Mark Tucker likes the position he’s in, the position where he can attack, not worry about points or sweat the cut, to be able to take a big swing.
That’s exactly what the St. Louisian plans to do when the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open field hits Table Rock Lake this week. He’s afforded the do-or-die tack after receiving the 2012 Classic berth for winning the first Open on Texas’ Lewisville Lake.
“It was sweet, but you always want more,” Tucker said. “I’d like to win another one.”
To maintain his Classic status, Open winners have to fish all three events within the division, and Tucker said the victory allows him to go for broke. He wished he had that security when he fished the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Tucker was on B.A.S.S.’s biggest circuit for a decade, making the difficult decision that he couldn’t sign up for an 11thseason late last year. He had made the top 50 cut in five of the eight events each of the past two seasons, and had earned around $650,000 by cashing checks in 71 of 131 events.
But economic times took their toll on the angler who would follow a top finish with a flop. Admittedly not a deep water angler, Tucker struggled to find enough sponsors to help foot the bills.
“You just can’t stay out on the Elite Series when you’re funding the whole boat,” he said. “I paid all my own entry fees, the expenses , everything. It was expensive. I’m glad I didn’t go so far in debt that you couldn’t see daylight.
”You can only do what you can do. When you’re funding it out of your own pocket, you can’t put yourself in position to win an event when you have to win $10,000 to get in the next event.”
That’s an issue that Tucker said makes it challenging. A number of anglers feel they have to fish defensively to get their limit, make their points, cash their check. It can inhibit going for victory. Gerald Swindle said as much last week at the TroKar Battle on the Bayou.
Swindle, who finished second by an ounce, said he was stuck in an old mentality when he decided to leave a 2 ½-pounder on a bed to go fish for a win.
"I said to myself, 'What in the hell are you doing? Even if you catch it, what have you done? Swindle said. "In order to win, you have to fish to win. Otherwise, you let yourself get backed in a corner and you stay defensive."
Of course, Swindle already had a Classic berth sewn up, so he could afford to be aggressive. Tucker said he now can, too. The mindset changes. Decisions become easier. It’s like the gambler with the big stack who can shoot from the hip.
“When you are comfortable enough to try to win the event instead of just get a check, you have to fish totally different,” he said. “You’re not so conservative. You have to put yourself in position to find bigger fish and win the event.
“You have to put your head down and put your faith in what you’re doing until you find the fish.”
Doing that might help him get back to the Elites. He said he didn’t have much luck securing another major sponsor even after winning at Lewisville, but he’s hoping more success will sway a potential backer.
“I want to get back in the Elites,” he said. “Mercury has been phenomenal. If I can just get a couple more sponsors like that, I could do it and feel comfortable doing it.
“Several times I’ve been in the top 4, 3 and go out the last day and know that I should have just ran new water and not go try to beat the fish I already caught. You end up struggling just to get little limit and end up dropping down.”
Receiving more exposure, like an angler gets on Bassmaster TV shows when in contention for the title, goes a long way in getting such notice.
“If you had a big title sponsor and you didn’t have to worry about the 10k, you could go for it,” Tucker said. “Kevin (VanDam) is getting the money coming in and he doesn’t have to worry about anything but how many fish he can catch in a day, and that sure takes the pressure off. And that’s why he succeeds.”
His Open victory and impending trip to the Red River for the 2012 Classic could combine with a loosening economy to get Tucker back where he wants to be, but for now he knows he can fish with no fear.
“That’s the neat thing about having the Classic made,” he said, ”when there’s a lot of fishing left, you can take chances.”
After winning at Lewisville, Tucker had hoped to go straight to Shreveport and prefish the Red River, but he said tornados in his St. Louis suburban town of Kirkwood forced him to return home to tend to his bird dogs.
“The river was high anyway. I’m going to spend a lot of time there in November and December, and I’ve been there already a few times, so I got a feel for the place,” he said.
It will be Tucker’s eighth Classic. His best finish was in his first, an eighth at High Rock Lake out of Greensboro, N.C., in 1998.
“The last one I fished at Lay Lake, I got a 12ththere,” he said. “The Classic is a tough deal to fish as well. You really got to fish to win it from the git-go.”
Just like he likes.