James Elam makes a cast during the Championship Round of Stage Two on Lake Okeechobee. Photo by Jesse Schultz

I’m still making my way back to Oklahoma from Lake Okeechobee. As I continue this long haul across the southeastern part of the country, I’m pretty happy with how I’ve started these first two events of 2020.

I wasn’t able to make the Knockout Round in Eufaula, but I came back strong with a Top 10 finish in Stage Two, which is something that I can build on for the rest of the year.

Even after a great finish in Okeechobee, I still wasn’t able to qualify for the first Cup event of 2020. It’s really unfortunate I wasn’t able to have a better event in Eufaula to gain some more points.

But at the end of the day, that’s just bass fishing. Sometimes everything doesn’t go according to plan, but it’s up to you as an angler to adjust and make it happen. I wasn’t able to do that, and the guys who did are moving on to the Challenge Cup.

One Year = A Big Difference

Only the Top 30 point-earners qualify for the first Cup event and I came in at 34th place. It’s obviously not where I want to be, but it’s a far cry from where I was just about a year ago at this time. I only made two Knockout Rounds (Stages Four and Eight) and one Championship Round (Stage Eight) last season. To be able to say I’ve matched that Championship Round total already just two events in to 2020 is a good feeling, but I’m far from done.

Last year taught me a lot about not only the MLF format, but about myself as an angler. I found myself multiple times last season being stuck in a “five fish” type of mindset. I’d come in for the day with about five or six bites when the rest of the field was logging double-digits on SCORETRACKER®. I really used this offseason to figure out a game plan about how I need to work on each lake we go to.

I wrote myself a note this offseason. It said: “When you aren’t getting bites, MOVE.” There were multiple times last year where I chose to stay in one spot for too long of a time because I was too resistant to change. I wanted to continue to fish the way I always had and that’s not what MLF is about. It’s about adjusting, finding new patterns, locating the aggressive fish, surviving and advancing to the next round.

I remembered that note that I wrote myself while I was just down in Okeechobee. I ended my first day with only one bass for 2-4, but I was only 1-14 below the Elimination Line to start my second day. After I spent all day looking for bites, with about an hour left I decided to make a move. I was able to find an area with some fish and grabbed a 5-12, 3-11 and 2-4 in the final 30 minutes to move on to the Knockout Round.

If I wouldn’t have taken my own advice that day, I wouldn’t have made the Championship Round and would have gone home really disappointed with my start to the year. It’s amazing what a little bit of trust in yourself can do for your confidence.

I’m ready for a little break before we head down to Lake Fork for Stage Three. You better believe that I’ll be remembering that note I wrote to myself if the fish aren’t biting for me down there in Texas.