I’ve spent the majority of the last three weeks going through all of my tackle — every crankbait, every pack of worms, every rod and reel — to get it prepared and organized for the impending start of the Bassmaster Elite Series season. Just like last year, we are starting off with back-to-back events, and while the St. Johns and Chickamauga, this year’s starting pair, aren’t quite as different as the St. Johns and Lanier, last year’s pair, the time crunch will still create the need to be on top of your game and in control of your gear.
Last year we went from a full-on spawning largemouth tournament to a winter pattern spotted bass deal. This year, we’ll head from one trophy largemouth fishery directly to another, but it’ll be completely different fishing. With no days in between to prepare, it pays to get the hard work off of your plate ahead of time.
In 2019, I did not get off to the start that I wanted, finishing 63rd in Florida, by far my worst finish of the year. That’s a tough hole to climb out of when Angler of the Year is your primary goal. Even though I came back the following week to finish third at Lanier, and felt that I had a very real chance of winning, I was behind the eight ball from the beginning.
I’m not sure that I believe that momentum is a real or sustainable thing in fishing, except that when you’re making good decisions, the next good decision does seem to come a little bit easier. Personally, once I leave one venue behind, I try to block it out of my mind completely. If I’m working with a little bit of confidence that’s great, but each event is sort of a blank slate.
I’ve had some runs in my career, particularly from 2013 through 2015, when it seemed I was always in the top five or six in points, and I won a handful of times. A big part of that was the scheduling. I had tournaments on lakes like Falcon, Fork and Conroe that turned out to be cranking events and then we went to northern fisheries where I could continue power fishing.
I know that fishing slowly is one of my weaknesses, and in order to be consistently successful in Florida you have to be able to slow things down to a crawl. That was my downfall last year at the St. Johns. I misread the conditions and I simply tried to do too much. I never expected that the fish would pull up so quickly, so I had areas in Lake George, Rodman, Crescent and on the main river. Obviously, if you’re fishing that many places, you’re not going slowly. I was in some good areas, but I just fished over or past the right fish. Fortunately, I also have several good finishes at the St. Johns so I know what I did wrong.
After that bomb it would’ve been easy to allow the hole I’d dug for myself to overly influence my season. In an attempt to make sure that I didn’t miss the Classic I might’ve fished conservatively, and in my experience that’s a surefire way to get your butt kicked. At Lanier, they were biting a crankbait, and while I’d put the St. Johns behind me I still made the fish pay that week.
Every year my goals are to win at least one event and to win the Angler of the Year trophy. If you don’t do the necessary offseason prep work, you significantly reduce your chances of achieving either of those. I’m ready to hit the road to start competing, and I hope that I have the shortest turnaround possible between events. That means I made it to Championship Sunday in Florida.