Feeling the Elites

Coming off the Lake Hartwell stop and arriving at Winyah Bay, it struck me how different it all feels for me this year. Fishing is always fishing, of course, and a five-best tournament is always a five-best tournament, but the Bassmaster Elite Series is like nothing else I've ever fished. 

Over the last four months I've started to get my hands around the experience here, and why it's different, and I'd like to share some of those impressions with you in this column.

Organization: The key to success

I've fished with many different tournament organizations, and B.A.S.S., above them all, is the most organized. They really have their stuff together.

The weigh-ins are done very well — they go quickly and the fish are well taken care of. And I think the smaller field really helps with fish care.

Even field, even hand

Sometimes, you can't help but feel a tournament organization might treat its best fishermen a little differently. I don't know if they do, but I do know that with B.A.S.S., if you break a rule, you break a rule — it doesn't matter who you are.

Everyone in the field is equal under the rules, and we're all dealt a fair and even hand every day of the season. You know exactly where you stand. Trip Weldon is a new tournament director for me, and he's great to deal with. Anytime I've had a question, he answered right away. He's really on the ball.

What's also different is that B.A.S.S. is very classy, even down to the little things, like how you're not allowed to wear jeans — we should be wearing dress pants. Everything's a step above.

Smaller fields rule

The Elite Series is fishing 75 boats this year, and it's awesome. The recent stop at Lake Hartwell is a great example.

Hartwell's a big lake, but not huge, and I was amazed that I barely saw another boat during practice. We were at Hartwell last year for the FLW Tour and there were boats all over. It was so crowded, every day you didn't know if you could get to the fish you were going after.

With 75 boats, you don't have to worry about that. You can fish pretty much anywhere you want. Everyone's not crowded up, and honestly, there are just fewer problems between anglers. That's a super-important thing when you're fishing a tournament — especially at this level.

More fan interaction

When the Elite Series comes to town, everybody knows it, and that's been cool. I actually need to carry around a Sharpie — especially at the Bassmaster Classic, or when I'm helping sponsors at the Expo.

We've known Dave Mercer a long time — we're both from the Toronto area — and he always told my brother and I, if we switched over to B.A.S.S., it would be a huge difference. I probably never quite believed it, but it's true, and I wasn't expecting all the support from the fans after I switched over. Wow.

Chris and I have also caught them pretty well this year, so we've had good camera time, and lots of opportunities to showcase our products. Our sponsors seem to be very happy with the decision to fish B.A.S.S.

Stacked events

Up until this year, I used to fish one tour event, then go home for a while, then come back down for the next one. To be honest, the back-to-back events on the Elite Series is kind of tough for me.

I'm away from my family for almost three weeks at a time. I've got a little guy at home that I really miss, and my wife of course. I know back-to-back events make sense — especially for guys like me from up north — but I'd rather fish an event every three weeks or so and get those short breaks at home. It would mean a little more driving, but in the end, I think it would give me more time with family. 

The schedule's definitely demanding, but I get a break after Winyah Bay. Chris and I are going to drive our rigs home, be with family, get out and do some crappie fishing with dad, and work on some tackle. It'll be earned for sure.

Lookback: Lanier to Hartwell

Circling back to competition, I have to say I'm pretty happy with my fishing right now. I'm 10th in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, and Chris is fifth.

I had a few opportunities to do better. Lanier especially frustrated me. I had a good practice, but I just couldn't execute. I don't know what happened. Chris caught them, I didn't. He made the decision to stay in dirtier water, which is the decision I should have made. That's what I'm kind of mad at myself about. 

Other than that my finishes seem pretty good. I just missed the Top 10 at Hartwell — a couple of lost fish cost me the cut. It was nothing I did wrong. When you're catching them off beds, sometimes you're going to lose them.

Now I'm at Winyah Bay and the fishing is tough, to say the least. The water's normally clearer, but it's dirty right now and you can't see the beds very well — you can only see them in low tide.

There's no doubt big ones live here — I've seen a few. And I've got a few areas with some bass in them. But I think the key will be to catch five a day. If you catch five a day, that should get you fishing the third day. If you can get to Day 3, then maybe you can somehow figure out how to sneak into the Top 10. That's the type of tournament I think it's going to be.