It hurts me not being at Cherokee this week

I’m young, but I’m not stupid.

I understand that things don’t just happen because you want them to – and sometimes you can put everything you’ve got into something and still fall a little short.

It’s part of life.

But with that said, I’ll admit this has been a tough week for me.

While many of my friends are at Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake for the first Bassmaster Elite Series event of the year, I’m here at home in Athens, Ala., thinking about what might have been.

Maybe you heard that I was the first man out of the Elite Series. Or the last man out. Or whatever you want to call the man who came closest to making it without actually making it.

I know it’s not the end of the world. I’ll get plenty of other chances to achieve my dream of fishing the Elite Series – and I’ll go over how grateful I am for those chances and this life I get to lead in a minute.

But just one more time, I’d like to shake my head over the one fish that kept me from Cherokee this week, Lake Okeechobee later this month and from taking a gigantic step forward in my career.

I was fishing the Open on New York’s Oneida Lake in July.

I had fished absolutely perfectly all year in the Northerns. I never lost a fish all year in three tournaments.

This particular morning, I was catching them on a topwater bait along a little grass line. I had caught about 10 or so – and since I was throwing 40-pound braid and they were eating it so good, I was just boat-flipping every fish.

I had one eat it right at the boat, about a 4-pound smallmouth. That’s not a giant, but up there it would have meant a lot.

She had the bait down her throat, so I went ahead and boat-flipped her. She got half way over the gunnel, and the Zara Spook ripped out of her throat. She hit right beside the passenger seat, slid about 2 1/2 feet across the gunnel and went out.

With that fish, I would have finished about 15th in the tournament and probably would have won Angler of the Year in the Northern Opens.

Instead, I finished 43rd at the tournament and eighth in the AOY standings. Then through a series of quirky happenings, I missed the Elite Series by one spot.

OK, I’m done hanging my head over the one that got away.

The show of support I’ve gotten from friends inside the fishing community and out has been amazing.

People have gone out of their way to make sure I’m not hanging my head too much over a tough near miss. Even Little Alton (Alton Jones Jr.), my roommate on the Opens trail who actually did qualify this year, seems a little hesitant sometimes to mention the Elite Series around me.

That’s just the kind of friend he is – one who’s willing to put his own excitement aside to keep from stepping on my feelings.

But trust me, folks, all that isn’t necessary.

I’m still just as driven to make the Elite Series as I’ve ever been – and even though things didn’t get started the way I had hoped with a 98th-place finish in the first Southern Open of the year on Harris Chain, I’m expecting big things at the first Central Open on Table Rock next month.

I wish every one of the guys on this year’s Elite Series the best of luck.

I hope to be standing in the weigh-in line with them next year.