Louisiana’s Gerald Spohrer goes into this month’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in 19th place after putting together a season that included four top 25 finishes and two Top 12s.
That success came because he remained focused on the goal set before showing up for the first 2018 event.
“My whole philosophy this year was, ‘Don’t bomb,’” the second-year Elite Series pro said. “Don’t bomb.”
That might not sound like a much of an objective, but it underlies this second-year Elite Series pro’s three-tiered approach to the season: prequalifying for 2019, making the AOY Championship and securing a berth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.
“Not bombing is important because you want your good tournaments to matter,” Spohrer explained. “And if you finish 108th in a tournament, you might finish the next one in the Top 12 — and it doesn’t matter because those bombs where you got no points, it just eats up those good tournaments you have.”
He said that realization came after his rookie year, when he struggled in seven of the nine events and finished in 87th in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
“One thing I did learn (last year) is that in 2 1/2 days of practice on unfamiliar bodies of water, you’re not always going to figure them out,” Spohrer explained. “You can’t make a Top 12 every tournament. You can’t potentially win every tournament. It’s really hard to get paid every tournament: It just doesn’t happen. It’s just not realistic.
So he rethought his game plan and how to stop the bleeding when he struggled in practice.
“My philosophy was, ‘Don’t bomb,’ and having a mitigation plan in place to solve the problem,” he said.
That philosophy was put to the test early in the season.
“There was one or two tournaments this year I told (girlfriend) Maggie (Deville), ‘I might finish dead last,’” Spohrer said.
That was the potential for the first three tournaments. He finished the 2018 Martin opener in 58th place, followed by a 61st-place finish at Grand Lake. The Kentucky Lake stop ended with Spohrer in 65th.
But he said it could have been much, much worse.
The Martin event is a great example.
“I had such a bad practice on Martin that I told Maggie, ‘I just want to minimize the damage on this one,’” Spohrer said. “‘I know I’m not on the fish to do good; it would take crazy wild luck to have a great tournament here. All I’m going to do is whatever I can to salvage points and not have a bad tournament.’”
So he worked the little he learned during practice to catch 20 1/2 pounds and earn valuable points.
“I made a good decision on saying, ‘This isn’t going to be the deal; I’m not going to let myself die here. What can I do to catch a limit?’” Spohrer said. “On Lake Martin, a limit was a big deal.”
So he analyzed the situation and made sound on-the-water decisions.
“I fished for spotted bass at the beginning of that tournament, and I was struggling to catch them,” he said.
He knew he could limit on Kentuckies, but the best he could expect would be 8 pounds. So he decided to switch to largemouths in hopes of upping his weights.
“And I caught one largemouth that weighted almost 3 pounds, and it gave me 10 pounds instead of 8, which moved me 30 to 40 places (in the points),” Spohrer said.
He survived that tournament just out of the Top 50, but the next two events were repeats. Spohrer had to forget about paydays and work for qualifying points.
Everything came together when he made his first Top 12 during Texas Fest, during which he charged to a sixth-place finish fishing docks ignored by other competitors.
He recognized catching fish on Lake Travis wasn’t a real problem — but getting big bass would be challenging.
“What’s going to separate people in this tournament is if you can get a big bite every day,” he recalled. “That’s how that place set up.”