It’s hard to look back at a season where I finished fourth in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and see it as disappointing, but 2021 left me wanting more … much more. In one tournament after another I started with a strong Day 1 and then stumbled on Day 2 before salvaging a decent finish on the third day of competition.
It was a weird season in a lot of ways, and I felt like I never got in a groove during practice. The three days of looking around would end, and I’d be scratching my head wondering how things would play out. I never really knew if I was on decent fish or if I’d still have to figure things out once competition started.
Then invariably Day 1 would turn out to be pretty good. I’d put my feelers out, try to keep the fish honest by doing a few different things and the day would usually work out pretty well.
My focus on Day 1 has always been to catch as much as I can — starting in college, through the Opens and then into the Elites. This year things went according to plan in that respect, but then invariably the bottom would fall out on me.
I’d go out on Day 2 and try to do the same things that worked a day earlier, and I wouldn’t fish freely. Sometimes I’d fish too fast, or I’d get in some kind of rut, and then I’d make the wrong moves. It happened at the Tennessee River and Pickwick and Guntersville, just to name a few. At Lake Fork, I cracked the century mark for the second straight year, but a subpar catch of 15 pounds, 7 ounces on Day 2 effectively prevented me from challenging Lee Livesay for the title.
My Day 2 struggles weren’t limited to the Elite events either. At the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open on the Harris Chain, I led Day 1 before falling back on Day 2. Then I cracked a big bag on Day 3 to finish third.
The same thing happened at the Bassmaster Classic on Ray Roberts. I caught 22-07 on the first day to put me in second place, just 9 ounces behind Steve Kennedy. Then on Day 2 I managed only a single fish that weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces, which dropped me to 13th place.
I was still inside the cut, but at more than 13 pounds behind the leader it was a near impossible upward climb. I managed a decent bag on the third day, but it was too little, too late. Now I’ll have to wait until March to get a shot at a Classic trophy.
By late in the season, it felt inevitable that I was going to struggle on Day 2. It might have gotten in my head a bit, because when I’d subsequently relax on Day 3 and go out to have fun and fish new water, I’d crack ‘em again and move up. When I was fishing just to survive, that didn’t happen.
That provides me with the recipe to correct what will hopefully turn out to be a one-year phenomenon. Yes, I managed to salvage some good finishes out of bad practices, but as a competitor you always want more than just to scratch and claw to stay in the hunt. You want to leave nothing on the table and not make any unforced errors.
Besides providing me with a road map to do better, this year also taught me some valuable lessons that I believe will benefit me in my still young career. Because I fished not only a full slate of Elites but also some Opens, I learned how to pack and how to prepare for multiple tournaments when you’re going to be on the road for a month or two at a time. I also strengthened and honed my ability to have a backup plan rather than just relying on my main deal to get me through an event.
I now know that the only two things you can rely on in fishing are that things break and that things change. It’s impossible to make fish bite when they don’t want to or when you’re not fishing around them. My Day 2 struggles prevented me from claiming my first Angler of the Year title, but as the 2021 Elite Series comes to a close, I feel like in the long run they’ll make me a better angler.