“I was a wreck, just spun out, was a mess, everything just fell apart, that’s on me.”
— Randy Pierson on his 73rd and 72nd place finishes on the New York swing
2018 B.A.S.S. Nation champion
2020 Elite angler
Dateline: Alabama and Connecticut
Here’s a simple secret to life … (blank) happens.
There are times when you do everything as it should be done, you came fully prepared, gave it the best shot you could, tried your hardest, and yet you still foul out.
Kaput, stuck out, didn’t even get a base on balls.
Know this, take comfort in this, there is an actual word for when that happens, and it is called …
Here’s another secret to life … forget about it, get back up, dust yourself off and when your next at bat happens … swing for the fences.
“Every strike brings me closer to the next homer.”
— Babe Ruth
I say all this, for you of course, but as I write this sitting in my Connecticut home office in my comfy pants, I’m really writing it for the two dudes I just got off a “double box” Facetime thing-a-ma-jig with: Randy Pierson, the 2018 B.A.S.S. Nation champ, and Cody Hollen, the 2019 Nation champ. Both are fishing the Elite Series. Randy is in his second year. Cody is a rookie.
Let me explain, here we go …
“…I've been up and down and over and out…”
“You have to be able to center yourself, to let all of your emotions go… Don’t ever forget that you play with your soul as well as your body.”
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Six-time NBA champion
After a quarter century of covering professional sports at the highest level, I’m convinced that it is in fact your soul the delivers the wins and that your body just gets you there.
Go YouTube Kirk Gibson 1988 World Series Home Run … watch it. His body was a mess, could barley walk and yet when it mattered, as a pinch hitter no less, he hits a home run and hobbles around the bases.
It is the definition of the soul of a champion. It is the magic within us that gets us up after so many falls, that keeps us going after so many defeats. Talent helps, oh yeah, but it is your soul that moves you when your body wants to quit.
Here’s some facts on these two dudes, and then I’ll quit the fact stuff because I don’t write for accountants: It’s been a tough season for both. There ya go.
Randy is from California, Cody from Oregon … so they drive a lot to events … but as I told them, “You didn’t sign up thinking we would be coming to you, did you?”
Both shook their heads no. I saw that on the double box.
We’re adults, the drive was a given, what wasn’t though was …
Randy: “For a week, a good week, we went without seeing any sun.”
Cody: “All I could see for seven days was smoke.”
Both of these men live in states where the wildfires rage, both of these men have families, loved ones, friends who live in states where the fire and smoke blocks the sun and make people flee for their lives in their PJs.
Me: “Is it on your mind?”
Both: One nods, one says yes. I forgot which did which.
In Alabama, in Connecticut we just look at each other on Facetime. What do you say?
Me: “How do you focus on fishing with that going on?”
Both: They couldn’t verbalize it to me, but I could see in their faces. It ain’t easy, prayer from all of us to all of those fleeing the fires and living under the smoke clouds.
“…and I know one thing…”
And then of course there is the virus.
Driving across country, hotels, gas and pee stops, states with numbers going up, states with numbers going down, both guys told me that so far this year they have driven 27,000 miles.
Through a pandemic.
B.A.S.S. may shoot me for this [Editor’s Note: We will not.] but my vote is that every one of these anglers fishing the Elite season this year should be given a golden ticket to the upcoming 2021 Bassmaster Classic. To me all of them are champions for what they have had to deal with off the water.
Randy: “Just something we have to deal with, we’re careful.”
Cody: “As careful as you can be, yeah it’s on our mind, but you know, you know…”
I do and I don’t know, simple as that. Tough call.
“…each time I find myself flat on my face…”
“When you’re riding, only the race in which you’re riding is important.”
— Willie Shoemaker
11-time Triple Crown winning jockey
Randy: “I spun out, db. I was a mental mess ... a mental mess.”
Cody: “This is my first year, it is, you know, different than anything I’ve ever done before.”
I just sit and look at them. They knew I was calling. I’m sure they knew what we would talk about (as best as anyone knows what I’m going to ask because most times I myself don’t even know) and maybe on their drive thought of some answers.
It’s hard to answer a question when I don’t ask you one, but I just sit there looking at you, waiting.
The second sentence you say on your own is always the best … or most damning … you choose.
Randy went first: “You know db I do this because I live and breathe to compete. I am consumed with the desire to do this, have been fishing tournaments for 35 years, it’s just …”
I still say nothing, just look at the double box in front of me.
Cody: “We stay together on the road, drive together. I can tell you it has really helped each of us. (I see Randy nod and look Cody’s way they are staying in the same house.) We can talk it out between us, we can, you know, unravel each other and get each of us back on track.”
“…I pick myself up…”
“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.”
— Ken Venturi
14 PGA Wins including U.S. Open
This is the only sport I’ve been around where those who play it don’t have a coach to help them on the field of play, and up top in that brain field of play.
Yet, “Cody the other day tied on my hook for me when I couldn’t find my reading glasses.” There is an age difference that plays well with these two.
Randy: “We weather things OK because there’s two of us going through it, not just one.”
I tell them stories about some of the greats in sports that I’ve been around. QBs who forget about the interception by the time they get to the bench while the fans talk about it for years.
A hall of fame NFL coach who told me that the secret to his winning record was, “I just scored more points than the other guy.”
But it was tennis star Roger Federer who once told me why he was successful, and that guides what I do. He said: “I focus.”
Success, I believe, is not based so much on bumper sticker sayings or stuff like, “Never give up … or stop … or quit.” It is more predicated on the ability to focus on the task.
Hyper focus, to me, is the secret to success on or off the field of play.
“…and get back in the race…”
To Randy and Cody, forget the tournaments behind you, focus not on the fish you lost but on the fish you are about to catch.
Five fish, one at a time.
Do that every tournament day on the water, weigh in 20 fish per tourney and you probably will stand on the Classic stage.
Guys, begin again with the next fish, the first one in the boat at Guntersville.
Always look ahead not behind.
Yeah it sucks you lost that fish but that’s the past, focus on the present and get back to fishing.
Make every cast count, every stop count … even off the water … knowing where to park ahead of time, where it’s easiest to get gas, the closest place to shop where the truck and trailer will fit. All of that comes into play if any of that takes your focus off what this game is all about.
Catching the most fish most of the time.
You have four tourney gigs left … you can’t fix what happened behind you, you can fix what it is you still face.
Begin anew on Wednesday.
You know how to fish, use the time to learn how to fish at the Elite level, especially the mental aspect of this game.
And swing for the fences.
The rest of your tournament life lies ahead of you.
Focus on the beauty of that, and listen my friends to your soul.
It knows how to win, it’s up to you to let it.
To all those who take to the water this week, play hard, play smart, be safe and know, that I miss ya.
“Champions keep playing until they get it right.”
— Billie Jean King
20 career titles at Wimbledon