Winning the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma is nothing but a blessing to my family in many ways. The whole thing was just incredible. The coolest thing is, both tournaments I have won in my career now, I wasn’t thinking about winning. It was the last thing on my mind. It is amazing when that happens.
You go out and enjoy your time while also realizing you are on this platform for a bigger reason than just fishing. That reason is to talk about something that really matters, which is what God’s plan is for people’s lives. So I went into this event very content with whatever happened and not feeling any pressure. Next thing I know, good things happened.
Scottie Sheffler is a Christian golfer, and his mindset takes the pressure off of him. He knows that it is God’s plan and not his own.
He takes the pressure that would normally be on him, and it is put on his competitors. He doesn’t feel the pressure. If he is meant to win it, he will. If not, he takes what he has and is grateful for it and looks at the big picture of what this life is about.
That is how I went into Eufaula, and then to have things start clicking and get bites that seemed like small miracles — that was incredible. They were things that couldn’t be duplicated, but they would happen and I would catch a big one.
That was how the whole week went, even up to the final 15 minutes when I caught two 3 1/2-pounders on a Ned rig, a bait I got bit on the Saturday before and hadn’t caught a keeper with it the rest of the week. Next thing you know, that starts transpiring. I knew if I was meant to win, it was going to have to happen close to the ramp.
That capped off what was already an amazing week. Catching those two giants on back-to-back casts on Day 2 and thinking I caught the biggest bag of the tournament was awesome too. Then to catch the two 3 1/2-pounders in the final minutes was insane.
It was very evident that if it was meant to be, it was going to be. If not, it was going to be okay.
There are less ups and downs with that mindset. Even when I go two hours without a bite, I stay calm and confident and trust that I’m going to get a bite. I’m not going to freak out, I’m just going to do my thing and keep on fishing. When things start clicking, I go from having a tough morning to a solid bag.
It is a comforting thing. I love to fish, and God made me good at fishing for a reason.
I went a really long time in tournament fishing feeling like I was a really good fisherman, but I wasn’t very good at tournament fishing. That is a frustrating thing. A lot of people are like that too. It has been a learning process of making game plans and practicing smarter and not harder.
At Eufaula, I didn’t get on the water the first day of practice until noon. Another day I got off the lake early because of storms, and I slept and hung out with my family. I’m not going to push it, and I know what the weather will be for the tournament most of the time.
I also didn’t try to learn all of Lake Eufaula. I tried to learn three sections that were all right near each other that I could figure out and go fish. The last couple of years, that is how I’ve practiced. If I get too spread out and try to run all over a lake I’m not super familiar with, I can get to where I’m running around too much and not making the right decisions. I hate that feeling. It happened to me at the first tournament of the year on Day 1 at Lake Eufaula in Alabama. I got stuck between multiple places and tried to go different directions.
I am also grateful for the opportunity to fish my second Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. That is for a reason that is way bigger than fishing. It is just an incredible opportunity and so much fun for my family. It will be a blast to do that together again just two years later.
As for the rest of the year, I’m going to keep guiding when I’m home on the Coosa River system, and I’m going to keep on getting out there for the Opens and enjoy it and fish hard. I don’t feel pressure to make the Elites, even though I’m in ninth in the Elite Qualifier points. It is crazy to have a win and only move up three spots. That just explains how good these guys are. You don’t get lucky nine tournaments in a row.
If I make the Elites, it is great. If not, it is okay. There are great opportunities in the Opens to share my faith, and I love that I have made a living doing it.