FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE
Another year gone, and another off-season flying by. I’m still trying to catch up on all the stuff around the house that I let go during the season. Chores like painting the garage or little fix-it-up jobs around the house and yard seem to never end. By the way, I am currently fighting it out with fire ants, and even though they seem to have won most of the battles so far, I guarantee they will not win the war.
Today’s Lowrance sonar/GPS combos are so powerful, even the entry-level units are waaaay more advanced than what was available just a few years ago before we had GPS, SideScan or DownScan.
Right now a lot of tournament fishermen are trying to land sponsor deals for 2015. Consequently, I guess it’s pretty accurate to say that the No. 1 question any long-term pro angler gets asked this time of year is, “How do I get sponsors?”
Tournament season is a busy time for professional anglers. For the wives they leave behind at home, life is busy too, especially if the wives are also moms. For our family, the 2014 season was one full of trials.
To begin my ridiculously long off-season, I’ll reflect on my 2014 tournament season. The Walmart FLW Tour was hard on me. Of course, it started with that mechanical disaster en route to the first-day weigh-in at Okeechobee (the season-opener) and concluded with my first whiff on the Forrest Wood Cup in 13 years. I’ve erased it completely already, so I can’t reflect on any of it. It was atrocious!
I knew I was going to fish the Forrest Wood Cup on March 8, 2014, when my University of Minnesota teammate Austin Felix and I won the FLW College Fishing National Championship and earned a spot in the biggest tournament of the year. The Cup is a tournament every angler dreams of fishing, but I had no idea what the implications of a berth in this legendary tournament would bring.
Many miles up the Saluda River arm of Lake Murray, where the channel narrows and the shorelines are lined with thickets of shady willow trees, Steve Kennedy nearly made history on the final day of the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.
Bass fishing: the sport that we all love so much. It has been a huge part of my life for many years. In fact, it’s been a huge part of my life for almost all of my years.
This past week, Bryan fished his eighth Forrest Wood Cup. Wylie and I joined him in Lexington for the entire week, practice included. We normally just come the Wednesday before a tournament starts, but this one was close to home, and with so much to do in nearby Columbia, we thought it would be a great idea to go early.
I understood Anthony Gagliardi’s strategy as I watched him on the final morning of the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup, but it still was odd to watch. He wasn’t casting at all. Just standing, watching and waiting. He was waiting to cast to largemouths when they busted blueback herring on the surface. Fish feeding on herring during the summer only come up for an instant, and the only way to catch them is to cast immediately to the spot where they break. Gagliardi didn’t want his bait a cast’s distance away to the left when he really needed to make a cast to the right. And so he waited. “That’s the best way to do it when they’re schooling,” Gagliardi said during the press conference right after he won the championship. “When one breaks you have about three seconds to put the bait there.”
Few will disagree that qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup by way of the Walmart Bass Fishing League is among the most difficult challenges in competitive bass fishing. The journey to the Cup through the BFLs is one requiring immense skill and flawless execution over the course of five regular-season circuit events, a 160-boat regional and a three-day championship against the best weekend warriors on the planet.
Time really flies in professional fishing. It seems like yesterday that all of us were launching our boats on Okeechobee, with dreams of competing in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup that begins this week on Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C.
Summer is in full bloom. I just got home after a short family vacation in the Florida Keys where we enjoyed some saltwater fishing. I also spent a few hot days on Lake Murray doing some scouting for the upcoming Forrest Wood Cup, which is just a week away. I’m excited about this event and can’t wait to compete as I try to win a second Forrest Wood Cup, which would be really awesome.
As I sit here in Detroit taking time out from a family visit, I look back on the past season and try to find any positives. The things that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong, and I think that a lot of times, I wasn’t experienced enough or good enough to adjust to the circumstances. Bottom line: I didn’t make the Forrest Wood Cup.
So there I was, near the Blood River, leading the Walmart FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake after days two and three, trying to concentrate and bring home the trophy and $100,000 top prize. Standing in my hip pocket was a cameraman, to my left were a dozen spectator boats, in front of me were 3-foot waves that periodically crashed over the front of the boat, and above me were clouds that intermittently threw rain and wind gusts my way. Oh yeah, and behind me, and I mean right behind me, were nine top pros who were all within a few pounds of my lead. Brutal conditions, a slow bite and a rapidly ticking clock … not exactly the meditative environment Plato or Aristotle would have chosen for contemplating the mysteries of life.
As I noted previously, Bryan and I were able to find a free weekend between tournaments to actually have a wedding. It was a miracle, I tell you. After our wedding on July 21, 2007, we headed to Edisto Island in South Carolina for our honeymoon. We had a great time, but it was a very rushed trip. After all, Bryan had to be back quickly so he could head to Hot Springs, Ark., to practice for the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita. It was his first ever and he was psyched.
Well, it actually happened. For the first time in eight years, I’ll be sitting on the sidelines at the Forrest Wood Cup. As I sit here and drink in the intoxicatingly sour flavor that this revelation has left in my mouth, somehow I find myself savoring the flavor. Perhaps that’s because it’s the flavor of something that I will never taste again. At least that’s how I feel, anyway; that’s how I’m taking it. Never again.
My recap of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake has less to do with this particular event than it does a feat I consider to be one of the most amazing in modern-day tournament fishing – but I’ll get to that later.
Lots of story lines will be going down this coming week as the Walmart FLW Tour closes out its regular season with the 2014 finale on Kentucky Lake. In addition to the 35 Forrest Wood Cup qualifiers to be determined, also on the line are the $10,000 checks awarded to each of the top 60 anglers.
Following a fairly successful career as a college angler, I decided to keep progressing up the tournament ladder. The year after graduating from the University of Florida, I fished what was then the Rayovac FLW Series as a professional angler. While I enjoyed some success in my first two tournaments, I quickly realized I had a lot to learn as I got farther away from my home waters.
Poor Lake Barkley. It’s as spectacular as the Grand Tetons and nearly as vast and full of wildlife in and around it. With its 58,000 acres of ledges and shoreline cover packed with bass, Barkley would be the top tournament destination in most any other state.
If you had told me I’d end up tied with Mark Rose in the Pickwick Lake Walmart FLW Tour event, I would have guessed there would also be a sudden-death fish-off on Monday morning. Pickwick in Florence, Ala., is a perfect place for a big tournament and coincidently one of my favorite lakes in the country. This time around, however, it didn’t treat me so well. I finished 58th. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to finish in the big money, but this entire season has been way too stressful, as I’ve been on both sides of the bubble numerous times.
Of the approximately 170 anglers who’ll be competing, a relative few of them will be vying for one of the 35 Forrest Wood Cup slots available for the August championship. A few weeks later, the last Tour event of the season, at Kentucky Lake, will settle matters for good.