I don’t really know what happened to me on the way back in on Championship Monday of the Bassmaster Elite at Ross Barnett. Obviously, I came totally apart, and for no good reason because in the end I won. (If you haven’t seen the video, you can watch it at First Look with Dustin Connell. I warn you, though. It’s pretty raw.)
My best guess is that it all started years ago. I was in college at the University of Alabama studying electrical engineering. After a year I knew that wasn’t what I really wanted to do so I switched to marketing and started fishing with the college team. I graduated in 2012 with a degree and spent the next couple of years fishing locally.
I did pretty good, but at some point I ran out of money. I went out of town to work construction. The idea was to save enough money to get back into the fishing thing. It worked.
In 2015 I won the 2015 Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #2 presented by Allstate but didn’t qualify for the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro because I hadn’t fished the first Southern Open.
Nevertheless, 2015 was a good year. I won four other tournaments and earned over $100,000. That gave me the financial backing to try for the Elites in 2016. I made it.
I knew this was my chance. I did a lot of prefishing and scouting around before things went off-limits. I didn’t know anything about Ross Barnett, but when I was there I noticed there were places that looked like the Alabama River and the Coosa River where I fished a lot. One of them was the Pearl River.
When the event rolled around I went up the river and fished from the dam downstream about eight miles or thereabouts. I found some really good bass in grass mats that had blown up against laydowns. That’s my thing, and I didn’t figure anybody else knew about them or was even looking in my area. As it turned out I only saw three anglers the whole time I fished up there — Ott Defoe, Ish Monroe and Brandon Card.
And then, when I moved from sixth place on Thursday into first place on Friday and Saturday the whole thing turned surreal. It was like I was living in a dream world. Everything I’d been working for and dreaming about was coming true. But it wasn’t over. I’ve fished enough to know the whole thing could disappear in no time flat. All it takes is one mistake, one bad decision.
So anyway, back to Monday afternoon.
I put everything I had into my career — education, time, money and, most importantly, my emotional energy — and I thought it was going down the drain. What made it hurt so bad was that I believed I was going to win from the very first day of practice. And, I wanted it bad.
Somehow or another I got it into my head that I was one good fish short. I don’t know why that happened or what caused it, but that’s the thing. The more I thought about it and the more I said it, the more I believed it. Finally, it was like the absolute truth. There was no doubt. I was short.
The VanDam thing was a part of it, too.
I can’t say that I was afraid of him or that he intimidated me. It wasn’t that. But, I knew he was right behind me and I knew that he is a closer. When he’s in a position to win he knows how to do it, and he was within striking distance. I knew that morning that I had to fish at 100 percent or I was done. That fed into my one fish short thinking.
That’s what happened. I’d like to say that it won’t happen again but I can’t be sure about that. Sometimes I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Maybe that’s good or maybe that’s bad but for sure that’s the way it is with me.
Before I go I want to thank my family for their support. It means everything. And, I want to thank my sponsors. Without them I don’t know if I could fish at this level.
Thanks for hearing me out.