After fishing the Bassmaster tournament trail for more than 20 years, and the FLW Tour for more than 20 years, I have seen almost every level of competition possible in the world of tournament angling.
I say this after fishing 18 Bassmaster Classics/FLW Cups as well as the B.A.S.S. Elite 50/Top 100 and Top 150 circuits. I’ve pretty much seen the best, the worst, the most overrated and underrated anglers as well as many stuck in mediocrity their entire careers.
One thing is for sure — none of the high levels of performance I have ever experienced equaled the level of competition I witnessed on the 2020 Bassmaster Opens circuit.
I was able to finish 13th in the 2020 Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year race … so close yet so far from a 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series berth, which was my goal.
Looking back, its easy to see where a key lost fish here or a bad decision there cost me finishing in the top four in the points standings.
The reality is I did not fish clean enough to finish in the top four, and the top four that qualified did.
I do not think the fishing industry, fans, social media world or non-Bassmaster Open competitors can understand what an incredible achievement it is for those anglers who qualified for the Elites via the Opens divisions.
It's truly an accomplishment equal to or greater than finishing in the top four in the Elite Series Angler of the Year standings.
If you do not believe me, I respectfully invite all the current Elite Series pros to come over to the Opens next year and find out.
While lots of marquee names also fished the Opens in 2020, the overall level of competition can only be appreciated by those who competed on the Opens circuit.
Most of the fishing public has never heard of these anglers, but dozens of them are skilled enough to compete on the Elite Series and are comparable to the current field of anglers who fish that circuit.
They are waiting in the wings to catch a break into that miniscule window available from the Opens to the Elites. In doing so, they must catch the once in a lifetime breaks it takes to make the top four out of 200-plus anglers.
As a veteran of Bassmaster tournaments and with more than 30 years as a full-time professional angler, I can honestly say 2020 was one of the most enjoyable seasons I have had.
While I was disappointed I narrowly missed qualifying for the Elites, being back in the energy of the Bassmaster tournament trail was like a rebirth to me.
I missed everything about B.A.S.S., and this season reminded me of what a mistake it was to leave the organization in 2005 when many of us were forced by sponsor alignments to chose between B.A.S.S. and FLW.
This year reaffirmed that my decision to return to B.A.S.S. was correct, and I look forward to continuing indefinitely with the organization.
It feels good to be back at home where I started it all in 1985, and I look forward to what 2021 brings.