Rolling into next season

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Thomas Allen

A month ago I pulled my Phoenix out of the water at the AOY Championship, ending my 2016 tournament season. I dropped it off in Kentucky at its new home, and the minute I arrived back here in Florida, I started preparing to do it all over again. If you follow us closely on the Bassmaster Elite Series you know that for the last several seasons we have kicked off our year in February, at the Bassmaster Classic. That leaves roughly three to four months of “downtime” to get ready. That seems like plenty of time, right? 

My preparation for the upcoming 2017 season actually started way back in July. We always seem to have a few weeks around ICAST to catch our breath, regroup and get ready to finish the remaining derbies left on the schedule, so I use that break as an opportunity to get a jump on my next season. In addition to my responsibilities for the companies I work for at the show, that is when the planning process starts. Before, during and after the show each day there are discussions and plans set forth for the upcoming year, or in some cases multiple years. ICAST lasts for three days, and I wish it was a week. It seems that there is never enough time to meet with everyone or get everything accomplished that I want to. It is an exceptionally important time for everyone in the fishing industry, including me.

Another step in preparation that has already gotten underway is managing the travel plans and logistics of the schedule. I find this to be almost comical, mostly because my wife Sara gets so stressed about it, as do most of the other Elite Series wives. When rumors of the schedule start flying around, they all start planning. Where will we stay? Where’s the launch? What’s the best campground, and then what’s the best site, so two trucks, a boat and a 40 foot camper will fit on it? This whole process that started months and months ago is still going on, and while it's funny to me, I can assure you it’s serious business for my wife. The reality of it is that she understands that the more comfortable she can make things for me at a derby – which can be a touch stressful at times – the better the odds become of me having a successful tournament. I couldn’t do it without her!

About the time I dropped my boat off with its new owner the plans started for the one I will be competing in next year. Every aspect of the boat itself, the trailer and each piece of equipment that goes on it is carefully planned. I want the latest and best equipment I can have, period. As I am writing this, Phoenix is pulling my new 921 out of the mold and rigging it with some new, tricked out products that I will be using next season.

I feel that having the latest and best equipment is necessary to be competitive at the top level of the sport, and I am extremely grateful to work with companies that make that possible. But that equipment really does not do you a bit of good if you don’t know how to use it. This is something that does not happen overnight. 

I spend several weeks each offseason getting everything dialed in. The process will start in a few weeks when I pick up the boat, and it will continue right up until the first cast Day 1 at Cherokee. I have to be 100 percent comfortable that everything that I use – the boat, engine, trolling motor, electronics, rods, reels, everything – are the best tools available to me to do my job and compete. I admit that I love the smell of fresh fiberglass. I love putting the boat in the water for the first time, making my first cast and catching my first bass out of a new boat. It’s like meeting someone you are going to have to work with everyday for year and figuring out how you are going to get the job done.

As fun as getting your equipment dialed in can be, one huge obstacle that I deal with at the end of every season is picking up the pieces from the previous one. What I am talking about is organization. I think B.A.S.S. should publish some before-and-after photos of our trucks and boats before the first cast and then after the last one. I am pretty sure most of you would be like, “What the hell happened?” It’s like a bomb went off in every compartment, storage box, container, you name it. I still don’t really know how it happens, it just happens. I feel like I have somewhat of a better handle on it compared to some of my peers, but it continues to drive me crazy. 

I break my organization process down into three segments, in the following order: Camper, boat and then truck. I would put the boat and truck first, but all I have is the camper right now so that’s where I have started. Despite my claim above that I’m better at it than some of my competitors, it’s not going all that well. Since I don’t have my truck or boat all of the chaos has spilled over into my house. No matter what I do or what system I come up with, three straight months on the road and a few back-to-back-to-back derbies always does it in.

Since I brought up the camper, that is a whole other category in itself. I have had several over the years, and I have come to a few conclusions about them. First, let me say that I love camping and could not picture myself competing on the Elites in any other way. Neither Sara nor I think that nasty motels and the problems that come with them are any fun. Nevertheless, if you’re going to live in a camper, you’d better be good at fixing things. I am, but now is when I fix the things I didn’t previously have time or energy to fix. Pulling a house down the highway for 40,000 miles a year sometimes seems like a never-ending exercise in frustration.

Even though the season ends, the traveling never really stops. This time of year there is more flying and not nearly as much driving. I have had productive and trouble-free trips to Tennessee and Texas recently. It’s good right now because the weather is nice everywhere, but I know that trouble is on its way. I am confident that at some point this winter I will be stuck in a strange city somewhere because of a blizzard or something. I can’t wait. I try and anticipate the worst possible scenarios at every stop. That way if everything goes well I feel like I’ve won the battle.

I also use this time of year to charge my batteries. Not the ones in my boat, the ones in my head. A few of my buddies continue to try and fish competitively as much as possible, some climb trees, others play golf. I used to go nonstop for 12 months, 365 days a year. Some of my veteran friends told me that would have to change eventually, and they were right. Now I take a break as often as possible. I have been saltwater fishing a few days and had one much needed Saturday of watching non-stop College football. This is all important so I can be ready when it's time to make the first cast.