Changes for me in 2019

I'll tell you, I'm really excited about this upcoming season and the opportunity to do this column with Bassmaster.com. The new payout on the Bassmaster Elite Series and the entry fee structure is far better than anything I've ever experienced, and B.A.S.S. ownership and Chase Anderson and his family have stepped up and given us an opportunity to make money. They've really taken into consideration how we feel. There's a true feeling of being appreciated and that means a lot to me, and that's why we're all so excited to get to fish the Elite Series.

People have been asking me a lot of questions about the 2019 season, and everything else going on in the sport, so I thought it would be a good idea to answer a few questions right here in my first column.

First, most people have asked me about the competition level, and whether it might be a little easier for a guy like me, with some success in the past, to make the top five this year in the Elite Series. I don't know, but I do think that fewer boats on the water overall will put the odds better in my favor. At the same time, we are missing some strong guys, and you fish better against a better field. Overall? Easy isn’t the right word, because it won’t ever be easy to win an Elite event. But as I said, the odds will be better. After the new faces get settled in, the competition will be just as fierce on the Elite Series.

I also think fewer boats will make the playing field more level and fair. I feel like the group of us who are fishing B.A.S.S. are going to be stronger and closer. There have been a lot of instances over the past years where we have to share water with somebody. And some were rifts created though all the back-and-forth this offseason. It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out in the Classic. For guys at the Classic who may be fishing their last Bassmaster tournament, it'll be interesting to see how that all works out on the water.

I'm also asked a lot about whether I have a true fishing strength. This is an interesting question. I used to think I have some strengths, but not anymore. The Elite Series, I think, forces you to be able to do everything, and now I pride myself in being able to do everything decently. If I did have to name one strength I'd have to say it's offshore fishing – smallmouth and Tennessee River-type stuff. I'm also typically better after the spawn and during fall.

Even though I love smallmouth and fishing offshore, I was happy that B.A.S.S. worked with us on the schedule and dropped the Columbia River from Elite Series. I'd never been there, and it was a 38-hour drive out there. I think that had to be done because the money just didn't work out for us, and we're happy that B.A.S.S. worked with us on that part of the schedule.

We do have a stop right near my home. We're fishing Georgia’s Lake Lanier. A lot of people assume I'm really good on that lake, considering how close I live, and they ask me about it quite a bit. I've got plenty of experience there, and I know what to do in February, when we're going to that lake, but I don't have any honey holes located or anything like that. I'll be like everybody else out there trying to figure it out.

Lastly people have been asking about my sponsors. With all the recent changes, it's obviously a question that's on people's minds. I can't really say if there are large changes in sponsorships coming – fishermen are usually the last to know if there are – but I can tell you that the changes haven't hurt me at all sponsor wise as of yet. Right now my sponsors are War Eagle, Bandit, YUM, Abu Garcia, Sunline, Ranger, Mercury, Lowrance, Power-Pole and Simms, and I'm anticipating no changes. In fact, I'm waiting on one potential new sponsor as I write this.

In addition to signing sponsor contracts and ordering equipment, I'm just taking some time off of fishing to rest and refresh before everything kicks back up in January. Until my next column, you can keep in touch right here in the comments section on Bassmaster.com, or through my Instagram and Facebook.