The coolest feeling ever

Winning a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament is something we always dream of, but we just expect the average finish. We are fine with making checks. If you want to make a career on the Elite Series, you have to have that average, consistent career of cutting checks. If there comes a time where you can win, you shoot for it, but other than that you do what you have to make money and get points for the Classic.

So winning the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee meant everything to me. I didn’t look at BassTrakk or anything after we checked in, and I didn’t think I had enough. I felt like I needed one more fish because I knew Steve Kennedy had to have them. When he pulled up and pulled the bag out, that was when I knew I had it.

The craziest part is, I grew up watching Steve Kennedy and was a big fan of his. At the Classic aon Lake Conroe, we watched him the whole tournament and followed him around. It was crazy I was up against him to win my first Elite tournament.

I am glad Joey Cifuentes got to win at Lake Seminole. I would have loved to win twice. Back-to-back would have been awesome. But after winning at Okeechobee, I wish everyone could experience it because it was the coolest feeling ever.

I looked out in the crowd during the weigh-in and saw all of my family sitting there in tears. I did it for them. They have been there for me every step of the race. They have done everything they could to help me out. It was perfect timing. My great grandma passed, and we were best friends. I was at her house every day either doing her garden for her, or we were cooking.

I knew she was up there watching the whole time, and every time I caught a big one all week I looked up and said, “Thank you, Mammaw.” It has been a hard couple weeks without her for sure.

I lost my title sponsor for the year right before the season started too, and it was kind of depressing. It is a money deal. To lose the title sponsor at the beginning of the year, it threw me for a loop. My family kept me in there and kept my head up. My family kept saying this was my year, and it was all about building myself. These first two tournaments showed that.

This win has been an awesome experience, and it’s because of all the fans and people who support me. Without any support, it is hard.

At Okeechobee, it always seemed like if you wanted to win you had to be in a crowd. If you weren’t around anyone it means you weren’t catching them. I proved you could still catch them in places people don’t fish.

It never crossed my mind I would find the winning fish trying to catch dinner. It was just God’s way of saying, “It’s your time.” And I got some food out of it too. I was honestly trying to get out of the wind and was tired of fishing in the wind. I knew they had a lot of sac-a-lait, or crappie, in the river so I went there. I had about 20 of them, but I kept seeing fish up shallower on my LiveScope.

I thought to myself, “Those are really big sac-a-lait if that’s what it is, but I’m almost 100% sure those are bass.” I threw a jerkbait up there and first cast I caught a 6-pounder. Honestly, the second I caught it I was trying to keep it down because there was a boat coming. It ended up being my roommate Brock Mosley. I waved him down and showed him what I caught, and he was confused as hell. He thought it was a fluke.

He ran out to the lake, and I caught them about 30 minutes later. One was a 5-pounder and one was 4 1/2. He came running back in there trying to figure it out too but couldn’t. It was just a strange deal, and it worked perfectly.

I knew there were plenty of fish there, but I found those fish the first day of practice. If I knew it was that good, I wouldn’t have practiced the rest of the time. But you can’t do that on the Elite Series. Something always fails, and I wasn’t sure it was going to work. I thought it might be a conditions deal. The wind was blowing hard and had them off the cover. I think they were setting up to get on the bank, and I thought I would just try it the first day and see where it went from there.

I went in there on Day 1 and was about to leave with two fish for 3 pounds. Right when I was about to leave I caught one over 6 pounds. The next cast I caught one that was almost 5 pounds. At that point, I had four fish for 14 pounds which I was targeting as the cut weight. I decided to stay there the rest of the day and not chance anything.

The thing about my 29-pound Day 2, I knew I wouldn’t touch 30 with my scale. I could have stayed there, cause they were biting that second day, and broke 30 if I just stayed there. But I made the right move and decided not to cull a 5-pounder with a 5 1/2 just to break 30 pounds. And who knows, if I had kept casting I might have caught that 6 1/2 -pounder I caught first thing on Day 4, and I wouldn’t have won.

With the victory and a top five finish at Lake Seminole, I think that will help me work through the rest of the season. But I am not guaranteeing anything. You could bomb the rest of the year, who knows. I’m not going to get ahead of myself.

I’m going to go back and do what I do every tournament and try to make checks. I’ll try to win one if I get the chance. The confidence helps, but I just have to be smart about it and make next year’s Bassmaster Classic.