First of all, being the so-called local favorite at the Bassmaster Classic was pretty tough; there’s a lot of pressure. But I received a lot of media attention which is good, of course. I also really feel like I gained a lot of experience that will help this year and for the rest of my career. I’m talking about things like dealing with spectator boats and how to fish a big tournament on your own lake.
The tournament was different in that I was fishing against an entirely new group of guys. I see the FLW guys day in and day out; when someone runs past you, you pretty much know who they are. I don’t personally know a lot of Elite guys. So getting to meet and fish with them was kind of neat.
As for the tournament itself, I had my mind made up before practice even started as to how I was going to fish. I was going to try and catch them deep with a jerkbait over 20 to 25 feet of water. Smithwick just came out with a new jerkbait called the Perfect 10 Rogue, which allows you to get down deeper than a normal jerkbait. Most Rogues get down 6 or 7 feet on a long cast and this Rogue gets at least 10 and sometimes up to 12 feet without messing up the action.
In practice, I was trying to catch them deep, but the water color was just not letting me do it. Every time I went up to the bank I caught them, but I managed nothing out deep. The second day of practice I really stroked them shallow, but it wasn’t anything consistent. I’d catch one off a bluff wall, one off a brush pile, and then one in the back of a creek. I had more confidence in my bait, but not necessarily with any pattern.
Still, every time I bounced out deep I wouldn’t catch them. But I kept looking and kept trying because I knew if I ever got them going out there, it was my absolute best chance to win. On the third day, I was about to give up the deep bite entirely, but then I caught a big one around 6 or 6 1/2 pounds, which gave me hope. I was trying to convince myself that I was getting lucky and those fish were going to come during the tournament. I caught one other one, but those were the last two deep fish I caught the entire week. What it boiled down to was that the water was just too dirty. I just kept thinking if I could get it going it would be my best chance to win. Because once you eliminate that deep bite, it’s just everybody on the bank and whoever gets the big bite is going to win.
I got off to a great start on day one with three good ones in the box early. Then I lost a 4-pounder that really got to me. I was rolling and then the wheels came off. It took me a long time get back on a roll but I did catch some fish a few hours later. Once I had what I had, I spent the rest of the day fishing deep and I never caught anything. That was good, because at the end of Friday I knew the deep stuff was out.
On the second day, it was slick calm from the time takeoff started to the time we had to come in; it was brutal. I couldn’t decide where I wanted to fish because there wasn’t any wind and there wasn’t any shade. The final day wasn’t much better, but I did manage to catch a big one that weighed over 6 pounds.
During the tournament, I threw the Perfect 10 on sharper bluff walls and channel swings. When I fished anything gradual, I would use the old-school Rogue.
Overall, the Classic was an outstanding experience, but I’m glad it’s over with. I’m tired of waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep because I start thinking I could catch them there on that bait. And even though I didn’t win, I’m happy with how I did. I gained so much experience; this tournament is really going to help me when we come back to Grand in June. I like fishing Grand in February and March, but honestly I like Grand anytime we’re there. The FLW Tour event is going to be wide open. Everyone is going to catch them.
So far fishing both tours is going well, but this next little swing where I go to Smith Lake, then the Sabine River and then to Falcon will say a lot. Initially, I was against fishing both, but my wife actually thought it was a good idea. After thinking it over myself, I felt like I owed it to a lot of sponsors – fishing both tours is double the exposure. My wife backing me was big, but I do it more for the sponsors than anything. I think there are three, three-week swings where I won’t get home and those will be brutal. But if I’m catching them it won’t be nearly as bad.
Smith is the site of my first top 10 as a pro, so I’m fired up to get back. Back then, I was a rookie on tour and was a little unsure of myself. But after taking 140th at the opener on Lake Toho, I rolled in there, fished the way I wanted to fish and made the cut. That’s when I realized I can do this for a living. I realized that those guys can catch them, but so I can. Smith has both spotted bass and largemouths. I’m a largemouth guy so I’m going to either catch them, or I’m going to die trying. That’s the one thing you learn as you get older – you learn to do what you want to do and fish your strengths. Overall, Smith might set up a lot like Grand – and I like that.