It's still the middle of winter, which means I'm indoors a lot more. And inside my house is a picture of me with the very first fish I ever caught. I'm looking at the picture, thinking about our new baby boy Huck, and thinking it'd be fun to tell you about my five greatest fishing memories. So here we go.
Memory 1: My first fish
I don't remember all the details, but my first fish is a big enough thing in my life that I remember it some 25-odd years later. It was just a little bluegill in a Panama City, Fla., canal. We were there on vacation. I see the fish from time to time here in the house, because we keep the picture up. But this past month, I've been thinking about the fish even more. That's because we recently had a baby boy, and I've been thinking about how I want to introduce the sport to him. That makes the picture and the memory really cool.
Memory 2: Fishing with my grandpa
I remember fishing with my grandad a lot. I'm not sure I can name one single memory with him that stands out more than others, but in middle school, he bought me a jonboat with a small outboard. We'd both take it down to the lake, and that's how I learned to bass fish – from that flat-bottom jon boat. And it was my first boat.
Those are the things I look back on when I think about my grandad. My dad fished too, but dad was working during the days a lot, so my grandad would take me when I got home from school. My dad took me fishing too, but I spent a lot of fishing time with my grandad. And he was fishing because I loved it – it was what I wanted to do – and it was our way of spending time together.
Memory 3: My first bass boat
My parents bought me a bass boat when I was 15 – a 19-foot Ranger. And we had an agreement: I'd either play a sport or get a job in the summer. I played baseball. I didn't really love it, but I had the boat and came up with this big scheme. I sat down with my parents and told them how I wanted to quit baseball and devote all my energy to bass fishing. I wanted to fish in the BFLs and local tournaments and treat it like a sport.
This was a time before high school and college fishing teams, but my parents got behind me. With that boat I won a BFL the first year, when I was 16, and that was a big turning point.
I gave my BFL winnings to my parents, but after that, I kept my winnings. And the whole family used the boat. I sold it to some guys who fish here locally, and they had it for a long time. For years I'd see it around the lake.
Memory 4: Qualifying for the Elites
I was fishing the FLW Tour back in 2014, and with only six events, I had a lot of downtime. So I signed up for the Bassmaster Northern Opens, mainly because the second event was on my favorite lake, Champlain. I wasn't really trying to qualify for the Elites – it just sort of fell into my lap.
The first event was at Douglas Lake, the second was at Champlain, and the third was at St. Clair. I finished 22nd at Douglas, fifth at Champlain and 44th at St. Clair.
Like I said, I didn't really think about qualifying for the Elites, but after Champlain I was second or third in the points, and then I started to want it a little bit. So I really sunk a lot of time into the last one for practice, and I was very fortunate to qualify on my first go-around. There are a lot of better fishermen than me who don't qualify in many, many attempts.
Memory 5: A chance to win the Classic
Jason Christie had a pretty good lead over everybody on the final day of the 2018 Classic, and I don't remember thinking I had a shot to win. But looking back, we all had a very good chance to win. Jordan Lee came from sixth to win, and I would have only needed 14 pounds that day to win the Classic. I started out the morning thinking I needed 20 pounds.
It was my second Classic, it was in my home state and I had a legitimate shot to win. That's pretty cool.