When I first saw the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule, I figured that it would give me the opportunity to contend for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. Maybe I could add another trophy to the mantel. I expected that Lake Martin might throw a curveball at me – and it did, with a 98th place finish – but after that we were going to encounter some slugfests, and that’s usually when I do the best.
After Martin, though, things didn’t get much better. I finished 40th at the Bassmaster Classic and 87th at Grand Lake, and then after two checks I suffered through an 85th place finish at the Sabine River. That left me with a lot of ground to make up if I was going to have a chance to make it to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Lake Chatuge.
When things were going poorly on the water, I never really got down, but I have to admit that things agitated me more than they would have if I’d been fishing well. When you’re making cuts and cashing big checks, it’s easy to overlook minor problems, but when you’re going home after the second day of competition little things start to get under your skin. I’ve always believed that one of the keys to success is to “control those things you can control,” but I might’ve forgotten that at times and let negativity creep into my mind.
The result of those struggles is that I entered the St. Lawrence River tournament in 62nd place overall. I needed to climb back into the top 50 to make it to Chatuge, and higher to be inside the Classic cut. I don’t normally follow the points race, and I didn’t this year because I knew that I wasn’t contending. But someone told me before the event where I stood. That’s an unusual position for me – I’ve usually gone into the last events of the season not needing a banner finish to qualify for the AOY Championship or the Classic. Often, I’ve just needed to catch a few fish to remain at or near the top.
Fortunately, the St. Lawrence is a venue that has historically treated me well. I’d finished 23rd, ninth and 31st in my three previous events there. It’s always a good fishery, but this year we hit it at the perfect time. It was evident after just a day of practice that the weights were going to be high, and the final results exceeded those expectations. Obviously, I was glad to make my second Sunday cut of the year and finish eighth, but it was the good fishing that really recharged my batteries more than the good finish. I got back into the game a little bit points-wise, but it also got me more excited about fishing than I’ve been in a long time. Every day we all stood in the weigh-in line expecting miracles to occur. None of us would’ve been really surprised if a member of our field had weighed in a 7-pound smallmouth or a 30-pound bag. It was that good, and it was exactly the pick-me-up that I needed at this point in the season.
Now I’m feeling really positive about things once again, and I’ve realized that I let negativity creep into my mindset far more than I should have. It’s another one of those lessons that I’ve known for a long time, but somehow forgot.
I have an opportunity to fish the AOY Championship on Lake Chatuge. After that I could go to the Classic Bracket and possibly even the Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville, Tenn. No matter what, I’m just going to go out each day and try to catch all that I can. If it doesn’t work out, that’ll be a tough break, but I’m not going to unduly pressure myself by believing that I have to make the top five or top 10 in order for it to be a success.
Everyone loses fish. Everyone occasionally finds their best spots covered up with other tournament boats. Those are things that you sometimes can’t control. You can, however, control your attitude and how you respond to both heartbreak and success. The St. Lawrence reminded me that I’m a much more successful angler – and a much happier person – when I focus on the things that I can control.
I’ve looked ahead to next year’s schedule and I’m thrilled that we’re going to some tremendous big fish fisheries, including the first of several return visits to the St. Lawrence, but right now I’m just focused on the next cast and the next day of competition. I’m excited to get back on the water again, and I feel like I’m back on track.