Conflict, confidence and competition

I finished seventh at the Potomac River, and as everyone else was complaining about the heat, I absolutely loved the conditions. I’ve spent most of my life in Alabama and Florida and while the 98 degree temperatures and thick humidity can be uncomfortable, if you prepare yourself correctly they’re no big deal.

The other thing that I liked about this particular event was that for the first time in what seems like a long time there was no controversy associated with the tournament. There were no alleged rules violations, no disqualifications, no conflicts, none of that at all. That allowed us to focus on who was the best angler for one specific week, and my friend Justin Lucas came out on top with an awesome performance.

That’s what had me so conflicted: Some of my best friends like Justin, Brett Hite and Brent Ehrler were also in the Top 12. I was happy for them, but I wanted to beat them decidedly, just like I want to every time we go out on the water. I know that all of those guys do their jobs like complete professionals and that compels me to do better, too. We all love the competition.

Justin is one of the fiercest competitors on tour. Whether it’s fishing, playing cornhole, golf or sticking his hand in an ice bucket for the longest period of time, he desperately wants to win. Jason Christie, who caught 23 pounds the last day to make a run at the title, is like that, too. I know the type because I am that type more than anyone else on tour, Justin is the one that I aim to beat. I don’t care if I come in 100th as long as he’s 101st. Nevertheless, out of all of the Elite Series tournaments this year, the only thing that I enjoyed more than watching Justin win was when I won myself back at Norfork and Bull Shoals. His win was so convincing and so pure that it exemplified everything that is good about the sport.

Before the tournament started, Justin was sweating it pretty heavily. He looked sick to his stomach at the pre-tournament meeting. I told him to relax, and he snapped back that he was still trying to figure out how to catch one in his head. I think the fact that I always look calm, cool and confident gets to him a bit, but I honestly felt exactly the same way that day. I would say we both had a tough practice. What he showed on the Potomac is that he’s here to stay. We all remember that he won last year on the Delta, but by winning again he proves beyond a doubt that it wasn’t a fluke. He has a true gift, and while he works as hard as everyone on tour, he has that special something that a lot of others will never have. You can expect to see him in the winner’s circle again and again. He is going to be a force on the fishing scene for as long as he wants to be one.

What’s amazing to me about our competitiveness is that we fish our brains out on the water, but as soon as we’re done, we’re the best of friends. Barely after the weigh-in ended on Sunday, I was having dinner and a beer with B-Hite and the Meter Man (Brent Ehrler). Justin called me this week to congratulate me and to tell me about his success. I have to admit that there are anglers on the Elite Series who I’d never go to dinner with even if they won, but that crew always has my back, and because I know that they do things the right way I’ll always have theirs.

While Justin’s win was the big story this week, you also have to give credit to Gerald Swindle, who came in leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and turned in a 10th place performance. By finishing seventh, I figured I’d gain some ground and therefore have a better shot heading into the last two events, but I only moved up three points.

I can’t control what any of the other anglers in the hunt do on the water, but I feel like I’m fishing the best I ever have. I’m going into La Crosse and Mille Lacs with a full head of steam, and even if I don’t win, I intend to make everyone sweat. My goal is to win the next two (and of course to beat Lucas). Anything else and I won’t be happy.