My new Elite life

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Chris Mitchell

Pat Schlapper is ready for the beginning of his new life as a Bassmaster Elite Series angler.

I’m getting ready to head to Florida and fish the 2021 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River. It’ll be a new experience for me. I suppose you could call it the beginning of the rest of my new life. 

I say that meaning I’ll be fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series as a rookie this year. The thing is, though, that I’m not as much of a rookie as my record would have you believe. It’s true that I’ve only fished four professional level B.A.S.S. tournaments, and only one FLW tournament as a co-angler, but I have fished a number of tournaments all around the country. 

And, in November I won the 2020 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. That secured my spot in the Elites and at the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.

I’m excited about both of those accomplishments. They’ve been a dream of mine for some time, back when I was working for Scheels. For those of you who don’t know the company, it’s a large sporting goods chain store that is about as employee and customer friendly as any store can get. That’s not surprising because it’s employee owned. 

I bought and sold fishing tackle for them, and I still do a little bit here and there. It was a great job. My compensation was good and my retirement solid. I have no complaints. But still, the dream of fishing professionally full time was always with me. As much as I liked my job I liked fishing more. I just wasn’t happy where I was at in my life.

The company understood that, and I’ll always respect them for their attitude about it. In fact, they agreed to be my title sponsor this year. That helps financially, but it also helps emotionally, knowing they’re behind me and supporting me. I care about them, and they care about me.  

Fortunately, I married a woman who understood that much like Scheel did. Brittany and I talked things over. I wanted to change careers. She agreed. Really, though, it’s a change of careers for both of us — a different life than the one we had been leading. 

She’s a school teacher. She’ll be at the Classic and maybe at a couple of the other tournaments. But for right now, she’ll keep teaching. It would be nice to be together all the time, but that’s not the way it’s going to be for a while. It’s a matter of the cost of medical insurance to be honest about it. 

So anyway, here we are …

Looking into 2021 I can honestly say that I’m not all that nervous or concerned when I think about what I’m facing, although I do understand what’s at stake. The travel is extensive, and the competition is fierce.

As far as the travel is concerned, I can say that it doesn’t bother me at all; in fact I like it. Going to Florida in a few days is no big thing to me. I’ll just pack everything, hook up my boat and head south. And, I’ll do that the rest of the year no matter if I’m going to a tournament or checking out somewhere I’ve never been getting ready for a future tournament.

I feel the same way about the competition. I know it’s tough. They’re the best. But a lot of those guys fished the Opens I fished too. I feel I can be competitive against them when the time comes. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t respect them or that I won’t feel differently when I’m sitting in my boat getting ready to launch at the St. Johns River.

The reality of it all might set in though. I’m aware of that. Sitting in your boat looking around at the best competitive bass anglers in the country has a way of getting your attention. Time changes things too. The travel — being away from home for long periods of time and taking care of everything by yourself — can get old. You never know. We’ll just have to see.

So that’s the way it is for me in late January 2021. It’s the beginning of my new life as an Elite Series angler. Brittany and I feel like it’s going to be a good ride for both of us.