Before I start to talk about what I learned from my own Bassmaster Elite Series results in 2016, I need to congratulate Gerald Swindle on his incredible Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year effort. The points calculation seems to change every year because of changes in the number of points events, so I can’t say that it was statistically the best AOY season in history, but I can’t think of many that were better. Competing against world-class fishermen like Gerald is a huge part of what drives me to improve my own game.
Looking back on this year’s tournaments, it’s pretty obvious that my 90th place finish at Bull Shoals and Norfork was the one that sunk my chances of challenging for the trophy. Last year I had an even worse bomb – 103rd at Havasu – that effectively ruined any possibility of becoming the AOY.
I like to think that I’m a pretty versatile angler, but looking back on those two tournaments I realize that I tried to force my own style of fishing on fisheries that weren’t tailor made for it. On the surface, the Ozarks reservoirs and Havasu don’t look much alike, but in reality they have quite a bit in common. First, they’re both clear. Second, there aren’t a lot of giant fish, so a 13- to 16-pound average will usually keep you in the running. Finally, they both have more than one species of bass. It is clear to me now that going forward I’m going to have to get better at fishing those kinds of places or adjust my style of fishing.
Historically, regardless of how my practice has gone I’ve typically tried to spend the first day of any tournament chasing the win. That’s a good strategy on a lake that sets up to my style – places like Falcon, Guntersville and Toledo Bend, where there are lots of schools of big fish either in grass or offshore.
It is becoming increasingly obvious to me, though, that it’s not a good strategy on many other types of lakes and trying to force a square peg into a round hole has burned me on a couple of occasions over the past couple of years. In the future, I may have to bury my pride and play it safe on occasion in order to avoid those bombs. Particularly in circumstances where I don’t have a great practice, I’m going to have to sometimes resist the urge to make something huge out of nothing.
These two near-misses have made me want to win the Angler of the Year award even more. It’s at the top of my bucket list, but guys like Gerald aren’t going to roll over and leave an open path to the title. I know that in order to achieve that feat I’m going to have to fish smarter next season, and we start off at Lake Cherokee in East Tennessee. From what little I know about it, it’s a deep, clear, multi-species lake with few Texas-sized bass. My new resolution will get an early test.