Like hundreds of other serious bass anglers from around the globe, I have set forth on the monumental task of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series via the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens in 2020.
Regardless of who you are or what you have accomplished at even the top levels of this sport — Classic championship, Angler of the Year titles, etc. — finishing in the top four in the Opens is a career accomplishment equal to any in this sport.
As many of you know, I have been fishing the 2020 Bassmaster Opens out of a 2017 model 19-foot aluminum boat with a 150 hp engine. I have no side imaging or down imaging on this rig. It has a 24-volt trolling motor and a 30-gallon gas tank. The entire rig costs less than $30,000.
My plan for 2020 was to simplify my fishing, return more to primal instincts/intuition and to hopefully set an example to anglers out there with limited financial resources that you can achieve your dreams of fishing for a living on a tight budget.
Things have worked out well with the plan so far, and I am fortunate to be sitting in second place in the Bassmaster Opens combined Angler of the Year standings.
Obviously, there is a lot of fishing to do before I can earn an Elite Series berth. But at this point, I am feeling good about the rest of the season.
What does it take to qualify for the Elites through the Opens? It takes a combination of all the controlled and uncontrolled variables lining up perfectly.
You cannot lose key fish. You cannot have equipment failures. Boat draws must match with your game plan and co-anglers must give you the space to thoroughly fish the cover you are dissecting without taking away your focus.
In other words, you cannot afford to have one single bad day on the water all season long and expect to qualify for the Elites. Given the above set of realities, it is easy to see that nobody on this planet is guaranteed to qualify.
For me, this season so far has been an affirmation that you do not have to have the most expensive and latest equipment to compete at the top level.
You do not have to play the game of spending all your time in practice graphing for fish instead of using your instincts to find them.
You can fish your strengths and succeed. Nearly every one of the bass I have weighed in this season have come on my two favorite techniques: jerkbaits and flipping.
And most importantly, it is an affirmation to all those hard-working people out there with families to feed on a limited budget that you can be competitive and follow your fishing dreams without being financially independent.
Moving forward, I am not sure how long I will continue to fish in the tin boat. Obviously, some bodies of water make this type of rig a big limitation. One thing that will not change is my commitment to simplicity and fishing from a primal perspective.
Ultimately, the fact remains that there are ways to be a top-level tournament angler regardless of your financial situation. All those anglers who message me about these concerns should rest in the peace that it can be done.