Worry is the prevalent thought racing through the minds of anglers before most any tournament, fifth-year Elite Jake Whitaker said.“That’s just the
Worry is the prevalent thought racing through the minds of anglers before most any tournament, fifth-year Elite Jake Whitaker said.
“That’s just the fascinating thing about bass fishing, especially at the Elite level. The first morning, everybody is worried,” he said. “I don’t care what they say, they could have the best hole on the lake, but you’re still worried to death.”
Whitaker said anxiety is just a part of the game that’s probably best-suited for adrenaline junkies. Anglers need to manage those thoughts to prevent spinning out, and they are quickly forgotten once they start stringing together catches.
Whitaker will be among the 94 competitors who take off from Riverfront Park in Palatka, Fla., on Thursday, battling those concerns and hoping for a hot start at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River. While it’s comforting to begin the year at a familiar venue — it’s the fourth consecutive season opener there — Elites always seem to live with the fear of fishing failure.
“They’re worried the fish they found in practice won’t be there,” or someone else is at their spot, among other things, Whitaker said. “It’s a guessing game. Once you start catching a few fish, it’s so cool and so fun. I wish I could translate that feeling to everybody.”
There’s a feeling of euphoria upon filling a limit, and that’s enhanced if the weight will likely be competitive. Then, Whitaker said, pros can relax a little, expand on their pattern or explore for new areas, with the soothing thought they still have fish for Day 2.
“It’s a great feeling going from, ‘Oh, crap, how am I going to catch one?’ to ‘OK, I’m good to go, let’s have a good tournament.’ That’s what makes it fun,” Whitaker said. “Whenever you start catching those fish you found and you’ve got a good weight, that’s when you figure out if this is going to be a tournament you just have to survive, or can I push this to have a really good tournament. And it all happens on that first day.”
Whitaker has experienced the best and worst feelings at the St. Johns. After a fifth-place finish in 2019, the 2018 Rookie of the Year suffered through a 91st-place finish last year. It wasn’t the sole reason he missed qualifying for the Classic via the Bassmaster Angler of the Year points for the first time, but it made the puzzle harder. There’s more ground to gain from the bottom of the hill, so a good start is always desired, if not crucial.