If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that at this point in the season I’d be outside the Classic bubble looking in, I would’ve been shocked. I don’t think I was overconfident, but with lakes like Lanier, Hartwell and Guntersville on the schedule I expected to do well. Instead, after a mixed bag of finishes, and a few disappointments, I find myself six points out of the cut heading into the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on St. Clair.
This last Elite tournament at Tenkiller absolutely broke my heart. The short story is that I had the fish on my line to do quite well but couldn’t land them all, and I ended up 11 ounces outside of the cut to Saturday. I was catching 40 fish a day, but I wasn’t getting many keeper bites, so there wasn’t much room for error. On Thursday I had 10 keeper bites – four overs and six spotted bass – and I landed them all. On Friday I hooked three overs and one spot, and I lost two of the overs. With those two fish, I would’ve cruised into Saturday in the top 15. Instead, I was left on the bank.
That’s pretty much the way my season has gone. Just when I get going, I tend to knock myself down. It’s been rare that I’ve strung two good days in a row together.
With all of that time to kill after the tournament but before the next one, I had a long period to reflect and watch the points. Some of the guys around me in the standings, like Jake Whitaker and Tyler Rivet, had the opportunity to move up, so I kept my eyes on how they were doing. In the end, we stayed pretty much the same. Fortunately, I remain only six points out. If that gap had fallen to 15 or 20 points, it would’ve taken a miracle to bridge the difference with the smaller field at St. Clair.
It all comes down to this one event, not only a chance to qualify for my first Classic, but to fish a Classic in my home state, on Lake Guntersville, where historically I’ve done well in March. It would not hurt my feelings one bit to pull a Randy Howell and earn my first Elite Series win in a Classic setting.
I’ll be rooming with Hank Cherry at St. Clair. He’s well inside the Classic cut in 27th – 96 points above 42nd – and he can’t win AOY, but he’ll be motivated because moving up just a few places will earn him more of that sweet AOY cash. We’re going to work together, and while we’re both known for fishing a jerkbait, we won’t limit ourselves to just that.
St. Clair is the type of place where you definitely can fish to your strengths, but if you get locked into one technique you might miss the boat on the bigger fish. To tell you the truth, I’d rather find a pattern involving a single-hook lure, because the whole point is to get them in the boat. Those bulldogging, jumping smallmouths have a tendency to spit a hard bait.
Ideally I’ll have a solid pattern heading into the first day that puts me in contention, but if I crunch the numbers and find that I’m a few pounds outside of the cut I won’t hesitate to change gears entirely. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
This may be the most important single tournament of my career to date, but the bottom line is that it all comes down to decision making and execution. I’ve been there before, and I want more than anything to qualify for Guntersville.
Now I just have to go fishing and make my dream come true.