2020 Bassmaster Angler of the Year
It is hard to put in to words how it feels to have the greatest accomplishment of my career occur in the context of the most chaotic year of my life, and I imagine many of yours too – 2020. But in the midst of all the chaos, my job, while disrupted for a few months, resumed after a few months thanks to the efforts made by B.A.S.S to provide a full season for us. I am so appreciative to them and my fellow anglers for pulling together to make this happen. And I am beyond blessed to have been able to hoist the Angler of the Year trophy at the season’s close. What a privilege and honor. It was a year full of lots of highs and lows and lulls and flurries. God has been with me and Patti through all of it. And He is always good – during the highs and during the lows. We are certain and steadfast in that belief.
We started the season at the St. John’s River in Florida, where I had a good tournament, finishing up in 16th place. Starting the year off in Florida is always a bonus in my book. There is just nothing quite like big Florida largemouth to set the tone for they rest of the year. The Chickamauga tournament was supposed to be held the following week but was postponed due to flooding. Then, COVID hit, and like everything else, bass fishing came to a halt. B.A.S.S. responsibly followed local and state guidelines and had to postpone and reschedule several events.
But the season started back up at Lake Eufaula, Alabama. The few times I had fished Eufaula in the past I got killed by the guys fishing out deep. So this year I decided, if I couldn’t beat them, I’d join them. I committed to fishing deep and it paid off. I was really in contention to win after three days of fishing but just couldn’t get big bites on the last day and ended up in 8th.
After a few weeks break, we headed back out for the Northern swing. Cayuga Lake, NY was canceled, and B.A.S.S. replaced it with a Fall tournament at Guntersville, AL. The first of the New York tournaments was at the St. Lawrence River, and thanks to COVID, the tournament site was moved further west, making Lake Ontario fishable water. My very first professional bass fishing tournament was a Bassmaster Invitational on Lake Ontario, and ever since that tournament it has been a very special place to me. I fished the big water all four days, and the weather could not have been better for the first three days. The last day was rough, but I made the run, and it was, indeed rough! Fishing was tougher that last day too, and I finished the event in 8th place again, but it was enough to take over the Angler of the Year lead.
From there, we moved East to Lake Champlain, which traditionally has been one of my favorite places to fish. The way the lake was setting up, I thought largemouth might play, but in hindsight, I should have stuck to smallmouth throughout. It was disappointing not to do better at Champlain, but I got out of there with a decent finish (46th ) and some valuable AOY points. Patti and I stayed up North during the 2 weeks before the next tournament at Lake St. Clair in Michigan, and had a great time fishing Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. At St. Clair I was also in contention to win all the way up to the end, and really had a great shot at it. I lost the winning fish several times the last day, which hurt, but that’s just fishing. I finished fourth there, and went into the next break leading AOY
Following the Northern Swing, we had a three week break before Guntersville, Santee Cooper and Chickamauga. It was just enough time to stop to pre fish a few places, regroup, film some and pack back up for three back to backs – Guntersville, Santee Cooper and Lake Chickamauga. I finished 17th at Guntersville thanks to a tip from my buddy Frank Talley. Then finished 21st at Santee Cooper. I really was not on much at either of those tournaments, so I was pleased to come out of them in good shape – still leading AOY. The next stop was Lake Chickamauga. That’s when the wheels fell off. At Chickamauga I caught one keeper bass in 2 days. Thankfully, it was a 3-14. That one bass was probably the single most important fish of my year. It landed me in 81st place, giving me a few precious AOY points. I left that tournament (as fast as I could) 23 points behind in the AOY standings.
The final tournament of the year was held at Lake Fork, and the only positive thing about having lost so much ground in the AOY game was that the pressure was off just a little bit. There was still pressure, but the pressure had shifted more to David Mullins and Austin Felix who were the two ahead of me. After day one and two I was in 19th place, enough to land me in the top 40 cut. That final day might have been the most stressful of my career. I knew I needed to finish 31st or better and 13 places ahead of Jake Whitaker to win. It was a brutal day. I lost a 3.5 pounder early and couldn’t catch anything in the creek that had provided most of my day one and day two catch. I stayed there until about noon and realized I needed to punt and just go fishing. Even though I had a cameraman and a judge in my boat, that 15 mile run up the lake, knowing what I had to do, was the loneliest run of my life. I targeted some docks, and it was slow. Excruciatingly slow. But I ended up scraping together 7 pounds, which was enough to land me in 28th place, just three points ahead of Mullins (who had a phenomenal year).
I am thrilled to have won the Angler of the Year race. It is the feat that I most want to accomplish at the beginning of every tournament season. I would love to win a tournament, but to come out in the end as the most consistent angler is what I strive for every year. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to fish B.A.S.S. again, grateful for a full 2020 season (and that 2020 is almost over!), grateful to my wife for traveling with me and basically keeping everything else together and running, grateful to our children who give us a reason for everything we do, grateful to my sponsors for making this career possible, and mostly grateful to God for being loving and good and constant all the time, and for giving me a passion for this and the ability to pursue this dream. It is one I do not take for granted, and one I am profoundly grateful for.
2020 Bassmaster Angler of the Year