The Walker win on Wheeler Lake

The Classic’s the thing for a professional bass angler. I was a wreck going into this tournament. My goal all along was to make the Classic. Before the Arkansas River I was in pretty good shape. But then I finished next to last down there — my total weight for two days was a whopping 12 ounces — and everything went the wrong way.

I lost a lot of ground in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and was literally fighting for my Classic life. I was catching fish early in the event but the guys around me in the points’ standings were catching them, too. I wasn’t making up much ground, if any. It was nerve-wracking.

This win takes a huge weight off of my shoulders. I don’t have to crunch numbers or ask what if anymore. I’m in. That’s the best feeling in the world. I can relax a little bit now knowing I’ll be a competitor at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.

Let’s face it, after a while you get to thinking that it (a Tour level win) isn’t going to happen. I’ve come so close so many times that you begin to expect another close call. If you’re not careful it can get inside your head. It gets real ugly, real fast.

I just made up my mind that this time would be different. I didn’t allow any other thought to enter my mind. The past was the past. It didn’t count anymore. The present was now. To make the most of this opportunity I had to block everything out except catching bass.  (That’s not as easy as it sounds with VanDam nipping at your heels on his kind of water. You try to not think about that but it’s darn near impossible. He’s scary good.)

My wife and kids share in this, too. We travel, live and compete as a family. They’ve been with me every step of the way. This is a kind of validation for them as well as for me. There’s a picture of the four of us on that shows them smiling with me on stage. That pretty much says it all.

Another thing that isn’t talked about much is the money. It’s huge. I’ll admit it — I couldn’t wait to see the check after everything was over. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me and my family.

This is a very expensive sport, especially at the Bassmaster Elite Series level. I earned a few checks this year but, frankly, I was starting to wonder how we were going to make it work next year. Now I don’t have to worry about that. That’s another huge weight off my shoulders.

All in all it was a great tournament and a great Father’s Day. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It’ll be a fun drive home.