Some Bassmaster Elite Series pros fish the Opens, some don’t. It can be looked at from both sides of the table. Personally, I see it as an opportunity to strengthen my skills, fish lakes in places I’ve never been and keep myself in a competitive mindset all year.
I fish at least one division each year, usually the Southern Opens. They give me what I want, and they’re a relatively close haul, which is an added plus.
The first event — held in Florida — gives me the perfect opportunity to improve my skills. It’s no secret that Florida isn’t my strongest state. This year I nailed down spot number 118 in the first Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. That hurt. Shortly after that, though, I finished ninth on the St. Johns River in an Elite event. Obviously, there was improvement.
I’m not going to say that what I learned during the Kissimmee Open was solely responsible for my improvement — the Kissimmee Chain of lakes and the St. Johns River are very different and they fished very different this year — but I won’t say it didn’t help, either. They have a similar climate, and they have similar tendencies.
Another key thing about fishing the Opens is that if you win one, you’ll have a guaranteed ticket to the next year’s Bassmaster Classic. That’s more important than most realize. This is a tough, highly competitive sport. Success is never guaranteed. Even if you start the year out strong, there’s never a guarantee you’ll finish strong. Every angler, no matter who you are, has a tough year from time-to-time. It’s best to do what you can to protect yourself when it comes.
Opens also keep me tuned no matter when or where they’re held. Bass fishing is no different than most things in life. The more you do it the better you get at it. Fishing as many tournaments as you can is the most valuable advice I can give any aspiring tournament angler. There is no substitute for time spent on the water, especially under tournament conditions.
Finding fish fast, managing the clock and competing for water against other anglers are skills that have to be kept honed, or they’ll become dull. The way to keep them honed is to fish during breaks and in the off-season. Long periods of downtime aren’t my thing.
If you’re an angler who is serious about his or her tournament performances, you might want to incorporate some of my thinking into your fishing — especially the Florida part. Practicing and competing in places you’ve never been or that you can’t quite figure out is critical. We can all shine when things go our way. It’s when they get tough that champions step up and get the job done. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way more than a few times.
It’s not always about where you finish. Sometimes it’s about what you learn. I don’t ever want to forget that.