Ready for the challenge

With the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake in the rear view mirror, we have what feels like a summer break before we begin the Northern Swing in mid-July. For me, it seems like summers go quicker and quicker as I get older, but I’m doing my best to make the most of this time.

One of the most important things on my summer priority list was captaining for my daughter Hillary in her Florida B.A.S.S. Nation High School event on the St. Johns River. I always enjoy spending time with her, and I’m thankful that my schedule allowed me to be there for her.

I’m also looking forward to spending some family time down in Islamorada where I keep my 42-foot Freeman with quad Yamahas for offshore fishing. We’ll spend a lot of time on the Atlantic fishing for a variety of species from snapper to swordfish.

My personal favorite is mahi-mahi. This colorful, aggressive fish is a lot of fun to target because it’s a very visual game and everyone gets to catch them.

Between the fishing, I’ll spend a lot of time just relaxing and enjoying time with family. This time is very important because it offers me a chance to rest and prepare myself for the final phase of the Elite season.

Starting the Northern Swing on the St. Lawrence River will be an enjoyable time for me. I love this fishery, and even though my performance last year wasn’t very impressive, I’m definitely looking forward to getting back there.

I love chasing smallmouth, and I love being up there on that northern water. It’s a beautiful area that gives me a lot of energy. I feel like I’m ready for another shot at this fishery because I understand the St. Lawrence a little bit better now.

Last year was my first time fishing a major tournament on the St. Lawrence, but seeing how it fishes and gaining an appreciation for just how vast it is, I feel like I have a better grasp of what I need to do and what I need to focus on.

We hear a lot about the river vs. Lake Ontario, and that is definitely a critical decision anglers must make. But here’s the deal, you can’t have a preconceived notion of what you’re going to do because you’re completely subject to the weather.

If the conditions allow me to fish the lake, I’ll fish the lake, but if they don’t, I’ll fish the river. You can’t get too emotional about it because the wind can blow 25- to 30-mph in one direction all through practice and all through the tournament and you may never get out to the lake. That’s why being prepared for either scenario will be critical.

From a tackle standpoint, the Northern Swing will require a nearly 100% change from the first part of the season. Put it this way: I carried two spinning rods through the Pickwick event, but I’ll carry a dozen when I go up north.

I’ll also carry a ton of momentum with me following a good finish on Pickwick. With three Elite tournaments remaining, I have three more opportunities to do what I set out to do this season — fish my guts out and go for the win.

It gets light early up north, so during this summer break I’ll focus on eating well, exercise and getting ready for those 12 to 14 hour days. That’s what it takes, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.