bassmaster classic

Getting into the Classic routine

When we launch the boats in downtown Knoxville next week it’ll be my fourth Bassmaster Classic. I’m not yet 35 years old, so technically I may not be a veteran, but this is my eighth Elite Series season, so I’m starting to see some patterns and figure out some ways to improve my work processes.

That’s particularly important at the Classic, which is an absolute whirlwind of activity. Between media day, the meetings, Night of Champions and all of the other obligations, there’s not much time to breathe. If you’re not careful, you’ll forget the real reason that you’re there – to compete in the single most important event in our sport.

Thinking back to my first appearance in 2020, I might’ve gotten caught up in the moment and failed to concentrate on putting the pieces together. I had a really good practice but then had a crappy first day. I caught them better the second day, but it was too late. I ended up 40th.

The next year at Ray Roberts I put myself in position to win and ended up fifth overall, and while I’m not sure that I otherwise would have won, I know that one stupid decision took me out of contention. I started in the wrong place on the first day of competition. I thought I had enough fish to save that group for Days 2 and 3, and I ended up catching them there later, but on Day 1 I caught nothing in my starting spot.

You may recall that in that tournament the best bite was in the first hour. The wind was blowing in on my alternate starting spot and messed it up. It cost me big time. By the time I moved and caught a few I’d missed the best window. I only weighed in four fish for 8 pounds 10 ounces that day. I was simply too far behind to make up that deficit.

While past performance doesn’t necessarily determine future results, I finished in the Top 10 the last time the Elite Series made a regular-season visit to Knoxville. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Tennessee River impoundments in March and April, and even though Loudoun is the one I’ve fished the least, I still like the way it sets up.

That last time around Jeff Gustafson found something that he had all to himself, but that was a different time of year and not my deal. I’m not saying that he definitely can’t win it that way again, but I think it’s more likely to be won with a classic power fishing pattern. I love to throw a shallow crankbait and a vibrating jig this time of year, which should put the event right in my wheelhouse.

I’m thankful to be back in the field, and I know that I’ll be surrounded by some of the best anglers in the sport. This is the big one, the one that all of us have dreamed about since we were kids, and in most cases second place is forgotten.

Once that Friday morning kicks off, however, and the boat numbers are called and we get up on pad, I’m going to treat it like just another tournament. Managing time is a learned skill, but once we’re casting it’s all about the fishing.