This year, I missed the excitement

It’s time to regroup. This year was disappointing because last year was so phenomenal. A Top 25 finish is still pretty good, but it’s not where I want to be. It’s left me with a lot to think about.

It’s a long drive from Mille Lacs back to Birmingham, and I do a lot of reflecting on the road. That’s how you learn—you think about your mistakes and try to remember them so you don’t do them as much next time. My next B.A.S.S. event isn’t until February, which means I’ve got a few months to think about this year versus last year.

Everybody wants to know what went wrong. I want to figure it out too.

Last year was exceptional. I don’t want to say it was easy, but I had a lot of good days. I caught just about everything that bit, and I won AOY. This year, I’d like to go back to every tournament and do it again because I missed a lot of fish and opportunities, and I normally don’t do that. That’s how it is in fishing—you mess up and you want to go back.

The only time that I felt I had a chance to win in 2016 was on the third day of the Classic. That last day, I was in a position to win, and Edwin just smashed them. He had a phenomenal day and smoked everyone. But I didn’t know that on the water. When we were out there, I still felt like I had a chance to win, and when you feel like you have a chance, it’s much more exciting.

It’s more fun when you’re in contention for a trophy. It’s so much more exciting when you’re in the Top 12. That’s where all the action is.

Last year I was close to winning four times. I won twice, and it was the greatest year of fishing I’ve ever had. That’s what you go for every season.

Outside of the Classic this year, I didn’t feel like I gave myself a chance to win, and I’m not totally sure why that is.

I took two months off from fishing—not purposefully, but it happened because of a busy year. That’s not a good thing for me to do. It’s like riding a bike—you never forget how, but with time off, you won’t be able to ride as well when you come back. The same thing happens in fishing.

When you fish all of the time, it keeps your instincts sharp. Your thinking process is sharper and you make quicker and better decisions, and I feel like my mental game wasn’t where I wanted it to be in 2016. When your instincts aren’t sharp, your mental game suffers, and fishing is such a mental thing.

What else went wrong?

It could have been the weather. We had floods. We had dark pre-fish days where it’s kind of windy and overcast, and sometimes that makes it hard to learn new places. That seemed to make the fish a little funky and a little off for me. For other guys, it may have played to their advantage.

I also didn’t pre-practice a lot this year. So yeah, I don’t know exactly what went wrong this year, but reflecting helps.

When you look back on a season, you don’t want to forget about the good, but I think a lot about the bad. I’ve always done that; I’ve always second-guessed myself and thought, “Man, I probably would have done better if I had followed my intuition.”

Sometimes it’s about following your gut feeling. But other times it’s about working on flaws in your game. And I know that I need to work harder at fishing around people, because on some lakes that’s the only option. It’s not that I don’t like people—I just don’t like fishing around them. If I find fish on a spot in practice and someone’s on it during the tournament, I will pass by and look for another spot. That’s something I’ve got to work on. I don’t like moving in on people, but sometimes you have to.

I may have been in a position to do much better several times this year if I would have been more aggressive on lakes like that.

So what do I change? How do I bounce back?

I’ll deliberately spend more time on the water for fun. I’ll go home and reorganize my tackle. I’ll tweak a few things like I do every year, but to get back on track, there’s not much I can do but reflect on what happened and try to regroup. I’ve got to be ready when it all starts up again. I’ve got to be in the right frame of mind.

A lot of guys have a down year and bounce back to win AOY the next year. Swindle is a great example of that. Brent Chapman is, too. Guys can come off of a slump to win it all.

This year, I missed the excitement. I felt a little left out. In February, when it all starts back up at Cherokee, I’ll be finished reflecting and I’ll be ready. I don’t like missing the Top 12.

And I already have the motivation to come back.