GADSDEN, Ala. — After three days of practice on Neely Henry Lake, Thursday’s postponement was an opportunity for the 98 Elite Series anglers to regroup, rest and relax a bit. Caleb Sumrall went to a local gym to work out for 90 minutes. That wasn’t always his style.
“I was playing with my kids one day, wrestling with them in the floor, rolling them around, and I was out of breath,” Sumrall recalled of a day in between tournaments in the middle of the 2019 season, his second on the Elite Series. “I got up one day and just started running. It sounds Forrest Gump-ish, but I just started running. And it sucked. I was hurting.”
Fast-forward to this season and the early April Elite Series tournament on the Sabine River. Sumrall, now a physically fit 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, completed the David Goggins 4x4x48 Challenge – running four miles every four hours for 48 hours. Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL, is an accomplished ultramarathoner and fitness guru.
“He’s not for the faint of heart,” said Sumrall, who will turn 34 on May 20. “He makes you question what you think you can do. You push that, and you realize you’re not even close to understanding what you can do.”
That’s exactly what the 4x4x48 did for Sumrall.
“I really wanted to quit 36 hours into it,” he said. “It got tough. My wife, Jacie, started riding her bike with me during those runs. That helped out. I averaged under nine minutes per mile. It was rewarding to complete that.”
So what’s all this physical fitness got to do with bass tournament fishing? It’s certainly not a formula for success for everyone, Sumrall acknowledged. But the two were welded into one for Sumrall when he rested one day after 4x4x48, drove to the Sabine River tournament for practice the next and finished seventh in the tournament.
“I feel like that’s my niche. It’s what makes me fish better, and I’ll never give it up,” said Sumrall, who noted that it was another Elite Series angler, John Crews, who first got him interested in making physical fitness part of his routine. Crews was at the same local gym when Sumrall was there Thursday.
Sumrall, who is from New Iberia, La., is 11th in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings after five events this season. After an 83rd-place finish at the St. Johns River to start the season, he’s finished between 21st and seventh in the four events since. He understands that fitness isn’t the sole reason for his success. He ran 1,243 miles last year, achieving a goal of averaging 100 miles per month, and finished 60th in the AOY standings. But he feels like becoming more physically fit and becoming a better tournament angler are beginning to come together for him.
“It’s all about decisions on the water,” Sumrall said. “You’ve heard a million anglers say that. You need to be sharp mentally for eight or nine hours of the day, on your A game. Being physically fit helps me make good decisions all day.
“When you’re running, you’ll take off, run a mile and want to quit. Pushing yourself to hit that goal, that’s the grind. That’s the grind that plays into bass fishing.”
The Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake promises to be a grind. Practice was tough before the lake flooded and dirtied even more, forcing Thursday’s postponement. Sumrall claims he doesn’t have many clues on how to catch a bass on these waters right now. But he will be fully engaged in solving the puzzle beginning Friday, both mentally and physically. His 90-minute “tune-up” at the gym Thursday morning assured that.