Winning lifts the weight

Now that I have won the Marathon Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake Murray, I feel more relaxed. It’s like I had a weight lifted off my chest. Not winning has been hanging over me for a couple of years now. I have really had some close calls. I finished second a couple times and in the top five a couple times. I have been right there and haven’t been able to seal the deal, which hadn’t been the case for me early in my career. If I was right there, I felt comfortable closing out an event.

There were a couple things that were out of my control. I had a dead fish penalty that cost me 4 ounces, and I lost by an ounce. I had bass get off. Stuff that was outside of my control cost me winning at least two of those events. This win is more reassuring than anything and lets me know that I can still get the job done.

A sight-fishing tournament is so hard to win, and ultimately, other than four bass, all of them I caught at Lake Murray were via sight fishing. Of the four that weren’t, two were on bed; one of them bit a topwater and one bit a swimbait.

People always said when I was coming up that you couldn’t win a sight-fishing event. Then Drew Cook did it last year at Santee Cooper Lakes. Right before that event, I finished second at Harris Chain sight fishing. I was so close.

I wanted to win one sight fishing. It is what I love to do, and it is so fun. When people say you can’t do something, it makes me want to do it that much more. That is what made Murray so special; I did it my way. All my friends back home that I grew up fishing with were following the event, and it was special for them too.

It says a lot about Lake Murray too. It is such a good lake, it had so much going on and there were so many different ways to catch them. You have to have that, because if everyone in the field is looking for spawners, and we split the fish up, I wouldn’t have won that way.

If I saw a boat in this event, I went somewhere else. The thing about Murray is, it had bass from top to bottom. Now there might be areas or pockets that had more than others, but you could go literally anywhere and find bass. I shied away from other anglers. I had the confidence that if I kept looking and kept my head down, I would find some more.

But after Day 3, a day where I caught 14 pounds and fell from the lead to 10th, I was thinking, “Here we go again.” I didn’t realize that I was fishing behind Cook and probably a couple of other anglers in a couple creeks. I was running into a bunch of empty, fresh beds. I felt like I had lost the tournament.

I was so mad at myself and my wife, Morgan, could tell I was beating myself up. She got up at some point in the night and wrote several Bible verses on a piece of paper and handed it to me right before I was about to takeoff on Sunday. I stuck it in my bibs and ran down the lake.

I fished a spot and caught a good one and lost a good one. It was kind of weird. I looked up at the next point, and it wasn’t very far so I was going to idle up there. I grabbed the note and read it as I was idling. I don’t know how to describe how it made me feel, but It was all easy after that. There was never any doubt about what I was going to do.

So on the final day, I started with the mentality that I was just going to go fishing, get a good start and then go hunting for females. I started with a 4-pounder and a couple of 5-pounders. Each time I would go through a stretch and not get a bite, I was wondering if I had maxed out. At what point do I need to go looking?

I kept telling myself I had to have all 5-plus pounders. So at that point in the morning, I had three of the fish I needed to win. I had a realistic shot to win. I needed to find one 6-pounder to cull a 4-pounder or find a couple in the 5-pound range.

I didn’t look at the time, but maybe 45 minutes and I found that 6-pounder. I caught the bass and thought I had a legit shot to win at that point. I felt like I had done pretty much all I could do. I looked until it was time to go in, and I found one more 5-pounder to cull out a 4 1/20pounder. I had four 5-pounders and a 6-pounder in total.

Cameraman David Pennington and I have shared the boat for some of the events that were close, and we have a good relationship. He saw me read that note earlier in the morning, and I kept it to myself. After I caught that 6-pounder, we were both pumped, and I handed that note to him. He read it, and I could tell by his reaction and the shake in his voice how powerful it was. It was a moment that will be etched in my mind forever.

That last day, whenever you are going to win, you can do no wrong. I hooked one in the back with one treble hook, landed it, and I said then this felt like it was going to be my day. It was like a storybook.

There are days where everything is going against you, and days when everything is going for you. This was one of those days where everything was going for me.