. I missed a $10,000 check by just one strike.

At Ross Barnett, I lost a 7-pounder that would have given me a shot at the lead on Day 1 and overall would have put me in the money.

At the St. Lawrence, I had trolling motor issues the last day midmorning and never made it to the juice just after putting a huge 5.5-pound smallmouth in the box.

At Lake Champlain, I just couldn’t figure out how to get a big bite and fell 2 pounds short of a check.

At St. Clair, I was plagued with a 14-inch smallmouth the second day that I could not get rid of and missed the check by 15 ounces.

It sounds strange to say, but all of those moments were good. They turned into highlights, because they let me know I can compete out here.

Next year, we’ll visit some places I already feel optimistic about, but the highlight for me is that long trip to South Dakota that so many people are talking about. Oahe is a beautiful lake, and I’m one of the few guys who has spent quality time on the water up there. That’s thanks to an unlikely suspect — the walleye.

Just three years ago, I made several pilgrimages to Oahe searching for walleye, because that’s what my buddies wanted to do. But you know bass guys…we can’t ever keep away from the bucket mouths for long. So, up in South Dakota, I’d tie on whatever bass-like lure I could find in the box of walleye gear, and I’d take my shot. Usually, you could wreck ‘em.

Oahe is going to be a tremendous tournament. It’s what I’m looking forward to most next year. Well, that, and finally having two good arms to fish with and some good sleep.