After seven and a half seasons as an Elite Series pro, and five runner-up finishes, I can’t think of a better place to earn my first Bassmaster victory than at the Sabine River. I finished 12th there in 2018 and 2nd in 2021. To finally be able to lift that blue trophy over my head in front of a massive and enthusiastic crowd felt like I was lifting the weight off the world off of my back.
Growing up in Mississippi prepared me for tournament venues like the Sabine, where you earn every bite and where mistakes can come back to haunt you. At this level, we can all catch fish, so it becomes a mental thing more than anything else. One bite that’s three pounds or better can change your whole tournament. Even as I amassed a decent lead, that training enabled me to keep my head down and stay focused.
I was up by three pounds after Saturday, and my goal was to catch enough that someone was going to have to have a great day to beat me. If I caught 10 pounds and someone came in with 13, so be it, but I wasn’t going to open the door for someone to come out of nowhere and win. They’d have to earn it. I did lose what felt like a quality fish that I never saw, and I had another good bite that simply never hooked up, but overall I fished clean and performed when I had to. Only Clark Wendlandt and Matty Wong had bags bigger than mine on Day Four, and they were too far back to overcome my lead.
After finishing second multiple times, I’ll admit that I started to doubt whether I’d ever win an Elite Series tournament. I’d been in position to make it happen several times, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make it to Championship Sunday. You never know how many of those opportunities you’re going to get. I’m proud that I never changed the way that I fished. I just kept doing things the way I’ve always done them, continuing to hone my skills over time and trusted the process.
I’m thankful for the support that I received from my family, friends and sponsors throughout the event and since it ended. I promise that I’ll get back to you all as soon as I can – the sheer volume of messages has been beyond overwhelming. The fans, too, were incredible. Orange really knows how to make us feel welcome. Beyond that, I continue to be amazed at how many of my fellow Elite Series anglers reached out to me, including some I know well and some that I barely know at all. It was humbling to experience their respect, not just for my fishing accomplishment, but also for what I am as a person. In many ways, that means more to me than the trophy. You can’t buy respect. You can’t get it as a result of your social media numbers or your sponsorship income. With this group, you truly have to earn it on and off the water and I’m privileged that this week everything came together and allowed me the recognition that I’ve worked so hard to attain.