Chapman leads AOY points race

One fish on Texas' Lewisville Lake spawned a surge of confidence in Brent Chapman and, in turn, has made him a tidy sum of money.

That fish was a 6-pound, 5-ounce largemouth bass caught on a miserably cold Sunday fish-off for a win at the season opening Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open. That day has snowballed Chapman’s confidence, and now the 39-year-old Lake Quivera, Kan., angler is leading the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race.

Chapman has mentioned it on stage at all three Elite Series events this year, how the confidence gained by having a 2013 Bassmaster Classic berth in the bag has allowed him to fish differently this season. And Chapman has been on stage for Day Four of all three tournaments, finishing fourth on the St. Johns River, fifth at Lake Okeechobee and fifth again at Bull Shoals last Sunday.

Just as he did in the previous two Elite Series events, Chapman changed tactics at Bull Shoals in a way he wouldn't have considered a year ago.

"I have taken some calculated risks in all three of the Elite tournaments, and it has really paid off for me," Chapman said. "It's something I'm just still trying to figure out mentally.

"I'm just a little too conservative, I guess. Maybe in the past I was just trying for ounces instead of taking a gamble and going for the big bite to really make a change."

On Day One at Bull Shoals, like about 75 percent of the field, Chapman caught his fish on a crankbait. That bite was so strong that Chapman called his father, Ron, and asked him to overnight ship some original Storm Wiggle Warts to Bull Shoals.

"That's a bait that has been with me since before I was a pro," Chapman said. "That's what we did back in the old bass club days. Thank goodness I've got a stash of the old ones. I won't sell them no matter what."

But the new, more confident Chapman was also thinking about a way to catch some bigger bass at Bull Shoals, where anglers were weeding through dozens of 16- and 17-inch fish to upgrade ounces at a time.

"I said before the tournament that somebody is going to catch them on a swimbait here," said Chapman. "I would go out each morning and get a limit, then I would throw it."

On Day Two, his entire five-bass limit came on a 5-inch Top Shelf swimbait. And his bag of 18-15, over 3 pounds better than the day before, moved him from 24th place up to sixth place.

The final two days he relied on Wiggle Warts to put a limit in the boat early, then upgraded some on the swimbait after 11 a.m.

"On Sunday, three came on the swimbait and two were on Wiggle Warts," Chapman said.

Chapman also can look back at the first two Elite Series events in Florida and see where he took calculated risks that he normally wouldn't have taken. On the St. Johns River, he left the comfort and familiarity of Lake George to fish in Lake Woodruff, and it paid off. At Lake Okeechobee, he spent most of practice in South Bay, but caught two keepers near the West Wall. It was on Day Three when he caught 26-14 at the West Wall that Chapman zoomed from 25th place to sixth.

"Having that Classic berth sewn up has allowed me to fish differently," said Chapman, who must simply show up at Table Rock this week and at Fort Gibson Lake in September to finalize his Classic qualification.

Last year Chapman was one of the last anglers to qualify for the Classic. The way 2011 went for him, he was lucky to make it at all.

"I had a very humbling moment," he said. "I went four tournaments in a row without cashing a check, and it really kicked me in the rear."

Chapman's wife, Bobbi, was brutally honest in an interview then with writer Don Barone, saying, "We are one season away from big trouble, real big trouble, collapse of everything, that's how bad."

So Chapman started working on his game as soon as the 2011 season ended. His plan began with getting in better physical condition. He has weighed between 165 and 170 pounds since his sophomore year in high school, so losing weight wasn't necessary. However, with his 40th birthday approaching in 2012 and the grind of bouncing along the water in a bass boat resulting in some aches and pains, Chapman sought help.

He found it in exercise physiologist Travis Perret. Chapman read about Perret helping some other tournament pros; and when he discovered that Perret's office was only a short distance away in Overland Park, Kan., it was an easy call.

"I think that's the biggest thing for me this year," Chapman said. "I'm in the best shape I've ever been in. Last fall I made it a priority to get in really, really good shape. When you're out there with no aches or pains, it helps you fish better."

The results speak for themselves: Chapman's earnings in the first four months of 2012, counting the $12,800 he got for 18th place in the Classic, total $108,960.

"Not making cuts and almost missing the Classic was very humbling and an eye-opener," Chapman said. "How quickly you can go from being successful to going broke in a hurry. It woke me up."

An awakened Brent Chapman is proving to be a force on the Elite Series tour.

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