Two milestone years on the water

In fishing, folks often want to know when your “aha moment" happened and when it all magically came together to become a touring professional. It doesn’t exactly work that way, but when I look back over the years, I realize there were key times in my fishing. For me, there were two big years: 2011 and 2014. 

I mentioned in my last column that I fished locally for the most part and then regionally in B.A.S.S. Nation events. I took a step to the national level in my early 20s when I fished the FLW Tour as a co-angler. I fished four years as a co-angler on the tour (2008-2011). When I wasn’t on the road I framed houses and fished. Framing houses gave me freedom to fish events and keep my dream in focus.  

I fished my final year as a co-angler in 2011. I’ll never forget that year because I won the Forrest Wood Cup from the back of the boat. That $60,000 payday gave me the ability to quit framing houses and pursue fishing as a permanent source of income. That wasn’t an aha moment to jump into the pros and use that money as a way to fund it. Instead, it gave me freedom to fish more and live the life I wanted, which opened the door for my next important life achievement. Soon after my win I started posting YouTube videos and tips from the water, and that created more demand to guide. In 2012 I began to guide full time. 

I spent the next few years fishing B.A.S.S. Nation events, but it was tough to get over the divisional hurdle. Breaking through the Nation is a feat in itself. Not only do you have to prove yourself at the local club level, then to the divisional and then at Nationals. One unique experience was my win in the Eastern Divisional at Sebago Lake in Maine, which is actually one of the 2019 B.A.S.S. Nation tournament venues. Sebago taught me a lot in 2013, and I was blessed to win that event in a way I never thought I could. 

My second important calendar year came late in 2013, and it extended throughout 2014. I qualified for Nationals and did well enough on Lake Dardanelle to punch my ticket to the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville. That is the single-most tournament people ask about. Finishing second was incredible. Most would expect second place to be heartbreaking, but instead it was a blessing in disguise because.

I went from B.A.S.S. Nation angler Paul Mueller who was in 47th place after Day 1 of the Classic to, “Who in the world is Paul Mueller?” That’s what happens when everything goes perfectly and I catch 32 pounds in the Classic. That set the bar for the single largest five-fish limit in Bassmaster Classic history (32-3). It was a day I’ll never forget.

Simply one more keeper on Day 1 and this column may have a different tone to it. Losing by an ounce or 100 pounds all feels the same, but I believe you learn the most about yourself in a losing effort. Everyone can point to a missed opportunity or a moment where the outcome could’ve been different, but I’ll gladly take a second-place finish in the Bassmaster Classic because it led me to where I am today. 

You keep climbing that ladder and there are always obstacles that will be in your way. The goal never changes, the path to the goal gets steeper and you just have to keep climbing. I could’ve easily let the Classic stumble on Day 1 when I had three fish for 9 pounds hinder the rest of my event, but I kept climbing. Not only was 2014 important to my career because of the Classic, but in so many other ways.

My guide business took off after the whirlwind week of the Classic. Then it was back to my roots and fishing the B.A.S.S. Nation. I managed to make it to the National Championship once again and this time I broke through and won it on the Ouachita River.

It was a big win for me for numerous reasons. I learned a lot about myself that week as an angler. I also punched my ticket to my second Bassmaster Classic, and I garnered an Elite Series invite based off my Nation win. The B.A.S.S. Nation paved my way to fishing professionally as it has many others. The next batch of 2019 Bassamster Classic qualifiers and National Champion are having their big moment over on Pickwick Lake.

Congratulations to those anglers, what an accomplishment it is!