Next year will bring a big change in my career. I’m leaving FLW and fishing all of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens in an attempt to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. It’s been a long and winding road, but this is where it’s taken me.
I was a part of the first Elite Series group back in 2006. I was as proud as I could be while competing in it. When I started, Dawn and I only had one daughter. I was fishing, and she was building a successful law practice. The time we had together was all ours. It all worked out pretty well.
But then things changed.
By 2011 we had three small children. Our simple idyllic life turned into one of serious responsibilities. They were responsibilities that we wanted and that we wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, make no mistake about that, but they were still serious responsibilities.
Leaving home for extended periods of time got progressively difficult for me. I missed Dawn and the kids, and I knew that she was carrying a big load mostly by herself. She didn’t complain. I don’t want to lay any of my story off on her. That wouldn’t be true. Nevertheless, it bore down on me like a ton of bricks.
My fishing suffered. It wasn’t that I wasn’t catching bass. I was. It was just that I wasn’t fishing up to where I knew I could fish. The pressure and guilt was overwhelming. It was so bad towards the end, that on the second day of a tournament if I didn’t have enough weight to make the cut I just turned my fish loose. Forget about the scales. Forget about the points. I wanted to be done with it and head home.
Some of the other guys were under pressure, too, but they handled it differently. They seemed to thrive on it. The more pressure they felt, the more fish they caught. That wasn’t the case with me.
And so at the end of the 2011 season I made one of the toughest decisions of my life. I decided to leave the Elites, go home and do something different. In fact, I told Dawn that I was selling my boat and all my tackle. I was done.
She said that I should wait a while before I did that. She was right, as she so often is when she gives me her thoughts. The truth is that she knows me better than I know myself. I’m thankful for that.
After a few years of working as a landman and fishing local and regional tournaments I got the itch to go pro again. I qualified for the FLW Tour. I’ve fished that circuit for the past few years with success.
I loved FLW. I so much respect the attitude of their management and the way they look after their anglers. They supported all of us through our good times and our bad times. I won four tournaments over there, and I’m grateful for every one of them.
But then things changed.
With the sale to MLF, the FLW that I knew and fished doesn’t exist anymore. There’s no sense crying over spilled milk. I’m sad, to say the least. But I also live in the real world. When something is gone, it’s gone. No matter how you feel about it you have to accept things the way they are and move on with your life.
The new format — as I understand it right now — isn’t for me. Three of my biggest wins with FLW have occurred within the past five years. That shows I’m maturing as an angler. I also know some things about myself. I don’t want uncertainty, and I don’t want to compete in a format without a five fish limit.
The uncertainty thing is baked into any new business. They all evolve and change. The truth is that MLF probably doesn’t know how things will shake out with the FLW purchase. I’m not criticizing MLF in any way. What I am saying is that I don’t want to go through it. That’s not who I am. It’s really that simple.
I flip and I pitch. Sometimes I throw a spinnerbait. The thing is, though, that I’m always looking for the big bite. I want five heavyweights in my livewell at the end of the day. Huge numbers of smaller bass just don’t suit me emotionally, nor do they suit my style of fishing.
Now that I’ve gotten all of this off my chest I want everyone to know that my goal is to qualify in 2020. Things are different now. We have four kids instead of three. They’re older. I’m a better professional angler than I was before. Dawn’s law practice is stabilized. And, although we’re certainly not rich, we have more financial security than we had 10 years ago.
So here’s where I’m at: I’ll fish every Open out there, and I’ll prepare for each one of them like it was a Bassmaster Classic. I want to be a Bassmaster Elite Series angler … again.