Looking back on my 2014 season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, I can think of a bunch of different ways to describe it.
From hero to zero to hero.
The best of times, the worst of times, and then the best of times again.
A sandwich with nothing in the middle.
A burger with two great buns and no meat.
I’m joking a little bit, but that pretty accurately describes how I feel about the season: I had a great tournament to start the year, some not-so-great tournaments, and then a great tournament to finish the year. It was an interesting year to say the least, but I came out of it healthy and with two Top 10 finishes. I learned some things and finished on a really positive note, which gives me momentum heading into the off-season and into 2015.
The best of times at Seminole
Coming into the season opener at Lake Seminole back in March, my plan was to try to stay healthy all the way through the year. I’d taken the previous year off on a medical exemption for surgery and rehab on my neck, so I promised myself that I wasn’t going to grind and grind and grind like I’ve done in previous years. My body just wasn’t going to stand up to that.
Instead of hammering day after day in practice, I used the first practice day at Seminole to organize my boat and tackle, and sort of get myself set up as well as I could to fish a four-day Elite tournament for the first time in two years.
It worked like a charm: I finished ninth with 67.6 pounds and could have (or should have) done better. In the course of four days on that fishery, I lost the fish to win it. I’m not saying that I would’ve beaten Brett Hite that week, but I lost enough big fish in that tournament to challenge him. I didn’t fish perfect, and I’ve figured out over the years that when a tournament is 100 percent yours to win, you land those big fish. I didn’t land them.
I finished in the Top 10, though, and that’s all I could’ve asked for.
The Dive Master 14 was key at Seminole
My key bait at Seminole was the Dive Master 14. No, check that: my ONLY bait at Seminole was the DM 14, in plain old Red Craw, a color I call “55 Chevy Red.”
My primary honey hole was a migratory channel that I found the second day in practice. I literally went banging around the wood and stumps in the fog that day and stumbled onto this spot that was just a slight depression on a big flat – you couldn’t see the depression with the naked eye, but I picked up three or four solid bites, and when I graphed the flat, I could see a 2- or 3-foot depression that all of the big females could follow.
Every fish in that depression was a stud, and they were crushing the DM 14. I had guys around me who were also cranking, but they weren’t throwing baits with Electronic Baitfish Sounds technology. EBS was obviously a difference-maker – three days into the tournament, I had guys hitting me up for Red Craw DM 14s.
No meat in the middle
One thing I can say about the blur of tournaments that followed Seminole – the St. John’s River, Table Rock, Toledo Bend, etc. – is that I had a weird “mismatch” of things that went wrong. It wasn’t that I fished terrible and totally sucked at every tournament, but I made some poor decisions, second-guessed myself on some things that I knew were right, and just missed the mark on some calls that I made. I went left when I should’ve gone right, and it cost me.
I knew where the bite was at Dardanelle, I just didn’t adjust quickly enough to it. I fished offshore the first day at Toledo Bend when my gut was telling me different. I didn’t convert some big bites at BASSFest on Lake Chickamauga. I lost a giiiiiiiant the first hour on Day 1 at Toledo Bend. I had been watching that fish the entire week of practice – that fish was almost like a pet fish. I hooked her and literally had my hand under her belly to bring her in, and she somehow flopped out of my hands, over the side of the boat and was gone.
Talk about a momentum changer. That spun me off into a “Dr. Phil moment”, wishing I had a life coach.
The scoretracker doesn’t really reflect it, but I was teased enough throughout the season because I knew I had my shots. I had some opportunities, but I just didn’t convert them.
From zero to hero on the Delaware River
We knew going into the nexxt-to-last regular-season tournament in Philadelphia that the Delaware River was going to be tough. The tides there are crazy: We had a 7-foot high tide, and then it would bottom out. My confidence there was through the roof, though. I had practiced just like I had at Seminole, where I used the first day to organize myself and get set up, and then put it all together on Day 1 of the tournament … except that I only weighed in four fish!
I weighed in 10.5, and lost a 3-pounder at the side of the boat that would’ve put me in second, right behind Mike Iaconelli. At the time, I thought “Oh man, that’s going to cost me.” Another one of those “woulda, shoulda, coulda” moments that I wish I had converted, but I recovered pretty well from that and did well the rest of the tournament.
I threw the old Chevy-red DM 14 at certain parts of the tide, then went to soft plastics the rest of the time because of the wicked tide swing. I finished 10th with 31.8 pounds, had a blast with that great, rowdy Philadelphia crowd and ended the season on a positive note.
I’m taking a little time off to rest up now, and then hitting the off-season hard. We have some phenomenal new Team Livingston baits that we’ll roll out in 2015, and I’m already excited about the Elite Series schedule for next season because it takes us to some fisheries that I’ve always done well on. It should be a great year all the way around.
See the full Livingston line up here.