Howell: Managing Classic preparation

It’s great to be back on this season with a column to share our love of the sport, and to give you all a glimpse into the lifestyle of a traveling family on tour. We are quickly preparing to leave for our 14th Bassmaster Classic, and I think having the opportunity to compete in the Bassmaster Classic quite a few times over the years has really helped my family prepare for the high-paced atmosphere that will be the norm again this year. Sure, there’s a lot of stress that comes with it, but I thoroughly enjoy my time there, and I’m thankful to be able to fish in another one.

This is also the time of the year when I’m at a show somewhere every weekend, getting to meet so many great people that love bass fishing, and it’s been that way since the first of the year. When I finally get home on Mondays, I have to go “wide open” trying to get the new King's Home Triton rigged and ready for competition. This year I’ve been way behind because of a hectic schedule! I’m a very organized guy, and I like to have everything just right when I get to the Classic, so I am scrambling a bit this year to get it all together.

This year we go to the first Bassmaster Elite Series event in Florida the week after the Classic, so we’ve got to have all of our equipment ready for the road. That means having all my new Daiwa rods and reels strung up and all the new Livingston Lunker lure and Yamamoto baits loaded in the boxes so I don’t waste time running to the tackle store for a pack of Senkos the night before the tournament. There’s a lot of work that leads up to the Classic, and if you’re not on the ball well in advance, it can really sneak up on you and cause anxiety and stress and make the experience unpleasant. I’ve learned that my faith in Christ and time management eliminates a lot of that self-induced stress.

To add to the complexity of our situation this year, my family and I are in the process of building a new house. Our previous home sold so quickly that we had to take up temporary residence in a small rental in Guntersville, and I emphasize the word small! Fortunately, Boyd Duckett has been very gracious and has allowed me to keep my boat and equipment in his garage while we make this transition, which has been extremely helpful. So this year I’ll keep you posted on our progress as we continue to work toward one of our goals, which is to be living on Lake Guntersville by the end of the season.

Now, the next important step in preparing for the Classic is computer research. If you didn’t already know, we have a long off-limits period for the Classic that started on Jan. 1, so we can’t go on the water, or receive any info from anyone about fishing on tournament waters. What we can do is research online to find public reports of past events in March, which could give me an idea of what kind of weight it may take to win the Bassmaster Classic.

We can also monitor lake levels, weather forecast and patterns that could help me figure out what I think the basic trend is going to be. It’s hard to rely on weather forecasts a few weeks in advance, but you can stay on top of things. Right now it’s looking like a warming trend, and that gets me excited! Last years Classic was the coldest in history, so it’ll be nice to fish in warmer weather. Once we arrive at Grand Lake on Friday the challenge will begin, and I’ll start putting the puzzle together in hopes of another “magical” day.

As all the Classic festivities begin, time management becomes a necessity. Tuesday is our official registration day, and when we sign in with B.A.S.S. that day, our schedule becomes theirs. Several sponsor events will be taking place throughout the week, and I’ll also have the opportunity to talk with a lot of writers during Media Day (Thursday) from all over the world. The Classic is an international event, and in 2014, I was amazed at the worldwide reach this one event has. I hope to be giving them all something good to write about again.

Once media day is over, it’s time to get serious. This year we will be in a huge rush every morning and evening driving between Tulsa and Grand Lake. Fortunately, we are borrowing a lake house from some friends, which will keep us close to the launch site. However, after check-in each day, I drive the truck and boat 90 miles—one way—to Tulsa for the weigh-in that is immediately followed by press conferences, interviews and dinner among other things. Eventually, we’ll end up back at the lake house where I’ll re-spool reels, rig rods and prep the boat for the next day. It may be 11 o’clock before I finally get to bed. But, I sleep well! I affectionately refer to it as “Adrenaline Week!”

As most of you know, my faith in Christ is very important to me, and I believe that I have to be spiritually healthy every day to be successful in life, especially when it comes to managing the Classic. I can understand how easy it is to depend on “self,” but for me, that’s a recipe for stress. I’ve made it a top priority for years now to give the first minutes of my day to Jesus through a daily devotional, prayer and worship time. He’s proven to me that if I give HIM the first part of my day, HE will bless the rest. It’s the least I can do, and it’s become clear how much I need it on a daily basis. That early time really helps me focus on what’s important. Matt. 6:33

The bottom line: I know I’m not in control; He is. After winning the Classic in 2014 that became very clear to me, and that experience has taught me not to worry. Whatever happens, happens for a reason, and it’s out of our control, period. The amount of stress that has been relieved in my life by not worrying is hard to explain, but I do know that I fish better, and I’m a better husband and father when I rely totally on Him.

It sounds like a crazy schedule because it is, but somehow, the fishing falls in around all of that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun, and I consider myself very blessed to be able to compete at this level and participate in such an amazing event. But, it sure takes effective time management and being well prepared in advance. It’s something that I physically, mentally and spiritually prepare for all year long. When the time comes to launch my Triton on the first day of competition, you can bet that I’ve worked tirelessly to get to that point. And, I will be making every cast praying for another Classic title.

Ready or not, Tulsa, here we come!