What a 2021 season

Well, I guess I should say hi to everyone first before I talk about the year. Hello! 

What a year 2021 was. I never expected it to turn out the way that it did. I expected myself to improve on my rookie year, but there were some surprises this year that made it better than I expected.

I guess I have to say that 2020 was kind of a disappointment for me from a fishing perspective. I know it was my rookie year on the Elite Series and I had some good moments, but I didn’t fish consistently. To be in position to make the Bassmaster Classic my first year and then miss it by a few points of burned a little.

I set a goal right then to make the 2022 Bassmaster Classic, and things were looking good midway through the year. Then lightning struck.

I felt like I was in good position after Texas Fest at lake Fork, so I went into the Neely Henry event with a freedom that I hadn’t felt in a while. I knew it was going to be a tough event and that it was going to take something special to win it. But I didn’t feel any pressure in thinking about it – for a while.

As the event got closer, I started doing interviews about Neely Henry and hearing well wishes from friends, so I guess the pressure started up in the few days before the event. Watching the conditions before the event be stable and knowing that these anglers are so good, I knew it was going to be a battle. I felt good about a decent finish but wasn’t thinking about winning.

When the frog strangler weather hit, the game plans went out the window, and I suppose it was that situation that really put me in position to fish to win. Don’t get me wrong, everything had to go right, but my experience on Neely Henry helped me relax, read the water and make those moment-to-moment decisions that ended up working out. 

I didn’t really have a feeling that I’d won it until my fish hit the scales. I knew Paul Mueller had busted a good one and had a decent bag, but when Hank Weldon called that weight, my emotion poured out of me. The years of learning to fish on this lake with my dad, my uncle Kenny, my best friend and longtime fishing partner Heath Hudgins all rushed through my head. To see my mom and dad and Riley, my girlfriend who has given me so much support and belief, standing there, along with the whole Fish Neely Henry Lake community there at Coosa Landing in Gadsden when I got the trophy. Dang, I’m living it all again.

Then, to follow it up at Lake Guntersville a week later with a second place, I couldn’t have dreamed it up any better. To be honest, I never really had a chance to think about Guntersville. I had interviews and podcasts and events at Mark’s Outdoors and a Wes Logan Day celebration at my Skeeter/Yamaha dealer, Buck’s Island. In the end, I just went fishing. I looked at the lake and tried things, and it worked out.

I have been blown away from the response from people around the country, on social media and in person. It sometimes feels like it couldn’t have happened, but I really wanted to say "thank you" to everyone for all of the communications over the past few months. It made the whole year even more special.

Now it’s time to start thinking about 2022, the start of the Elite Season and fishing my first Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell. There’s a lot of prep to do. My Skeeter/Yamaha should be here soon, and I’ll set it up with my Minn Kota/Humminbird/Raptor rigging again.

While I’m waiting, I’ve been fishing at home a little, practicing with the Mega Live and getting a feel for that. We received it with two events left last season, so I really didn’t get a great feel for it. I’m working on it, and I know it’s going to make a difference for me. It will for you guys too.

But since it’s my first column here of hopefully several, I thought I’d wrap it up with a fishing tip to help you put a few more fish in your boats. 

It’s the fall months, and the shad that were spawned in the spring are all over the lake. Every seminar or article we do includes tipss like “look for bait” or “you have to be around bait.” Sometimes in the fall, that can make life hard for you. 

There are so many schools of shad in the water that it can be hard to make a fish bite a lure.

Here’s my tip. Look for areas you know fish will be in, but find those with less shad activity. Those fish might be sitting there waiting for the bait to move into the area to feed. Your lure has more of a chance to be the thing they respond to.

I still try to match the profile of the shad. One of my favorite things to do is throw a Dirty Jigs Canterbury Buzz. But instead of putting the full-sized Toad bait on there, I’ll put on a ZOOM ZCraw Jr. It matches the small size of the bait, and they have less a chance of swinging and missing. I also like to swim a bladed jig, but I use the same trailer because it keeps the profile small – the size of the bait that they’re eating. 

I hope that helps. Thanks for reading.