By Todd Ceisner
His friends had done all the math and were assuring him he was in good shape. Seth Feider was pretty sure he had made it himself, but he still had a twinge of doubt. The standings on the Internet seemed to indicate he had made the cut. Still, he wasn't 100 percent convinced.
Then a Facebook message arrived from Shinichi Fukae, who had finished 4 points behind Feider in this year's Bassmaster Northern Open points standings. Fukae was writing to inquire about Feider's intentions for the 2015 season. That's when it became real for Feider: He had qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
After coming close to earning an invitation through the Central Opens in 2012 and through the Northerns last year, Feider (pronounced "Fye-der") kept at it and achieved what's been a dream of his – to earn the right to compete against the top pros in the sport.
"It's life-changing for me," he said. "It's something I've been dreaming of since I was 10 years old. To finally get a chance to do it is crazy."
The 30-year-old from Bloomington, Minn., has enjoyed success fishing tournament trails around home. Lake Minnetonka is his home lake and that's where he's honed his grass fishing skills for largemouth. He got into fishing smaller tournaments in the early 2000s before getting serious about it in 2005.
"It's something I always did on the side locally and I had some decent success there," he said. "Now, I'll try to do it for a living."
Most competitors will tell you the format of the Bassmaster Opens is pretty unforgiving, especially for those pursuing a ticket to the Elite Series. The 3-day tournament setup, with all but the Top 12 anglers eliminated after day 2, leaves little room for error for those trying to put together three consistent strong finishes, which is what's required to be near the top of the points standings by year's end.
For Feider, having come up short the last 2 years served to help him manage his emotions and decisions for the most part as this year's Northern Open schedule unfolded.
"Every year is so hard with the format and only three tournaments," he said. "One bad day and you're done. I had one bad day the first 2 years and it did me in. You have to be consistent.
"The first year I didn't have a shot going into the last one, but I had good finish at the final tournament. Last year was heartbreaking, being so close and not making it, but I gained a lot of confidence from 2012 fishing the Centrals and the different water down there. I came back to the Northerns, though, because I figured my odds would be better since I'm more familiar with that kind of fishing."
He logged his best finish (19th) at the opener in late May at Douglas Lake, which somehow made its way onto the Northern schedule this year. It was Feider's first time there and he was more than happy with his outcome.
"It was crazy to see how much pressure those fish got," he said. "It seemed like as soon as the sun got up there was a boat on every school. That was a great start for me because a lot of the guys in the Northerns are Great Lakes or smallmouth guys so to get a good finish there was good since we still had to go to Champlain and Lake St. Clair."
He notched a 26th at Champlain in early August to put himself in contention yet again for an Elite Series bid, then closed with a 32nd at St. Clair to wind up 6th in the points.
"You're not thinking about it until you go to that last one," he said. "When it comes down to points going into that last one, I felt like my life was on the line."
Two Elite Series pros – Ott DeFoe and Aaron Martens – finished ahead of him in points, meaning he was assured an Elite Series invite.
"Last year I was in the same position going to Erie, maybe a little further back (for the final event) and I knew I had to catch them," he said. "I gambled and ran past Pelee Island hoping to get on big fish that weren't there. I wasted time and came in with four fish for 13 pounds.
"I should've learned from that, but this year I ran to Erie on day 1 and struggled. I came back to St. Clair to finish my limit. I knew if things went right on Erie, 20 pounds in five casts was possible, but the fish disappeared on me again."
He opted not to gamble on day 2 and hung around in St. Clair to pick off smallmouth.
"I knew 18 pounds would make it interesting," he said. "It was a lot different bite in St. Clair. It was more of a grind. There was just one giant area and you were lucky to catch one an hour. It was a lot slower than Erie."
Feider has a solid group of fishing sponsors in place already, including Rapala and Daiwa, but he's hoping to secure additional support that will ease the financial burden that comes with competing at the tour level.
"I'm working on coming up with the money to do it," he said. "Worst case scenario, I take out a business loan and make it happen."
When asked why he chose to pursue an Elite Series berth rather than sign up for the FLW Tour, he preferred the sponsor growth potential that exists with the Elite Series.
"Realistically, on the money side with sponsors, B.A.S.S. is the better choice," he said. "FLW is good if you have start-up money to jump in and fish. I figured that getting a spot in the Elites would help with sponsors while the first couple years on the FLW Tour you're probably going to lay out a lot of money out of pocket. The Elites are just the better option for me."
He acknowledged the learning curve he'll be facing when it comes to fishing lakes and rivers he's never been to before, but he thinks his open-minded approach will serve him well.
"I really enjoy fishing new waters," he said. "It's more about fishing the moment. Any lake we've been to before up here, it's the same thing – you go to your waypoints. Down there, I'll have to adjust to the conditions as the days go on."
He doesn't anticipate there being much of an awe factor once he's head to head on the water with other Elite Series competitors, many of whom he grew up following.
"I'll be fishing against guys I look up to, but I won't be starstruck by any means," he said. "There's quite a few guys there that I really respect."