The last two weeks have been nothing short of amazing for me. The South Carolina swing was exactly what I needed at this point in my career.
To finish second at Lake Hartwell then turn around and win at Winyah Bay is such a blessing. People often say, “I’m speechless” or “there are no words to describe it,” and that’s completely true. I don’t know exactly how to relate the feeling, but it’s something I wish everyone reading this could experience.
Fishing is a game of highs and lows. You hope and pray your highs last longer than your lows, but it doesn’t always work out that way. As I’ve mentioned in past columns, I’ve experienced those highs with a win in my first year as a pro on the FLW Tour in 2009.
A lot has changed since then. I wasn’t married to Lindsey yet, and we certainly didn’t have two children. Winning in my 20s kick started my career, but winning in my 30s seems like it solidifies my place in this sport. Everyone says they know you will win and break through, but how it happened was so fulfilling.
In the first hour after weighing in, I had more than 160 texts sending congratulations and messages like, “Long overdue,” and “I told you it would happen.” Supporters always said a win will come someday, but as an angler, doubts do creep in. To win at this point in my career puts the competition aspect into perspective. Not that many anglers win titles — that’s just how this sport works — and it’s such a performance-based sport.
From about 10 a.m. until the moment I trailered my boat and headed to the stage, I was 100 percent sure I had fallen below fifth place. I had that feeling that I completely ran out of fish and blew the opportunity. I had no idea they wouldn’t catch them as good as they had the prior day on the Cooper River.
Then Chris Johnston came up to me in the line and asked if I could possibly have more than what BASSTrakk said. I thought I had a little more, but I didn’t think it mattered. When he said I was within a pound of the win, it began to sink in that it was going to be a tight weigh-in.
It’s funny because I didn’t think my cull in the last 20 minutes of my fishing day was anything special. I thought the extra half-pound was sweet, but it probably won’t do much good because I didn’t have the 15 pounds I thought I needed. To think back and see that was the winning cull gives me chills. God blesses you when you least expect it.
My first two years on the Bassmaster Elite Series were by far the worst two seasons of my career. I was making wrong decisions and not fishing clean, and it showed on the scoreboard. I’ve talked about that before, and it’s important to not forget that feeling. It’s one of the reasons I feel like I’m fishing well in 2019.
Sometimes God puts you in a position and a place of uncertainty to reveal his plan. If it was up to me, I would probably say no to the struggle I went through, but He knew the bigger picture and that 2019 would kick off with three Top 10s and a win.
When I won in April of 2009, one week shy of a decade ago, there was no social media. The ability to promote yourself after a successful event or even a win was almost non-existent. Now reaching tens of thousands of fishing enthusiasts is exponentially easier. The fact that someone thousands of miles away can watch me skip my wacky-rigged Yum Dinger around vines and bushes or see me pitch a Yum Christie Craw to spawning fish and learn something about fishing is so cool.
One aspect that might have helped me win was that I went to Winyah Bay with fresh eyes. I wasn’t on the Elites when they fished here in 2016. Coming off a Top 10 at Hartwell, I got to Winyah at noon on the first practice day and decided not to fish the Cooper River. Instead, I tested the Santee. I didn’t want to risk momentum and points by making the 90-minute run with many others and possibly having what I consider a bomb of a tournament.
After zero bites in the Santee, I stayed around Georgetown the rest of practice. In the first hour I got a keeper bite and was happy with my decision. I now know that area is a community hole, but thankfully I didn’t know that before or I might not have trusted it to hold up for four days. That area seemingly kept getting better, of course, until the final day. But it was enough to get the job done.
I couldn’t be any more pleased with my performance this season and getting back into the routine of fishing well. Three Top 10s with two top finishes has me third in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, which is awesome. Another satisfying deal is that I got to share my winning moment with my family.
For me, family is what it’s all about. I love fishing and traveling across the country, but my family comes before all that. They are always proud, and they never want to miss a moment. They were by my side when I lost to Brandon Cobb at Hartwell. They weren’t at Winyah Bay all week but surprised me by driving over 12 hours for the final weigh-in. And win, lose or draw, they’d still be behind me. That made it 10 times as special for them to be there in the moment and celebrate with me.