By Todd Ceisner
On his website, Justin Lucas has a page devoted to his tournament schedule where his results and earnings are posted. Included in the 2012 event schedule is the Forrest Wood Cup.
Unfortunately for the 26-year-old Alabama pro, the result and earnings fields will remain blank as he fell short in his bid to qualify for his third Cup on the pro side (he also fished two as a co-angler). Needless to say, it was a bitter pill to swallow being in Duluth, Ga., last week, but not out at Lake Lanier chasing spotted bass and a huge payday.
His travel partner, Cody Meyer, made the field and wound up finishing 11th. Having to sit this one out wasn’t easy.
“It hits you in the heart and you don’t want to miss it again so it definitely motivates me to work harder,” he said. “I just need to get back up and not let it affect me. I’ve got three tournaments left and I have to forget about it.”
His season was marked by a few up and downs, but eventually the downs won out and he finished 44th in the FLW Tour Angler of the Year (AOY) standings, just 12 points back of 39th-place Jason Christie, who was the last man into the Cup based on points.
As the tournament season wears to a close for 2012, his chin is up and he remains focused on getting a jump on nailing down a berth in the 2013 Cup through this year’s Opens.
Lucas opened the year with a good bit of momentum after finishing 35th at the Tour Open at Lake Okeechobee and a 22nd at Lake Hartwell in the first Tour Major. All of that was quickly erased by back-to-back bombs in the Ozarks. He was 88th at Table Rock Lake and 110th at Beaver Lake, 100 spots worse than his 2011 result there.
“Everything was going great and then we were going to the Ozarks,” he said. “That’s where my confidence was highest, but I just never really put it together. At Table Rock, I picked the total wrong end. The James is typically a tournament area and there was hardly anybody up there in the tournament. A lot of the fish were found in the bottom end of the lake and Long Creek because of that stained water. I never even went over that way so I never even saw it.
"I never got the bites. I saw a lot of fish on beds, but couldn’t catch them. I tried to make things happen on the go and it just never happened.”
Regarding Beaver Lake, he said, “That was just a total disaster. On the first day of practice, my partner and I both caught 12 pounds of spots fishing brush piles. I was thinking it was going to work out perfect with the fish staying in the brush piles. I practiced like that a couple more days and tried to find some shallow stuff.
“I started out deep and worked those brush piles the first day and I had four fish for 6 pounds. It turned out that the spotted bass were not only smaller than the largemouth, but were harder to catch, too. It was like a double kick. It was bad.”
He came within a whisker of winning at the Potomac River after starting the event in 90th on day 1. He eventually fell 3 ounces shy of winner Scott Martin. A 35th at Kentucky Lake moved him back into Cup contention, but his smallmouth-first mentality led to a 73rd-place finish at Lake Champlain and forced him to the sideline for last week’s showcase event.
“It was one of those things where I wanted to play it safe and it ended up backfiring,” he said. “I lost the fish there to make the Cup, but it doesn’t matter. I need to be more like (David) Dudley, who goes saltwater fishing and sets the hook as hard as he can.”
All wasn’t lost this season for Lucas as he set a career high in earnings, thanks largely to a runner-up finish at the Lake Guntersville Southeast EverStart.
He’s already geared up for the three remaining FLW Tour Opens at the Detroit River (next week), Lake Wheeler (Sept. 20-23) and Sam Rayburn Reservoir (Oct. 11-14).
“If I can have three good finishes of 35th or better, I may be able to make the Top 5 and I don’t have to worry about the Cup next year,” he said, referring to the Top 5 finishers in points receiving Cup invitations for 2013.
He typically doesn’t take scouting trips prior to Opens, but he felt it was necessary to get a look at the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair beforehand, knowing the field will likely be filled with plenty of local sticks.
“It’s a crazy place when you don’t get any help at a place that big,” he said. “I’m excited to go back. Seeing (Jason Christie win the Bassmaster Northern Open there) was encouraging.”
The Wheeler event is in his backyard – he lives in Guntersville, Ala. – and he’s anticipating a reprisal of last fall’s Open at Guntersville, where the Alabama Rig burst onto the scene.
“One that I’m really excited about is Wheeler because I actually live 10 minutes from the nearest Wheeler boat ramp,” he said. “There will be 300 people throwing the Alabama Rig if you count the co-anglers.”
Lucas still holds close to his California roots and credits growing up out West for allowing him to develop into a versatile angler.
He lists fellow FLW Tour pro and Californian Brent Ehrler as the guy he tries to pattern himself after.
“Just because he came from California and as I was starting to fish EverStarts he was starting the Tour,” Lucas said. “Watching him progress coming from California and doing well back east was pretty cool. And everybody likes Brent. He’s just a humble guy. He goes out and works hard and is a great fisherman.
“I appreciate all of the guys who come from out West because it’s one thing to do it living in the South fishing in Alabama your whole life. People don’t realize how hard it is to leave the state you grew up fishing in and go fish somewhere completely different and never get the chance go back. I know that I’m probably not going to fish a tournament on Clear Lake or the (California) Delta for a long time.”
When he was searching for a new place to live, the area had to have quick access to quality fishing waters and be centrally located so tournament travel wouldn’t be such a grind. He settled on Guntersville, where he shares a place with Kevin Hawk.
“It’s on the Tennessee River,” he said. “There are always tournaments on the Tennessee River and that’s the one type of lake we don’t have in California – a river-based lake. If you look at past finishes from the Tennessee River, that’s where we (Western guys) tend to struggle.”
His hectic travel schedule – he also serves as host for FLW’s College Fishing program – doesn’t allow him as much time on the water around home as he’d like, but when he’s able to get out he knows he’s at one of bass fishing’s Meccas.
“It’s just a neat place,” he said. “It says something about a place that when you go there on a Wednesday and there’s trailer plates from Ohio, New York, West Virginia and Missouri. You see people from all over coming there. It’s a destination and growing up reading the fishing magazines, obviously the heart of bass fishing is Alabama and Lake Guntersville is the dead center of it. There was no other place I wanted to live.”