'I really didn’t think it would happen'

Last year I didn’t think it would happen, and this year I really didn’t think it would happen. Truthfully, I’m still in kind of a daze over the whole thing. I’m just now starting to realize that I actually won. It was totally unexpected.  

I had a tough practice. I only caught two bass of more than 4 pounds. One of them was in 30 feet of water. The other was in 3 feet. And, they were 20 miles apart. That doesn’t give you much to go on when the tournament starts. It’s not like I had a pattern going or good spots marked, and I’m fishing against the best in the world. 

Basically, all I did was go out and fish. I started with what happened in practice, even if those fish weren’t very big, and then tried to learn and adjust my techniques and places from there. The spots were aggressive so I’d start in the morning with them and then try to build on their weight with largemouth later in the day. That worked. I ended up with eight spots and seven largemouth for my 15 bass. 

On the final day the farthest thing from my mind was winning. If I remember right, I was 7 pounds back. And, Hartwell is a good lake but it doesn’t have a lot of giant bass in it. It wasn’t like I could get lucky and weigh in a couple of 8- or 9-pounders. My intention was to just go out and do my best to have a good finish. 

I also got a real break with the weather. It was hot and sunny — perfect for my dock attack. If it had been cloudy and overcast, I wouldn’t have won. I can tell you that for certain. Even then, though, I wasn’t really catching them. I fished about 50 docks to catch three.   

But the thing that really made a difference was that first day. I had a heavy sack, but I knew it wasn’t something that was going to be easy to repeat. The truth is that I had that much weight because of the 6-pounder I caught. Without her I’d have just had ordinary weight I never would have won. I knew the chances of catching another one that big were slim to none. Luckily, I didn’t need another one. 

I’ve had a lot of questions about being the Classic champion of the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods means for this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments and for my career. The honest answer is that I don’t know. It’s too soon to say, and my win was too unexpected. 

My goal for the 2018 season is to just go out, do my best and have a good time. Beyond that, it’s all out of my control. When it comes to my career I don’t know about that, either. That’s a long ways off. Nobody knows what’s in the future. I can say, though, that it’s pretty awesome to be in a group that only includes Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam. I’m proud of that.  

About all I can say right now for sure is that I’ll do my best to be a good representative for bass fishing and for B.A.S.S. That’s the only way I can think of to repay what this sport has given me and my family.