Enjoying the meaningful moments

Bass fishing is a unique sport that’s like no other, for many reasons. There are moments that are special to anglers at every level, and those memories last a lifetime.

Whether it’s a tournament win, a special lure or a lake that means something; all memories are special in this sport. Even at the Elite level I can tell there are sentimental moments to these guys as well. For me, Toledo Bend will probably always be special to me. I had one of those weeks that I will remember for a long time.

No I didn’t get the win, but I had a small victory in the form of a check — my first on the Elite Series. I was fortunate to finish in 19th place and most of all, I stayed in the Top 20 from start to finish and overcame changing conditions to keep myself in position.

Not only was it my first Top 50, but it was a Top 20 to boot. For an Elite Series rookie, that is big for my confidence. In the last column we talked about the frustrations of tournament fishing and the pressures involved in this sport, but most of all about the enormous pressure I place on myself.

At Toledo, I showed myself something. I already knew I could catch fish, but catching fish at the Elite level is another story. No matter how much you think you belong here it doesn’t matter if your peers don’t look at you with any respect in their eyes.

Like every event so far, Toledo was a learning experience from the get-go, but the lessons weren’t as costly as past tournaments this year. I was fortunate to get off to a good start with 18-13 on Day 1, but the big test was duplicating that on Day 2. Even though I only brought 16-15 the next day it kept me around the same position, in fact I actually moved up. I was able to fish free on Day 3 and keep practicing looking for more fish.

I finished with 50-5 for three days and was wedged between Mike Iaconelli and Jason Christie in the standings, which was also a confidence booster.

Another cool aspect of my week at Toledo was that my best friend, and one of my traveling partners, Hank Cherry, had a shot at the win. He finished sixth and continued his hot start to the season, which I know is well deserved on his part.

For those who didn’t hear during the Day 1 weigh-in, I had a cool encounter with Classic champ Alton Jones. We were Power-Poled down before Thursday’s launch and I was talking with my marshal about the struggles I had faced this year, and like usual I was being critical of myself when Jones interrupted. He told me that I belonged here, there was no one I needed to prove myself to, and if I weren’t supposed to be competing on the Elite Series that I never would have qualified.

Jones’ pep talk gave me a good ol’ kick in the butt and a vote of confidence that I hadn’t heard yet this year. For a former Classic and Elite champion to say that to me unprovoked meant a lot.

For those who don’t know, the Elite Series is full of fierce competitors, but also full of some great guys. At times, it’s like a family or fraternity of brothers because we all are striving for the same thing and share similar struggles.

Just like Rick Clunn showed the world at the St. Johns River, and even Kevin VanDam this past event at Toledo Bend, your best days aren’t behind you. No matter what people may say. I can’t wait to hook up my Skeeter and head to Lake Texoma to start another challenge. The positivity that a great finish and a cashed check can bring is exciting. Let’s see if we can do it again at the next one!