Opens Championship excitement

One of the most exciting changes for the 2018 Bassmaster season has been the introduction of the Opens Championship, and I’m stoked to have made the cut.

Gone are the days when winning a single Bassmaster Open was your ticket to the Bassmaster Classic. Now, anglers looking to make the Big Show have to fish the long game, since only those 28 anglers who prove to be the most consistent over four events earn a trip to the Opens Championship — and a shot at the Bassmaster Classic.

After all, only the top three anglers in points in each division, plus the winner of the Championship, will receive invites to the Super Bowl of fishing.

And that’s good for the sport. It rewards consistency, just like the Bassmaster Elite Series. Luck is removed from the equation as the best, most-consistent fishermen rise to the top.

In fact, you can win a regular-season Bassmaster Open event and still not make the Classic. Sure, you might be guaranteed an Opens Championship slot, but if you bomb the other three events in your division you’ll be so far down in the points there is almost no chance for you to make it up in one event.

Again, that’s a great change that provides opportunity for those wanting to move to the next level. All of the Opens are tough. It’s truly hard to catch them in the Opens. So the best — the most-consistent — anglers rise.

Indeed, fishing this new Opens format is a great primer for the rigors of the Bassmaster Elite Series. Instead of swinging at every fence, you have to manage your fish to gain points over the season and put yourself in position toward a Classic invite and qualification for the Bassmaster Elite Series.

This has helped me stay sharp between Elite Series events because it 1) kept me on the water and 2) required fishing in much the same fashion as I do at the top level of Bassmaster tournaments.

For instance, I wrapped up the Sabine River Elite Series stop and headed straight for the Central Open at the Red River. Instead of a two-week break between Elite Series events, I was right back on the water sharpening my skills for the northern swing of Elites. It kept me on my game because of the back-to-back tournaments.

And I really believe it helped me log two Top 50 cuts on the succeeding northern swing — including a 13th-place finish on Lake Oahe.

So how will I approach this week’s Opens Championship? Well, my plan was to get to Table Rock early and spend a lot of time getting to know the lake. However, weather changes had me knocking on the door of the after-hours clinic with sinus issues that laid me up for a couple of days.

I’ve never fished Table Rock, but I expect the fishing to be great. It is truly one of the most-beautiful lakes in the country, and it allows anglers to fish their strengths. Whether you excel at catching largemouth, spotted bass or smallmouth, Table Rock has it all.

You can fish from 6 inches to 40 feet and catch bass.

As I write, a cold front is moving through the region, and another front is forecast to coincide pretty much with the dates of the Championship. I actually think that will help the fishing. The only thing I’m worried about is pressure — not from Championship participants (after all, there are only 28 anglers in this event), but from two major local tournaments scheduled for the same weekend.

I’m planning to focus on largemouth, since that’s the species I grew up fishing. So I’m going shallow in hopes of putting together a pattern for hefty sacks. But I’m going to keep an open mind: If I stumble across a pack of smallmouth or spots, I’ll adjust to build the heaviest bags possible.

Now is the time to really swing hard. I go into the Championship sixth in points, so I have some ground to make up. The goal is simple: Win the event if I can, but definitely move into the top three in overall points.

It’s going to be tough, since I have to earn 21 of the possible 28 points available in the event.

A positive of the small Championship field is that I’ll have a little more cushion to overcome mistakes. If I miss a fish, I don’t have to panic because there won’t be 180-plus anglers breathing down my neck.

Research points toward winning sacks averaging 14 to 15 pounds, so it’s going to be a great event. Be sure to tune in to to watch all the coverage and find out who earns tickets to the Bassmaster Classic.

Hopefully I’ll be in that group.