LA CROSSE, Wis. -- This bass tournament thing — especially on the professional level — is full of ups and downs. I know that personally from fishing on the local level for many years, but honestly I have no idea what it’s like to depend on a green fish for a paycheck.
Kind of seems scary now that I consider the gravity of it.
That part of the game is often overlooked when fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series is discussed, considered and dreamed about. Dreams will come true and hearts will break, that’s a fact. That’s the risk each of this year’s 107 pros took to compete on the top level of competitive bass fishing. That’s the risk each of them take every year.
JTodd Tucker has been doing this pro angling thing for some time now, and he’s had bad years, good years and everything in between. But now he’s looking at the possibility of being cut from the Elite Series due to a couple of tough years in a row.
Does that reflect on his talent as an angler? Hardly. Does that indicate he’s less of a man than the rest of the field? Not at all — in fact, I’d bet on JTodd in an Elite Series street fight any day of the week. What this tells you is that a tough year happens to anyone, but how he deals with a difficult outlook is what defines him as a man, in my opinion.
“I’ve gotten over it,” Tucker said during registration and the rules meeting for the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Mississippi River presented by Favorite Fishing. “I don’t like the possibility of not getting to fish on this level next season, but that may be my reality. I could catch the right fish at La Crosse and change all that, but my reality very well could have me back in the Opens next year trying to re-qualify — or who knows what.”
As Tucker was talking about his future, there was a funny twinkle in his eye. It was almost as if he knew he was going to turn the struggle bus around in Wisconsin. He’s starting the final regular-season event in 100th place in the AOY standings, which means he is inside the bubble of being cut based on how many of the 15 Opens anglers accept a 2017 Elite Series invite. (The top 5 from the Northern, Central and Southern Opens are offered an Elite Series spot.)
JTodd, who didn't seem too concerned, was asked if he was on the right fish?”
“I caught some good fish in practice, but everyone catches good fish here. This place is loaded with fish,” he said. “I found some good ones, but the reality is, I’ve got NOTHING to lose here, and I feel like I learned a valuable lesson during practice this week. Sometimes in this game we force the issue, force a bait that we prefer, force a spot that might have produced in the past, and that can put us in a tight spot where re-qualification might become a reality.
“I know it seems elementary, but worrying ONLY about the fish makes more sense to me now than it ever has, and I plan to fish that way on the Mississippi River. This isn’t rocket science, it’s bass fishing, and I love bass fishing. That’s all that matters to me this week, and I’m excited to get started and see what happens.”
That twinkle in Tucker’s eye? He is on some good Upper Mississippi River bass, but whether or not they’ll stack up against the rest of the field is yet to be determined. He’s fishing with a new mentality, the kind of mentality that should scare the rest of the field. He knows that without a very good finish here, he’s likely starting over next year, and that makes him a dangerous man.
The ol’ starvation bead — to steal a term from obsessed deer hunters — is one that has been known to produce big-time results. Is he the most dangerous man on the Elite Series this week? He could be.
We’ll have to see, but the lesson to be learned is simple: Competitive bass fishing is a brutal sport that does not discriminate. A guy like JTodd Tucker doesn’t care about stats, history and what might be. He’s going out to catch as may big bass as he can, and no matter the outcome he still admits that his passion for the sport of completive bass fishing is as high as it’s ever been.
“I fish because I love to fish,” he said. “I’m thankful for what I’ve earned, thankful for what I’ve learned and thankful for the life I’m able to live. But, that life won’t end if I’m not on the Elite Series next year. You can bet that I’ll still be growing as an angler and figuring out how to become better — that’s the kind of approach that all bass anglers worth their salt seem to share. Me too.”
To me, that’s commendable on a level that is hard to explain. What makes the Bassmaster Elite Series the top level of the greatest sport in the world? It’s guys like JTodd Tucker. Guys who are on the verge of losing what they worked so hard for, but grinning through it — just as he did when he got the official invite to fish on this level in the first place.
Mad props to JTodd Tucker this week. He’s fishing with a renewed purpose, and that makes him dangerous.