There’s no question that everyone going into next week’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods at Lake Hartwell wants to win it. That’s why they are there.
This isn’t just another Bassmaster Elite event. We’re not fishing for points, a paycheck or Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year.
Doing well is great but winning is everything.
It’s about being that guy on Sunday who is holding the trophy over his head at the end of the day.
To be that guy requires an entirely different mentality because there are so many outside pressures that take a lot of guys out of contention.
This is my 26th Classic. I’ve won four, so I have the insight of what it takes to be successful.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s darn hard.
You have to juggle incredibly tight schedules, a large media onslaught, sponsor obligations and spend time with family and friends who are there to cheer you on. There is precious little time to prepare tackle and formulate a game plan like we have at Elite events.
There are TV cameras everywhere and a flotilla of spectator boats that can rattle inexperienced anglers, especially those in contention. It can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared.
You have to remain focused on a carefully managed game plan with one goal in mind.
Anything less is meaningless.
To have a chance, you must be within striking distance at the end of each competition day. Some anglers prefer to lay back in the pack to avoid pressure until the final day.
Not me. I want to lead.
I’m accustomed to dealing with dozens of spectator boats around me and cameras capturing every movement I make. When I am in contention, I consider those distractions an advantage. That’s probably not the case for someone unfamiliar with being under the intense spotlight that the Classic puts on you.
There’s a lot of truth to the cliché that you can’t win the Classic on the first day, but you can lose it. The level of competition is so good that you can’t falter and expect to win.
What Jordan Lee did last year was not only remarkable but rare. Randy Howell made a big comeback in 2014 and Rick Clunn made an incredible rally to win on the James River in 1990.
It’s a difficult and rare feat.
Anglers have come from back in the pack only three times in 28 years. That shows how important it is to avoid that bad day.
You might get away with one mediocre day, but you have to have three strong days to be in contention the final day. You can gamble, but it has to be an educated gamble that truly gives you that chance to win.
The Classic requires you to watch the weather closely for possible changes that might affect each day and be able to adapt quickly. And you have to execute perfectly. There is little margin for error.
You will probably see a variety of patterns and techniques in play next week, but I can assure you I will focus on only those that fit my strengths within the seasonal pattern. I will rely on my confidence in those techniques and not let the distractions get in my way.
Believe me, no other tournament gets me more excited than the Bassmaster Classic. I still get butterflies during the national anthem that first morning. And yet, while some anglers say they can’t sleep at night, I will sleep like a baby.
I’ve been there. I’m ready.
The only thing that matters is winning, and winning is all about the attitude.