Closing out a win is all about timing

When I won the 2020 Bassmaster Texas Fest on Lake Fork, I took over the lead on Day 2 and never relinquished it. There wasn’t much doubt about it because I entered the final day with a 25-pound lead over the second place competitor. A few months earlier when I won the Bassmaster Eastern Open at Lake Hartwell, I likewise moved into the lead position on Day 2 and managed to hold on through the end of the tournament.

This year, I haven’t been able to close things out quite so cleanly. At the Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns, I led Greg Hackney by 3 ounces after Day 3 before falling to fourth place. Two weeks ago, I led the Bassmaster Southern Open at the Harris Chain but fell to third after Saturday’s final day of competition.

Anytime you lead an event and don’t manage to win it is disappointing. It hurts every time someone asks, “What happened out there?” Sure, I’m frustrated that I didn’t seize the opportunity to grab another trophy or two, but the bottom line is that the more times you linger around the winner’s circle, the more times you’ll eventually end up there. 

I truly believe that when it’s your time, it’s your time, and these most recent events weren’t meant to be mine.

At the St. Johns, I was making the run to Rodman and using my LiveScope to pinpoint individual fish. On that last day, however, conditions changed and the water clarity worsened. I suspect the sediment was rising in the water column. As a result, in places where I could previously identify fish 80 feet away, I had “visibility” of less than 30. Of course, Bryan New also caught 25 pounds that day. It was his time to shine. 

At the Harris Chain, I’d been making a six-minute run to my starting spot, but when it didn’t pan out the last day I made a much longer run to Apopka, a lake I hadn’t fished at all in the tournament. I only practiced there one day. The goal was to trust my instincts and have fun, and it paid off to the tune of 18 pounds. Meanwhile, Keith Tuma had a monster bag to come from behind, just as New had done in Palatka. It was his time.

For those lucky enough to enjoy such an experience, when it’s your time you can feel it in your bones. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, or why it’s happening. It just happens. That was the situation for me last year at Fork. It was my time.

As I’ve often said before, there are no rearview mirrors on bass boats. As I left the Harris Chain, I analyzed my performance, but only in regard to how it will affect my next tournament. That next tournament is on Pickwick Lake in Alabama, not the Harris Chain.

I need to filter out any negative feelings and work on carrying my momentum forward. I want to keep that positive energy flowing. That’s a big reason I fish the Opens – it’s practice and it keeps my skills sharp. Of course, another reason I’m out there is because I make my living through fishing. By staying visible I make my sponsors happy and fulfill my contractual obligations to them. I can’t reach my potential, as an angler or as a representative of those brands, by sitting around the house.

You can’t win by staying at home either. Think of it like a baseball player: If you only get eight at bats, you can’t hit more than eight home runs. If you step to the plate 20 or 30 times, you have many more opportunities to make contact, and you’re more likely to get into a rhythm.

Despite not yet adding another trophy, I’m happy with the way that 2021 has started. Whether I’m just out fun fishing, competing against 20 boats or testing myself against a field of 300 boats, I head out every single day trying to maximize what I can catch and learn how I can improve.

If you let other people or a few missed opportunities dictate your decisions and how you feel about yourself, you won’t fish to the best of your abilities. Just worry about putting yourself in contention, and your time will come.