Balancing fatherly duties, career work demands and family time with a tournament career has always been limited by time.
With the support of my family and the backing of sponsors like Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation, I have been able to fish the Bassmaster Southern Open trail for the past four years.
Looking at my Angler of the Year score card for the Bassmaster Southern Opens, I realize that my Florida-based, shallow-water knowledge was successful on the trail.
For the first two years, I fished the way I knew, had fun and took in the magic of fishing new lakes. I didn’t worry about the competition. I camped in my truck, ate gas station food and experienced the zen of fishing as taught by legendary Bassmaster Elite Series pro Rick Clunn.
However, in an effort to improve my fishing after two years on the tour, I gave up my Florida strength of shallow-water power fishing. I started listening to credible anglers who told me how the tournament would be won based on past events.
I found my practice influenced by the dominant fishing pattern. It was a mistake, and I failed to consistently bring my game.
Still, I am proud of my four-year record with an average 67th-place AOY finish in the Bassmaster Opens. If I was allowed a mulligan for my 2015 season, my average AOY ranking would have improved to a 54th-place ranking. Not bad for a father of four kids who was only able to practice, at most, 3 1/2 days before each event.
I remember fishing a 2013 Bassmaster Southern Open event on Logan Martin out of Leeds, Ala. I found shallow bass in the back of creeks on a weightless fluke, and in a marina cove off the main river on a hard jerkbait.
In practice, all the anglers were moving fast and covering water to find fish. It was not so obvious to tell who else had found my fish or patterns.
I distinctly remember being tired of twitching a jerkbait after two solid days of practice, pausing often to relax my sore arm. On the last day of practice I found a group of small bass in a second creek. While fishing my way out of the creek, I encountered a deep marina cove.
It was clear water, so I made a long cast with the jerkbait and paused to address the cramp in my arm. After nearly a minute, I resumed twitching the suspending jerkbait. To my surprise, a 3 1/2-pound spotted bass ate the bait deep. This single clue told me the bass wanted the bait slow.
I fished my jerkbait slow the next day in the tournament and landed bass in my marina cove next to Randy Howell and David Kilgore. I never saw them land a bass, and I was proud of my accomplishment on the water next to these big guns.
Howell eventually left the area and Kilgore moved over to the marina docks that I never fished in practice. We don’t have many deep water marinas in Florida, so I didn’t know how to fish them effectively.
Kilgore ended up winning the tournament on those docks, and Howell moved to another unknown area and caught a good limit of bass to beat me. I caught limits both days but failed to cut a check. As the saying goes — “so close, yet so far away.” I learned to never underestimate the Elite Series pros and big guns.
I can relate to Howell’s comment when he won the 2014 Classic, when he said, “I’m not the guy who usually wins these things.” When I win my first B.A.S.S. tournament at this level, I will likely have a similar statement.
I have come to realize over the last four years on the Bassmaster Open tour that I love the sport of fishing! I remain a fan of the sport, and I enjoy the journey of competitive fishing.
I have made it a point in life to learn something from everything — every co-angler, every fishing situation and every mistake.
Allow me to share a second story: In my last Open tournament of 2015 on Lake Seminole, practice was not good and finding bass was difficult. On the first day of the event, I was pitching a creature bait to holes in the submersed hydrilla just like every competitor within sight. Everything was quiet the first tournament day and fish activity was poor. My co-angler tossed a noisy topwater bait out the back of the boat on a grassy point. Within seconds, a bass blew up on the lure. Although he missed the fish, it indicated that the bass would react to a properly presented lure.
I put my flipping rod down and began casting a spinnerbait over the same holes I just finished flipping. I was rewarded with a 5-pound bass. In fact, for the first time ever in a tournament, I missed the bass when it hit at the lure on the first cast. A follow-up cast got the second strike needed to land the fish.
It was an exciting few minutes and made me feel awesome.
Every angler reading my story has an equal story of their own, a time when a bass gave a clue about how the fish wanted the lure.
The pursuit of knowledge continues to be my quest as an angler, and I hope you continue to make it your quest, too. The Bassmaster Opens offer the most accessible, high-quality tournament experiences available to tournament anglers.
Learn from every experience. It will make you a better angler.