Now that I’ve had time to reflect on my win at the Bassmaster Central Open on the Red River, I’ve realized how meaningful that experience truly was. I’ve also gained a lot of valuable perspective.
Winning that tournament definitely was a career-changing event in that it created a great foundation to propel me to the next level of notoriety. It opens doors to sponsorship opportunities and all the media attention surrounding a Bassmaster Classic qualification.
A lot of people have asked me if this solidifies my career and my answer is: Absolutely not. It’s great to go to the Classic one time, but careers are solidified by years and years — even decades — of success.
Of course, part of that career building is dealing with disappointments. One of the reasons my Red River win meant so much to me was that I had just come off an emotional week after missing the Classic and the Elite Series qualification by one point at the Northern Open on Champlain.
You know, to come that close to a dream, you ask yourself, “Why? Why this close?” I had my time to be sad, but I knew I had to get in gear for the Red River.
Coming in with not a lot of practice and not doing very well with the practice I had, there’s no other way to say it than God’s timing is perfect. It wasn’t my time at Champlain, but there I was at the Red River.
Even more amazing was the fact that, based on my practice at the Red River, I’d say I was a lot less deserving than where I was at Champlain. You hear people say “When it’s your time, it’s your time.” And that’s the only way I can explain it.
In a way, I think that having a tough practice actually helped me, in the sense that I entered the tournament without a lot of scenarios running through my head. Do I need to be here? Do I need to be there?
I think one of the keys was just fishing with an open mind. In a tournament that was such a grind, you have to make a lot of adjustments throughout the day. A tough practice allowed me to do that because it’s not hard to abandon a plan when you only had one bite doing that in practice.
I went out every day and fished it like a place I’d never seen before. Most of the week, I just fished off of gut feelings. It’s a little bit of intuition, a little bit of luck and it all kind of aligned.
A good example occurred on Day 2 at a main river community hole where I had a few bites in practice. I never got to fish it the first day, and there was a boat on it early on Day 2.
Later on that second day, I was running by that spot, and I told myself, “Don’t stop. Everybody has fished that spot and you’re going to waste your time.” But I spun around and on that spot where probably 20-plus boats had fished in the past day and a half, I caught a 5-pound, 15-ounce fish.
That catapulted me from not making the Top 12 to first place. When I caught that fish, I looked at my co-angler and said, “That doesn’t happen by chance. There’s something going on here.”
That fish had “Jesus” written all over it. There’s no reason it should have bitten my bait, but for some reason, she waited for me. That was divine intervention, if you ask me.
My parents drove in, along with my fiancée Kelsey Mazzon. We’re getting married in May, and that was the first fishing tournament she has attended. Having them there was one of the coolest things for me. I got to hand Kelsey that trophy and say, “Here, it’s yours.”
Later that night, my dad told me, “I always knew you were a good fisherman, but the way you handled yourself, you’ve developed into quite the man, and I’m proud of you. That was one of the toughest events I’ve ever seen, and you proved you have what it takes. You didn’t spin out. After missing your goal of making the Elites out of the Northern Opens, to rebound from that shows a lot of character, integrity and drive.”
That affirmation from him was good to hear; even more than he’s proud of me. Both of us were pretty emotional when he was telling me that.
Winning a Bassmaster Open and earning a Classic berth is definitely a career milestone, but I’ll always remember what my dad taught me about handling success. He said, “You’re going to have a lot of people telling you that you’re really good, but the last thing you ever want to do is believe them.”
He told me to always know where your success comes from. All the glory goes to God on that one.