I was always meant to be here

Those are the words my wife told me a few days ago. After taking a break from professional bass fishing in the late 90s to raise our family, she said now is the time I was always meant to be back.

Yes, this is my first year in the Bassmaster Elite Series. February’s tournament at Lake Cherokee will be my first ever in the field, but it won’t be my first time fishing with these guys.

I think back 30 years, to a lake in Japan, under the shadow of Mount Fuji. The mountain loomed 12,000 feet above the water, and on its shores Shaw Grigsby, Davy Hite and I were doing work with rod and reel. At the time, we were big in Japan. We had a TV show with a name I can’t even begin to spell anymore. But the short of it is that we were fishing under Mount Fuji for these monster rainbow trout with a giant silver spoon. Some of them were 4 feet long, and if you think Shaw gets excited about a big smallmouth you should see his reaction to a 4 foot trout.

It was just part of a cross-country journey that sent us in search of every fish you can possibly catch in Japan. And it was awesome.

That’s the world I lived in during the 90s. I was fishing with the greats overseas. When we weren’t filming, we’d hit the local Japanese tournaments, just a speck in a field of 800 people at a place like Lake Biwa. And when we got back to the states, I’d fish against a lot of them on the West Coast circuits.

Shaw was there. Denny was there, and David Fritts. Rick Clunn was there, though he probably wouldn’t remember me as the 19-year-old starstruck kid that tried to talk to him. I competed against those guys, and I won my fair share. Now, I feel fortunate to be around all of my peers, around all of the guys I’ve looked up to over the years. I’ve been preparing non-stop since I qualified via the Bassmaster Open at Champlain.

I’m 49 years old now, which is a little more seasoned than a typical rookie.

Some might see that as a disadvantage, but I don’t.

Sure, there are things I have to do to take care of myself now that I didn’t have to do at 19, or 29. The doctors tell me that a tendon in my shoulder is frayed. I’ve got about 50-percent of it intact until it blows. When it does, I’ll be out for a few weeks following surgery. But hopefully it lasts the year.

And I’m excited about the schedule. I think I’ll do well at Cherokee and at the Big O, which is almost in my backyard. I’m also really comfortable in the Northern waters at places like St. Clair and obviously Champlain. Fishing, in the end, is about beating the fish more than the fishermen. That’s something I’ve known how to do for a long, long time.

When I quit the pro bass lifestyle in 1999, I knew what I was giving up. I was giving up momentum, I was giving up some youth, but I was also gaining a lot — I was gaining my family. Before coming to B.A.S.S. in 2012, I never missed one of my son Cody’s ballgames. I never missed a school function or a motocross race. And even though I wasn’t fishing bass tournaments, I spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a 50-footer chasing everything you can imagine off the coast of Florida. Most of the time, Cody was with me, and that’s something you can’t put a price on.

In the 13 years that I disappeared from bass fishing, Cody grew up to become my best friend and my business partner.

Now, the time is right for my return. I’ve got 26 B.A.S.S. tournaments under my belt since 2012. I’ve got some great sponsors like Power-Pole, Bob’s Machine Shop and Blazer Boats. I’ve got a rod company of my own, Enigma Fishing, and I’ve got a fully grown son and the same wife that has supported me from the jump rooting for me.

I truly feel that the Elite Series field has never been tougher, but finally, I couldn’t be more ready to take it on.