Alton Jones, Jr. fishes near a bridge during Stage One. Photo by Garrick Dixon
By Alton Jones, Jr. - February 20, 2020
So much about our sport is about momentum. It’s exciting to be able to start off my season with a little bit of momentum after a fourth-place finish in Stage One of the 2020 Bass Pro Tour.
Come to think of it, I did the same thing in 2019, too. I finished fifth down in Kissimmee, Florida to start the year, but I wasn’t able to keep my momentum going for the rest of the season as I missed out on REDCREST qualification. Hopefully, as we prepare to head back to Florida, I can keep it all going.
As I look back on Stage One, my whole week in Eufaula was really just flying by the seat of my pants. I didn’t have a good practice and the water conditions were changing so much that I really had to fish with an open mind.
To be able to trust my gut and instincts and have it work out with a Top-10 finish is huge. This past week was probably one of the best weeks of decision making that I have ever had in my career.
Just Keep the Train on the Tracks
My biggest goal this year is just to keep the train on the tracks. As I completed my 18-hour drive from Waco, Texas to Lake Okeechobee, I really thought hard about how I can stay the course this season and put myself into a good position to not only win an event, but also qualify for Cup events, Heavy Hitters and REDCREST.
I had about six months in between the end of my 2019 season and the start of this season – that’s the longest I have ever gone without fishing a tournament since I was about 16 years old. It’s good to know that I still got it after trusting my gut this past week. I’m in a good position to qualify for the first Cup event of 2021 but a 5-pound, 4-ouncer was my biggest in Eufaula, and that won’t cut it against this competition if I want to make it to Heavy Hitters.
With Stage One now in my rearview, it’s time to focus on Stage Two at Lake Okeechobee. I fished there a lot as a kid with my dad, maybe 40 days total give or take a few. As a pro, I fished one event there and finished in the top 30. I’ve probably spent about a dozen days on the water down there as an adult.
The cool thing is, Florida lakes are Florida lakes pretty much no matter where you go in the state. They all really tend to fish the same. I’ve spent a lot of time fishing in Florida as a professional, as have all of the other guys, so it should be really interesting to see how we all attack it.
This will also be an interesting event for Heavy Hitters qualification. There’s such a wide gap in fish size. Coming from Lake Eufaula, everybody caught a 4-pounder.
That’s not going to be the case in Okeechobee. Some guys will probably catch 9-pounders, but some may not even see a 3-pounder for two days. That’s just how Florida is, in my opinion. When you set the hook it’s either going to be a 12-incher or a 7-pounder.
This is going to be the most important event for Heavy Hitters all season long because you can really set yourself apart from the rest of the competition.
It’s been warm in this part of Florida for awhile now, but we’re expected to have a cold front come in during the first couple of days of competition. I think that cold front will shrink my practice area, which is a good thing. It allows me to focus on areas that aren’t going to be pounded by the wind. I also plan to fish a lot of areas really fast and I won’t really dissect them until my first day of competition.
I just want to find out where the best area or areas are.
Lake Okeechobee has fish all over the lake, but there’s probably going to be one or two areas that are really “hot.” By “hot” I mean that the fish are in a good mood to bite, they may be spawning, and ready to eat around those areas. Once I find that hot area, I’ll worry about dissecting it and figuring out how I need to fish it come tournament day.
I can’t wait to get started and hopefully I can come away with another Top 10 while I’m down here.