We’re just a few days away from the first GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Good, the first Classic to be held in my home state of Texas since 1979. While I try to treat every Classic like a regular tournament, the truth is there’s so much that goes into preparing for one of these that there’s no way you can call it anything close to “normal.” Everything about it is a big deal, and that’s magnified when you’re considered by many to be a local.
I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time on the water to keep my senses sharp and to keep a vibe on what the fish are doing. Of course, Conroe is off-limits, and I don’t really have anything nearby that looks like Conroe, but I’ve been spending a lot of time at Sam Rayburn to stay focused. The more you fish, the more the little adjustments will come naturally to you.
That time on the water has put me behind on my tackle prep, and it seems that every time I sit down in the boat to work I get pulled in a thousand different directions. The other morning I was on the phone with a writer for an interview and before we were done two more had called. That’s an important part of my job and I’m grateful for the attention, but I’ve constantly felt like I was falling further and further behind.
Fortunately, my preparation didn’t require quite as much thought as it did for some past Classics. I know what I’m likely to use at Conroe. I’m not going to pick up an underspin or anything like that – I’m going to power fish – so where I usually pack four or five 40-gallon totes, this time I have only one. It’s not going to be about dialing in a particular bait as much as it’ll be about figuring out what the fish are doing.
Even though I have less experience on Conroe than some other pros in the field, I know that a lot of people expect me to do well because of my past success there in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic. I’ll admit that puts some pressure on me. It could be embarrassing to take a risk and come in with a subpar bag, but I have to remember to resist any temptation to settle in this event. In four of the five major events that I’ve won, including two at Conroe, the most keepers I’ve caught in a day of fishing was seven. On a few occasions, I was fortunate to have five. There is a surprisingly fine line between first place and last place in this sort of tournament, but I know that the guy who wins this event will not be catching 20 fish a day. He’ll probably land five to 10 of the right ones.
Sometimes people ask if the attention and the high stakes make me nervous. I don’t know if “nervous” is the term that I’d use. I put a lot of pressure on myself during practice. That’s my job. If you get lax in practicing and get comfortable thinking you have things figured out, nine out of 10 times something changes and it comes back to bite you. In the simplest terms, you can never have enough fish located.
Practice is the time for worrying about every single minor detail. That way when they call your name on tournament day you can head out there without any pressure. I’ve been fortunate that that’s the way I’ve operated ever since my first professional event. I’m at my best when there’s a little voice in my head saying, “You did all you could do. Now just go to work.”