As we sat at the dock on Championship Tuesday at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake, Chad Pipkens and I seemed to agree that the two of us had the best chance to take home the blue trophy. He was tied with Bill Lowen for the lead, and I was 3 pounds, 9 ounces back, but we knew that we were on the best spot on the lake. One 7- or 8-pounder would make a huge difference, and I was confident that I had the right place and the right tools to catch that fish.
Ultimately, Bill Lowen claimed the crown, and he is a worthy and deserving champion. He’s been on the Elite Series since its inception, and it took him until his 16th season to come out on top, despite several close calls. It’s just an incredibly hard feat to accomplish. All of us have the same technology. All of us can catch bass. In order to claim victory, so many things have to go right, and they rarely do.
At Pickwick, the fish that Chad and I depended on were completely gone on Day 4. I had an ace-in-the-hole area to go to if my main stuff didn’t fire, and I still managed to weigh in 19-15, but it wasn’t enough. I got over the pain pretty quickly because I felt that I didn’t make any major mistakes, but it still gnaws at me a bit.
Through 27 career B.A.S.S. events, I’ve finished in the Top 10 on 12 occasions. That includes a runner-up finish and three third-place finishes in Elite Series competition. Of course you have to be close to have a shot at winning, but just like Bill Lowen must have wondered for many years if he’d ever come out on top, I’m starting to get a little bit impatient.
Of course, part of that is seeing my good friends and traveling partners including Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson, Seth Feider and my brother, Chris, win B.A.S.S. events. It makes me want that hardware even more, and rather than discouraging me it makes me feel that it’s attainable. It’s just a matter of time. If I put myself in position to win time and time again and let the chips fall where they may, eventually that consistency will pay off.
Next up we’re heading to the Sabine River in Texas, and that’s an event that worries me a little bit. I’ve never been there, and there’s a ton of water to explore. It fits my fishing style so I think the key will be getting in the right area and catching limits of 2-pounders rather than 1 1/2-pound or 1 1/4-pound fish.
If you look at the history of the Elite Series, on several occasions the winners of particular tournaments were total newcomers to that body of water. You go into it with no preconceived notions and fish free. After the Sabine, we’ll head over to Lake Fork, which should be an absolute slugfest. Despite a tough outing there last year, I was ninth at Fork in 2019.
I’m confident that either of those Texas venues could produce my next Top 10, or even that win, but of course I’m looking most forward to our northern events. I’m certainly not looking past Neely Henry or Guntersville — or the Classic at Ray Roberts — but the North is where I’m most in my element.
I love Champlain and it has been good to me in the past, but the St. Lawrence is where I really think my chances are best. I was seventh there two years ago and had my shot, and I want revenge really bad. Then Chris won there, so I know it’s possible. This year the water is really, really low, which will change things up even for the guys who’ve been there multiple times, and I think that bodes well for me.
The near misses do sting a little – I still occasionally think back upon my runner-up performance at St. Clair last year to consider what I might have done differently. But ultimately if you’re constantly in the hunt, eventually it’ll be your day. That’s what we learned from Bill Lowen at Pickwick.