Lots on the line in Oklahoma

After stumbling through the two New York tournaments, I currently find myself in 43rd place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. According to the Bassmaster.com, that has me as the first man out of the projected Bassmaster Classic cutline, eight points behind Clark Wendlandt, although that’s subject to change. I’m only 17 points ahead of Yusuke Miyazaki in 51st, too. We’re all bunched up together, and no one is going to give the competition an inch.

This is my seventh year on the Bassmaster Elite Series, and I’ve yet to make a Classic. Two years ago, I came close but lost it at the AOY Championship. I’d be hungry to make it for the first time no matter where they held the tournament, but the chance to have a shot at the world championship at Guntersville, in March, is particularly appealing. I know I can catch them there at that time.

To get there, though, I first have to conquer Lake Tenkiller. It’s going to be a straight-up level playing field, and I love it. Of course, I’ll have to keep an open mind. I want to do everything I can so that I’m well within the Classic cut by the time the AOY Championship takes place on St. Clair. At the same time, a bomb is not an option. I need to make sure that I have a limit each day comprised of quality fish.

I didn’t pre-practice, but I have studied the map to at least get a sense of how the lake lays out. When practice starts I might have 50 different rods and reels, with 50 different baits, ready for action. I’ll be staying with Hank Cherry, and we’ll be sharing some general information, so between the two of us, we should be able to put something together.

Of course, I’d rather be higher in the standings, but some of my best finishes have come when my back was against the wall. Earlier this year at Guntersville, a lot of people considered me one of the pre-tournament favorites and then I struggled on the first day of competition. Fortunately, I was able to get back on track and ended up 10th. You can say I pulled a rabbit out of my hat or just screwed my head on straight, but when the chips were down I got the job done.

This downtime between New York and Oklahoma has been stressful for me. I’ve been working nonstop at my “day job,” but it’s hard to get fishing out of my mind. My friends and family have all been unconditionally supportive, but I know they’re a little stressed, too. On the drive home from Cayuga, my daughters called me and asked whether I was still inside the Classic cut. Now everyone is taking a hands-off approach. It’s like I’m a field goal kicker and they don’t want to get inside my head, fearful that it’ll result in me shanking the kick.

I’m 46 years old, and at this point in my career, I know that I’m best served by practicing about 10 hours a day during the official practice period. I’m pretty sure that this one will be different. When we get to Lake Tenkiller, I’m going to be out there from daylight to dark. My whole season rides on that one event, and I need to keep the train rolling with a strong finish.