By Todd Ceisner
A year ago at this time, Brent Chapman's world was spinning a little quicker than usual, and for good reason. He'd just put the wraps on winning the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year (AOY) title, a crowning achievement in a career marked by consistency but lacking in luster. He bagged an Open win at Lewisville Lake to kick off 2012, then claimed his first Elite Series win at Toledo Bend and collected four top-6 finishes during the Elite Series campaign, the last of which at Oneida Lake sewed up the AOY crown.
As a result, last fall and winter were a whirlwind for the Lake Quivira, Kan., pro. Sponsors, new and old, wanted a piece of him for promotional purposes. Who could blame them? He was here, there, everywhere. He was on top of the bass universe. He was, after all, the guy who ended Kevin VanDam's 3-year reign atop the Elite Series points pedestal.
Then the calendar flipped to 2013 and the process was about to start anew, this time with Chapman introduced as the reigning AOY every time he walked on stage with a bag of fish or while doing a sponsor appearance or charity event.
The year didn't begin with an Open victory and an accompanying berth to the following year's Bassmaster Classic like 2012 had. The Top-12s didn't stack up one after the other. This year, it was back to the grind and the seemingly never-ending quest to find the right balance between "going for it" and going the safe route when the situation called for it. He found a steady pace and made money in all but one event and had a brush with victory at the Alabama River. It was, by all accounts, a solid follow-up season to the otherworldly 2012 effort that changed his life.
"I can see from the last 3 years, starting in 2011 when I really struggled, that motivated me to get up and do things bigger and better," he said. "I did and it obviously made a difference last year. This year, I felt like I was twice as busy. Last fall, in trying to get ready for the next event it was hard to ever even get caught up. That's how I jumped into this season with stuff still left to do. It made for a busy year. I wouldn't trade it for anything, though.
"After reflecting on 2013, I found myself maybe fishing more conservatively again. I tried to be consistent of terms of getting the job done and qualifying for the Classic. I had a great year with seven checks. I only had myself in position maybe once, but I still had a consistent year."
Safe at St. Clair
Chapman came into the season finale at Lake St. Clair 20th in points, safely inside the Classic cutoff, but he didn't want to do anything to jeopardize his standing. He found a wad of potential winning smallmouths on Lake Erie on the second day of practice, but instead opted to fish the mouth of the Detroit River rather than venture into the big waters.
He caught a tidy average of 15 pounds a day, finished 45th to cash his seventh check in eight tournaments and easily clinched a berth in his seventh straight (and 13th career) Classic. After it was over, he noticed a distinct difference in how he approached the event from a strategy standpoint.
"When I look back at the final event at St. Clair, I know last year without a doubt with what I found on the second day of practice on Erie, I would've went to Erie no questions asked," he said. "But I was more concerned with making the Classic this year and I knew I had to catch them in the final event and I didn't want to have a bomb like some other guys did.
"Ultimately, I played it a little conservative there. Who knows what would've happened if I'd played it differently and gone to Erie. Last year, I wouldn't have stopped at the mouth and caught a limit. I would've gone out there and fished for the right limit of fish."
Prior to West Point Lake this year, Chapman had made the Top-50 cut in 13 of the last 14 Elite Series derbies, stretching back to the end of the 2011 season. Douglas Lake was his only miss of 2012 and he came to West Point with a fresh outlook after finishing 67th there in May 2011.
Try as he might, he just can't seem to wrap his brain around why the lake has his number. His 83rd-place result there this season was his lowest finish in more than 5 years and even caused him to update his least favorite lake in his BassFan Angler Profile.
"I felt like I had something to prove at West Point and felt like I went there with a more open mind than the previous time there," he said. "I thought I had a pretty good plan of attack there and boy, did it come back to bite me. Usually, those tough tournaments are the ones that I do pretty well in. Now that we've fished two events there, that one definitely has my number over any other fishery."
The following week, the scene shifted to the raging waters of the Alabama River near Montgomery, Ala, and he posted his best finish of the year. He was among a handful of anglers to make a tricky run north up the Coosa River. It paid off the first 3 days as he held a 1-plus pound lead over Edwin Evers entering the final day. On day 4, however, he opted to not go as far and Evers wound up passing him for the win.
"It was weird how it all played out because I don't know if my stubbing my toe that week re-lit that fire to push it a little bit at the Alabama River," he said. "I fished a little more risky, I guess. In hindsight, I kind of wish I had that final day to do over again and made that run up to where I'd been fishing. It's ironic how you look at the year.
"With Edwin, I can only imagine what was going through his mind at St. Clair. I look back at last year and think what I would've done if I were in his shoes. Would I have stayed on St. Clair and fished for 17 or 18 pounds a day? Knowing Edwin, just like me, the Edwin that wins, he would've gone to Erie in a heartbeat. That's how he is. He played it a little conservative and it cost him Angler of the Year. When I look at the Alabama River, I feel like me being a little conservative on that final day cost me winning that tournament. I would've needed 16 and change to win it and without a doubt I could've caught that had I run up there.
"I'm hoping now that I've had this 3-year progression of success," he continued, "I'd like to think maybe next year I can go out there with a more care-free, go-for-it attitude because after seeing the last 2 years, that's what it takes to win and finish near the top in this sport. Maybe now that I've got several years into it and have analyzed it, maybe I can find a better way to continue having years like last year."
> Last week, Chapman was in full offseason prep mode. He was organizing tackle with the help of an old bass club buddy. He appears to be a longshot to be voted into the Elite Series All-Star event later this month, so the next tournament on his calendar is the Classic at Guntersville. He's already thinking about how the lake is going to fish and when he'll take a trip down there to start his scouting.
"My goal is to go down there this fall or maybe in early winter and scout it out a little bit," he said. "I know it won't help me out a whole lot just because it'll change so much. The best thing I can do between now and the end of October is fish a little and see how the grass is set up this year versus years in the past because it always changes. If a guy knew where the good grass is now, it could help him out in February. There are so many variables you can't get too hung up on now."