Why did Greg Hackney, the newly crowned Angler of the Year, fish so well in 2014? We all know he's one of the best bass anglers on the planet, but AOY wins don't come by accident.
In other words, on the Elite Series it's such a level playing field that mere chance doesn't explain one guy beating all the others. It's not just "luck" or "being hot."
Take Mark Davis, who finished in the top four in the first four Elites this year. An amazing start, and at the time he said it was because he started the year refocused and joyful after rededicated his performance to God.
So what was different for Hackney? I had to know, so I chased the Hack Attack down and here's what he said.
"This year I wanted to get myself back to where I used to be, and the only thing that had changed was I wasn't fishing as much," he said. "When I've done the best is when I spend a lot of time on the water. The worst years I've had are when I was fishing only one tour and once a month. [He also fished the FLW Tour this year.]
"Like anything else, the more practice you have, the better you are at it. I've fished a lot my whole life, so I have a lot of practice, but the deal is you can't go long periods of time between fishing [tournaments]. [Then] your senses are not sharp.
"When you fish a lot like I did this year, you're almost in an unconscious state. You have a tendency not to overreact – you take your time and do things the way they ought to be done. But if you don't fish as much, you tend to be anxious. You want it too bad. Your reactions will be quicker because they're not settled down. They're all jacked up.
"One thing that comes along [with being a successful pro fisherman] is a lot of responsibility – it used to be I just fished and then went home. But the longer you do this, there's a lot more other stuff that goes along with it than just fishing. This year I just said, 'I have to go back to fishing and forget about the rest of it.'
"I've really enjoyed it too. A couple times at the end of long periods [of fishing] I was ready to go home. But most of the year I was looking forward to the next one."
Caught the bites
Practice-wise, "I didn't change anything this year," Hackney said. "I practiced the same way.
"The biggest difference this year was I caught 'em. Meaning I had the same kind of bites last year, just then I didn't catch them. I truly believe that spending all that time on the water, I was more apt to catch those fish [this year].
"Most of the time when I got that key bite, I caught it.
That's the deal a lot of people don't understand: A lot of [Elite anglers] had the bites and didn't catch them. And it's not a lot of bites – it might only be eight. That many bites makes a difference in your whole year because you're always one or two fish away.
"This year I did a lot better job of catching them. I don't have a 'one that got away' story. And I really believe that's because I fished a lot. I moved well and made good decisions."
He said "moving well" means going slower. "I don't move as fast as I used to. I'm a lot more settled. I don't run and gun as much as I used to – I catch myself looking for spots more.
"I've always been a pattern fisherman – still am. Mostly I was running patterns, but I won two [events] fishing spots."
Found the groove?
A self-described "student of the sport," Hackney wonders if this year he maybe got in a groove where experience and success intersect.
"When you look back at guys like Clunn, Davy Hite, Skeet – they'd done well their whole careers, but at a certain time they fell into a groove," he said. "Even KVD – he's been great his whole life, but there seemed to be an age when everything clicked.
"That typically happens from age 39 to 45. I'm 41. That's the only thing I can find in common with all of them when they all of a sudden went to the next level. Am I at that point? Who knows, but I have thought about that."
Learned a thing or two
From all his time on the water this year, Hackney "learned a ton," he said. "All kinds of stuff. I learned a lot about smallmouth at the last tournament.
"That's what tournament bass fishing is – it's evolving all the time, and you have to evolve with it. I did some new things this year, things I've never done before. Some new techniques really worked for me. I've learned how fish react to certain baits. But all this stuff is secret – I'm not going to talk about it!
"I can't remember another time when I learned as much as I did this year," he added. "It was like three years' worth in one year."
Same thing next year
After this year, it's no surprise that Hackney plans to fish the same amount in 2015. "I'm going to do two tours until I physically can't do it anymore," he said.
"I'm still going to take a winter break like I always have because that's good for me. But starting February 1st I'll be wide open from then until whenever."