Considered to be one of the ultra-talented “young guns” on the Elite Series, Oklahoman James Elam is about to kick off his second appearance at the Super Bowl of bass fishing, the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on Houston’s Lake Conroe.
The Classic is no ordinary tournament, but the 30-year-old pro has proven very consistent among the world’s top bass fishermen during his short but impressive career as an Elite Series angler. He knows what’s at stake this week, and he earned his stripes at his first Classic in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., in 2016. He’s better prepared this time.
“I’ve been dreaming of fishing the Classic for as long as I can remember, and now I’m living that dream,” Elam said. “Last year was great. I know Grand Lake pretty well, but I wasn’t prepared for the show B.A.S.S. puts on, let alone the level of fan participation. The Classic is really a totally different animal, and learning to better embrace the pressure of media and fan presence is a clear challenge. But one I’m up to.”
You’ll hear him use the word “embrace” several times because he’s learned that you can’t change the type of pressure that comes with being a Classic competitor.
Elam feels a strict daily routine is key to keeping his head in the game.
“I write a list, make time for meals, I work out when I can and prep tackle as often as possible,” he said. “I know what I’m faced with this year, but I’m also reminded that it’s just between me and 15 green fish. If I can crack the code on those things the rest comes easy. I feel like this year I’ve learned to embrace all that comes with the Classic.”
Speaking of pressure, Conroe sees a tremendous amount of fishing pressure, but for some reason the lake still kicks out big stringers of bass on a regular basis.
“Conroe is an easy drive from downtown Houston, which is the fourth largest city in the U.S., so you know the lake experiences lots of boating and fishing pressure,” he said. “There will be wind, because Texas is windy, and there will be waves that bounce my boat around. I won’t let those factors get in my head. Instead, I realize that for me to be successful here I have to keep an open mind, catch bass the best way I know how and embrace the same pressure that all 52 anglers have to deal with.”
Along the lines of embracing the complexity of the Classic intensity, Elam — who’s naturally a very laid back kind of guy — decided that he’s going to have fun at this year’s event.
“It’s not that last year’s Classic wasn’t fun,” he said. “But the pressure got to me, and I was stressed out. This year, I have no added pressure of being a hometown favorite; I’m just going fishing. And, I enjoy seeing the fans on the water and at the weigh-ins. But just being here, fishing the greatest fishing event on the planet makes it all worth it — and I’m already having a lot of fun.”
The mental aspect of this sport is astronomical, but at the Classic is on a whole different level.
“Winning the Classic would make my career,” Elam said. “It’s hard to explain what this title means to a competitive angler. But to even consider the level of change that could come with a big win here in Houston begins with good decisions on the water, keeping a clear mind and embracing the fact that there’s more to fishing this event that just fishing.
“At this point in my career, a Classic title would change my life — plain and simple,” he said. “It’s my dream. It’s the dream of every angler out here. But I’m ready this time around, and I think the bass will cooperate. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, and while I really hope to do well, I am still very thankful to be fishing my second Classic in a row. Dreams do come true.”