Florida on my mind

It’s off to Florida this week where all Bassmaster Elite pros are thinking the same thing – I want to kick off the year with a good start.

Let’s face it; it’s important to start every year with a high finish. It helps set the tone for the rest of the season and gets the momentum going.

But a good start has become more important with each new season. We’ve got the largest Elite field in history this year and it’s full of tough, diverse anglers who work very hard to get that “edge” early in the schedule.

We’ll be fishing at Lake Seminole March 13-16 then head to the St. John’s River battle March 20-23.

Starting the year in Florida is always tricky. These are shallow water tournaments and often provide a good springboard for the guys who hail from that region. Bass just act differently in Florida lakes, so it’s critical to be dialed in right off the bat with two events slated there.

Florida was tough for me in my early years. I did OK, but was never a threat to win until I learned to adapt my style of fishing to the nuances of Florida lakes. After that, I’ve won there and made quite a few top 12s.

Alton Jones is another example of an angler who has adapted. Although he’s from Texas, he’s gotten off to a really good season when the St. John’s River is on the early schedule. He’s really learned to master those fisheries.

You can bet others are trying to do the same, especially those guys who didn’t make this year’s Classic. Bernie Schultz said he spent a lot of time on Seminole and St. John’s during the offseason because he was so motivated from not making the Birmingham Classic and wants to get off on the right foot.

Years ago, you could overcome a really bad finish. Not anymore, especially if you have any hopes of being in the Classic mix at the end of the year.

Time doesn’t permit me to invest the time in pre-practice, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been preparing. I’ve been thinking about these two, back-to-back tournaments for several weeks.

I’ve had my share of success on Seminole and have a basic understanding of how the lake lies. However, because it is a grass lake, a lot of things can change in a short period of time. I’ve prepared myself to be ready for the first day of practice so that I can maximize those 2 1/2 days before competition begins.

The St. John’s River is tricky because it is a tidal river, yet the tide is very subtle and difficult to read. Timing is really critical there and you have to make sure you’re on the right places at the right times.

When things go well, the pieces fall into place. When they don’t, you have to manage the tough events and try to survive, scratch out the best finish you can that helps keep you in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year race or the Classic cut by the end of the year.

The Classic at Guntersville didn’t go the way I expected it, but then the Classic is a different animal. I take more risks than I do during an Elite event because the Classic is all about winning.

Even though my finish wasn’t special, the decisions I made were spot-on. I didn’t miss by much and I sure won’t second guess what I did there.

It’s time to turn my attention to Seminole. A good performance is critical to all of us, and you can bet that I’m going to do all I can to fish into Sunday, make the Top 12 cut, and give myself a chance to win.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!