Even though it's still early – just two tournaments into the Bassmaster Elite Series season – someone has to be leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. And that someone is Mark Davis, a guy who happens to be real familiar with AOY.
He's one of the few multi-AOY winners in Bassmaster history, having won the title in 2001, 1998 and 1995. He also had a good start in the 2008 AOY race, so you might think an early lead is no big deal. But something's going on with Davis, and it started at the end of last season.
At the tail end of a decent (but not great) 2013, he finished 20th at the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown on the St. Lawrence River, N.Y., then nearly won the Plano Championship Chase on Lake St. Clair/Detroit River, Mich. – which actually played out on Lake Erie.
That last tournament was particularly interesting because Davis isn't a guy who likes (or typically makes) long runs. At the time, it seemed like he was just plain fired up, and that's how he's looked so far this season – doing well in Florida's shallow grass, which usually isn't a strength for him. So what's going on?
"I'm just ready to do well," he said. "I've made Classics [in recent years], but I've been kind of mediocre. I just feel like I can do better than that."
Bottom line is Davis is motivated, and some of that motivation came from this:
He wasn't kidding. "I had three different members of the media – who weren't necessarily singling me out – who wanted me to comment on how tough the competition is, especially with the younger crowd coming in and how well they do. I took some motivation from that without a doubt.
"But the point I was trying to make was that after you've been in the sport 28 years, it's easy to not be motivated, so you have to look for things," he said. "It's not like a football team. We don't have a coach that can get us fired up. It's self-motivation, which means you have to look for things to motivate you."
This is coming from a fisherman who at one point was that fired-up younger guy. He knows how that feels, and how winning feels.
"When you're young, there's a built-in hunger," he said. "It really is a hunger. You're hungering for success. You feel like you have to prove yourself. You have to forge your career.
"Then, once you accomplish those things in the sport, it's easy to get complacent, or sort of comfortable. Then that hunger is gone, and there's no replacement for it. Experience, knowledge, talent – nothing out there can replace that hunger.
"You're there, you still can do well, but you don't excel anymore. That's sort of where I've been the last few years. So I had to find a way to get that hunger, that drive and desire – to get all of that back where I can compete at a real high level."
What does that look like? Some of it is focusing down to "the smallest details," he says, like spending more time working on tackle. Some of it is changing how you're comfortable fishing, like at the St. Johns River.
"That was a place I did not look forward to fishing," Davis said. "You're fishing in a crowd; your options are very limited. So mentally, going into an event like that, I really had to reach way down deep inside and have some discipline.
"It's easy to say, 'I don't want to fish in a crowd, so I'll try to make something happen somewhere else.' But the bottom line is those fish live in Lake George and everyone knows it. So you just have to get down there and do a better job fishing than your competition."
So far he's been doing that because the fire is back. "I can remember the day I looked forward to every single tournament," he said. "When you lose that mindset, you don't do as well. But, right now, I've got it back. I couldn't wait to get to Table Rock. I can't wait to go to Toledo Bend.
"Whether or not my finishes will reflect that fire, we'll have to wait and see. But the mental mindset for me is good. That's half the battle. The other half is execution, and you have to have some breaks, you have to find some fish that you have basically to yourself – all those things have to happen to have those top five finishes.
"But so far, so good. I feel better about my fishing now than I have in a long time. Can I can parlay that into another AOY title? Who knows? It's way too early to even think about it."