My outlook for 2023

Starting my rookie Bassmaster Elite Series season brings a lot of new challenges and opportunities, but I feel like I’m ready to take on this next chapter in my fishing career. Since the end of last year’s tournament season, I’ve tried to stay busy enough so those nerves don’t set in.

I run a full-time guide service on Lake Chickamauga, so that keeps me pretty busy, but then there’s the whirlwind of trying to get everything ready in time for the season. I’ve been working on getting my sponsorship funding in place and getting my boat wrapped on time.

There are so many things you have to do to get ready. I’ve really tried to get efficient with tackle organization. I’m really going to try to make every moment count this year, so I want to be as prepared as possible.

As far as handling the pressure of stepping up to the Elites, it’s just the realization that if it’s my time to win, it’s going to happen. I’m a believer in God ,and I think He has a plan for me. If I have a great tournament, it’s because of that. If I have an off week, that doesn’t define me as an angler or a person. I’ll get ‘em at the next tournament.

In fact, my walkout music for Elite weigh-ins is Jeremy Camp’s “Take My Life.” It’s a Christian rock song that stands for what I believe in. I’m a decent fisherman, but I’m a lot better with God on my side.

I’ve held this belief all through my high school, college and Bassmaster Opens career. I learned to handle the pressure early, but I can say that I don’t get as rattled now as I did earlier in my career.

This year is going to be an adjustment because the Elites are definitely fishing on a different level. We’re going to some fisheries I’ve never been to, but it was the same thing in the Opens last year and I ended up having a good season.

My plan is to soak in as much as I can this year because I feel like there are a lot of things I can learn through these different bodies of water.

I’d love to make it to the Bassmaster Classic, and if everything works out to where I can win Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, that would be awesome. But my main goal is to make a career in this sport. I want to go out there and be consistent and learn at every event so I can have a long career with Bassmaster.

Looking at the Elite schedule, I’m excited about the first half of the season, especially the first two events. Lake Okeechobee and Lake Seminole are both grass fisheries, and I have a lot of experience fishing grass. I even have a good amount of experience in Florida, so I look forward to hopefully having some good tournaments down there.

The ones that concern me the most are definitely the northern smallmouth tournaments, because those are the ones where I have the least amount of experience. I’ve caught a lot of smallmouth, but they’ve all been southern — mostly Tennessee River — smallmouth, with the exception of the Open on Oneida last year.

I’ll probably go up to Lake St. Clair before off limits to get a little more experience. If I have time, I might go to the St. Lawrence before that event’s off limits dates.

I’m willing to put in the time to get myself as prepared as possible for each of these events because fishing the Elites will give me the best chance I’ve had to make the Classic. Previously, in the Opens, you had to win one to qualify, and in college fishing you had to beat 700 anglers to win a shot at the Classic.

On top of that, there’s only one shot at Rookie of the Year, so I’m definitely going to work as hard as I can to win that one.