Daily Limit: Elites eager to start new season

Opening Day: It’s been a big to-do in baseball for forever. In bass fishing, there’s a similar level of excitement for that first launch, run, cast and catch, but this year anglers have more pressing concerns.

With the relatively quick turnaround amid COVID-19 complications, many of the competitors have been concentrating more on getting their ducks in a row for Thursday’s first day of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.

“With this year being a little different, with having a lot less time to get everything ready, there’s more focus just on making sure I’ve got everything I need and all my equipment ready, instead of the anticipation of getting there,” said Hank Cherry, 2020 Bassmaster Classic champ. “This year has been, get the truck wrapped, the boat wrapped, make sure all my equipment is in, make sure the boat is broke in.

“I hate showing up at the first event and having any issues with my equipment. I want to be clean and cut and ready to go when I get there.”

That might not be the case with all 99 Elites. The offseason was shortened two months after the pandemic forced rescheduling to late fall last year. The quicker-than-usual 95-day turnaround, along with supply chain disruptions, created a hurry-up-and-wait deal for many Elites. A good number have posted that they were scrambling to get equipment as well as finalize sponsorship deals for wraps and jerseys.

Contacted a few weeks ago, Minnesota pro Seth Feider was his usual blunt self.

“It’s a stressful endeavor,” he said of preparing with two less months. “Seems like every year it’s a struggle to get everything ready. I don’t have a boat right now. I don’t have all the parts for my boat, even if it was here. Distribution chain ruined all that.”

B.A.S.S. has given a grace period to anglers, some of whom might start the year with last year’s boat, although Feider reported he received his boat and was in Florida ready to roll. There remains anticipation to get to competition, despite the last-minute business calls, waits for deliveries and trips for gear and installation. Feider said he looks forward to all the stresses of preparation switching over to fish catching.

“I’m excited to get back fishing. It’s just life on tour. Catching them every day or die, one of the two. We have nine tournaments — 18 days you’ve got to catch them,” he said before quickly amending. “27 days you’ve got to catch them.”

The idea behind the story was to capture feelings an Elite experiences on the first day of competition. It’s a fresh start as they pass emcee Dave Mercer for the first time in a long time. But Feider wasn’t aligned with Opening Day being that big of a deal.

“I get butterflies every time they call my number and I blast off,” he said. “It doesn’t much matter it being Opening Day or the end of the year, it’s kind of all the same to me.”

Veteran Texas pro Clark Wendlandt said there is something to Day 1 of a season that sets it apart.