Saving pro angler Brent Chapman

Last fall while training for a triathlon, Brent Chapman almost drowned. A passing boater saved him.

Over the next few months, as surely as that boater pulled him aboard, he hauled himself out of the hot water his career had slid into.

The Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Lake Quivira, Kan., now leads one Bassmaster points race, is second in the all-important Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year race, owns a 2012 tournament title and has already qualified for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

His fast start to the season actually began last June when the 2011 Elite Series season ended. He had almost missed his fifth consecutive and 11th Classic qualification. While strong in his recent Classic finishes, he wasn’t making Top 12 cuts during the regular season. In four of eight tournaments, he had not made a Top 50 cut — meaning he had not cashed a check.

“That was a kick in the pants. Not making cuts and almost missing the Classic was very humbling and an eye-opener. How quickly you can go from being successful to going broke in a hurry,” he said. “It woke me up.”

Chapman embarked on a makeover. He organized his work life and took up a new physical regimen. Both steps improved his mental focus during fishing competitions. Things began to click. On Feb. 11, he won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Texas’ Lewisville Lake. The win gave him a 2013 Classic berth (provided he competes in the Central’s remaining two events) and the lead in the circuit’s points race.

In March, he posted a fourth- and a fifth-place finish in the first two Bassmaster Elite Series events. Those two tournaments put him one point away from the lead in the 2012 Angler of the Year competition.

Skeet Reese, who won the crown in 2007, leads with 192 points to Chapman’s 191. There are six more events in the 2012 regular Elite season. Each one has the potential to bump the early leaders down — or keep them up.

Chapman plans to stay on the upside of the points race by continuing with the physical and organizational regimen that got him this far. One of his first steps in that endeavor was signing up for a mini-triathlon in the fall of 2011. The course was 10 miles of cycling, 3 miles of running and a 500-meter swim.

He knew the swimming would be a challenge. While he can swim, he had no competitive swimming experience. “I’ve always been in decent shape, so I thought, ‘Even if I have to dog-paddle, I can do it,’” he said.

For his first practice, he used a rangefinder to mark off 500 meters across a cove of the lake he lives on. A neighbor stood on shore. Chapman jumped in — no working up to the distance, no warm-up.

“I got about halfway across the cove, and got into the situation where my body was shutting down. I spotted a buoy, and it took everything I had left to go the 30 or 40 yards to reach it.”

Clinging to the buoy, he shouted for help. A boater heard him and picked him up within minutes.

“If that buoy hadn’t been there, and if that boat hadn’t been there to help me, I would have drowned. There’s no doubt,” he said.

Undeterred, but just two weeks away from race day, he enlisted the help of a woman who trained swimmers. He learned enough about competitive swimming basics to complete the course — while wearing a ski belt flotation device around his waist during the aquatic leg of the race.

Meanwhile, he worked at becoming more organized. He had fallen into a procrastinator’s trap. His boat wrap and his tackle and equipment, for example, had become last-minute tasks before the season started. That created stress and left little time to focus on the upcoming competitions.

One by one, he started his off-season tasks earlier. He and his wife, Bobbi, became more proactive on the business side of his career. They paid more attention to blending their home life (and the activities of their two young children) into the traveling life of a pro angler.

“We’re a better, well-oiled machine now,” Chapman said.

Both Brent and Bobbi began to work with a therapist who specializes in “alignment therapy,” exercises that reduce pain and increase performance.

“I didn’t have a lot of pain, but I wasn’t in the shape I could be in,” Chapman said. “When you’re out there on the water, you want to focus on catching fish, not that your shoulder or your back hurts. Even when I won at Lewisville, I was sick with a cold, but by then I was in good enough shape to overcome it.”

One more factor helped Chapman get his career back on track: he turns 40 in July. The upcoming milestone made him stop and appreciate what he’s achieved: “I feel like I’m older and wiser. I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the years, know what to do and what not to do. I feel like my career is coming together.”