AOY – It’s starting to sink In

It’s been a couple weeks since I won the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy. It’s starting to sink in that I hold one of the two most important titles in all of bass fishing, but I have to admit it’s all still a little surreal.

The morning after the AOY event, Dixie and I planned on waking up whenever we did, packing up my Tundra and heading home to Alabama. But, as plans go, we left a lot earlier than we anticipated. Neither one of us could sleep with all of the excitement, so we got up and were on the road when it was still dark.

I’m not sure what time it was — I think not quite 5 a.m. in Detroit — but Dixie posted a picture on her Facebook page of the trophy buckled in the back seat of the Tundra as we were on the way home. She started looking at articles and reading posts while we were driving and said something that amazed and humbled me then and does even more so now: I’m only the 24th person to have won this title, and I can’t believe my name is there among them.

You see, as an Alabama kid just absolutely ate up with bass fishing, the Bassmaster Tournament Trail has always meant so much to me. When I was a kid, I used to get up at five o’clock in the morning to watch The Bassmasters with Ray Scott and Bob Cobb on TNN Outdoors.

As I got older, I was a member of a B.A.S.S. Nation club, and I was fishing when I wasn’t playing sports in school. When I was 20 years old, I drove anglers back and forth between the BJCC and Lay Lake during the 1996 Bassmaster Classic when George Cochran won, and now I’m here, fishing the Elite Series — it’s all just so overwhelming.

I just wanted to fish, and in in 2008 I got the chance to step up and fish the FLW Tour. I started my career by blanking the first day of my first event at Lake Toho, but I finished second at Smith Lake in my home state of Alabama and finished third at Lake Norman. My career was underway.

I had a great career at FLW, I made some lifelong friends and I love that organization. Along the way I fished Bassmaster Opens to try and make the Classic because I wanted to fish that event — it’s the biggest in the sport. To be completely honest, I would have liked to fish both tours, but the schedules wouldn’t work.

Something told me that taking the invitation to join the Elite Series this year was important, and while I had some times of buyer’s remorse in the offseason, all of that was taken away during the first Elite event at the St. Johns River. The crowds at takeoff were bigger than anything I had seen. When we came back for the weigh-in, there were fans filling the park and spilling over on top of buildings across the street holding signs and cheering — at that second I knew I’d made the right decision.

Looking back now, I had so many things happen throughout this season that make the outcome feel like it was meant to be. Five of the lakes on the schedule were places I’d never fished before, so I scouted them hard.

While I was scouting Winyah Bay, I found four current break points that had coontail grass on them. In official practice and the first three days of the event, I didn’t get a bite on any of those spots. On the final day, when I needed a couple of good bites, I stopped on them again. I caught a 6-pounder off one and a 5-pounder on the other.

That’s how my season went. When I was stressed out and feeling like I’d lost everything, something would happen to change it, and I’m sitting here a week later looking at a trophy that I still can’t believe I’ve won.

All of that to say that I know I made the right decision, and I’m grateful to be in this position now. From a kid who grew up watching The Bassmasters and reading Bassmaster Magazine, dreaming of fishing a Bassmaster Classic, I’ll finally be doing that. Only, I’ll be fishing it in my home state, in an arena I’ve been in hundreds of times for shows and events, and I’ll be doing it as the reigning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.

I’m so grateful for my career, the people at FLW were so good to my family, and I will forever love them for that. Now that I’m here I truly understand that B.A.S.S. is bass fishing. Without this organization, none of us would be where we are, because the industry of professional fishing wouldn’t exist.

I’m proud to be here, and I'm looking forward to what comes next.