A Classic beginning: Part II

More on the mental

Duckett had to give a disclaimer for the interview as it moved more toward the mental aspect of fishing, but he made no apologies for it.

"Most people don't want to talk about it because it's weird," he said. "It's really, really weird, but it's there."

Again the analogy came from golf. Duckett described a golfer's mental state as he stands over a putt. He said if you believe you're going to make the putt, your mind will help guide it into the cup — or at least guide your muscles in the right direction.

"I know we're dealing with fish, and there is one more detached string involved," Duckett said. "But I promise you that if I catch that zone, I can pull up into a pocket behind any angler on tour and I can catch 'em. It can happen."

Duckett talked a lot about getting into the "zone," and "weird" was his continued description as he slowly moved into the realm of the Zen master Rick Clunn.

"What I can't do, and what I think Rick is striving for, is to find a way to force yourself into that zone," he said. "I don't know how to initiate it."

Duckett does know that he was in the "zone" for the three days of the Classic.

"I know it's all a little weird," he said. "But having discovered that, I can tell you that my physical skills have diminished — I fish less today than I ever have — but I am at the highest level I've ever been.

"I didn't come from nowhere. There was a time that I fished 300 days a year, but every year I fish less and my technical skills get worse and my tournament fishing gets better. I have shifted my focus. It's all about the deal [points at his head]. Kevin's [VanDam] got it figured out."

More on the Classic

With putting so much emphasis on the mental side of the sport, one would think Duckett didn't stand a chance going into the Classic. In the middle of a divorce which is complicating a corporate buyout, he has enough swirling in his head to keep him up nights. And that was before adding the biggest bass tournament of his life.

"I've got a bunch of stuff going on in my life right now," he said. "One of the things I've gotten better at over the last 10 years is being able to back the boat in the water and turn on the switch.

"I'm proud to be able to say that most of the time, I can separate myself when I'm on the water. Actually, the Classic is so big, it was easier to focus on the Classic."

Yet Duckett had to make sure and not focus on the Classic, but instead, focus on the fishing. The media circus and extra attention will make most first-time Classic anglers go crazy, but Duckett said he wouldn't let himself get caught up.

"I tried to pay as little attention to all that," he said. "My plan was to try and fish it like another tournament and stay real open-minded. This was an easier tournament than half my tour events I fished last year [fewer competitors]. I was never nervous."

After blowing off the week of practice before the tournament because he knew the cold weather would fade and become obsolete, he spent Wednesday's final practice day before the tournament establishing a pattern. He entered the tournament feeling good.

"I think the cold weather the week before really improved my home-town advantage," he said. "I knew it was going to take 17 pounds a day to win, and I knew I could catch that."

After a surprising — to everyone except himself — 19-pound, 14-ounce bag on Day 1, Duckett fell to 10-15 on Day 2, and people started to count him out.

"I had two big bites that got off on Saturday," he said. "I had to stay positive because my pattern was working. I felt like I had given it away but I didn't want to focus on that."

He said he learned a lot about staying positive and working through tough issues in his business. He learned to leave the past in the past.

"If you build a business and you carry it with you everywhere you go, you'll die," he said. "The sky's falling in on me at my place every day. You have to be mature about it and handle it, but you can't take it everywhere you go."

That sky was plummeting down fast for Duckett on Sunday. With less than an hour of fishing left, he was still looking for a kicker fish to get his weight where he thought it needed to be. But he said he never got down on himself or started worrying.

It was a pattern that had held up for two days, and there was no reason to think it wouldn't hold up for one more. After he hooked the 6-9 largemouth bass, he said he knew he had won.

"I told my cameraman, Rick, 'This is the fish that won the Bassmaster Classic,'" he said. "I had an overwhelming, unexplainable feeling that I had won the Classic. I absolutely knew it. I hollered it out."

He said it was the first time he let the magnitude of what he was accomplishing seep in.

"I let it go a little and it really felt good," he said. "All the emotions and worrying about this and overthinking … it felt good for a second."

At the end of Sunday's weigh-in, he was standing beside VanDam, whom he considers the best angler the world, waiting for his weight to come up on the screen. VanDam's 12-5 gave Duckett the title, but Duckett said he still wasn't able to enjoy the moment completely.

"Even after I won, I was pleased, but I had just treated it like another event," Duckett said. "It's hard to get out of that mindset."

His life has been going non-stop since, and with the Elite Series opener on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, coming up in a week, it might not slow down any time soon.

"At moments, it has sunk in but I have been real busy since then," he said. "I don't know if I've really consumed it yet."

Moving ahead

With the confidence of Classic in his pocket, Duckett likes his chances in the 2007 Elite series. He squared off with the best of BASS at the Classic, and he won.

"That was my favorite part about it," he said. "If I could have had my perfect scenario [for the Super Six], I would have had Ike in Timmy's [Horton] spot. And I'll get it on the Elite Series."

While he said he was "tickled to death" to win the Classic, Duckett has his sights on what he considers to be the biggest honor in bass fishing — the Angler of the Year title. He is not going in blind, nor is he swinging for the fences. He has a plan.

"My personal goal is 9 out of 11 cuts," he said. "Three top 12s and at least one or two legitimate win opportunities."

By his calculations, that should give him a shot at Angler of Year.

"When I was smoking [hot] on tour last year, people would ask me if I was nervous about trying to qualify for the Classic," he said.

That was not his goal. Even with a Classic in hand, Duckett said he is by no means satisfied with his career. This was just a steppingstone toward a trophy that would truly mean he is the best.

"I would always tell those reporters that I'm mostly looking forward to qualifying for the Elites and winning Angler of the Year," he said, always confident and always positive. "It means you're truly the world champion that year."