By Todd Ceisner
The goals in Dean Rojas' mind at the start of every Bassmaster Elite Series season are well defined. In no particular order, the list includes winning an event, winning Angler of the Year, winning the Bassmaster Classic or at the very least qualifying for the following year's Classic.
When he reflects back on the 2013 season, it was a case of near-misses for the Arizona pro, who nearly pulled off a victory at the season opener back in March. He hung around the top tier of the points standings for most of the season, thanks to five Top-30 results in the first six derbies, but a mini-slump to close the year (72nd at the St. Lawrence River and 81st at Lake St. Clair) dropped him to 26th in points at season's end.
"I look at what could've been this season," he said. "If you look at the big picture, it was a good year, not a great year – probably an average year. Obviously, making the Classic is a goal, but other than that winning an event or Angler of the Year or making the All-Star event were really high on my priority list."
His season started with a bang at the Sabine River, a venue very few Elite Series pros – him included – had ever fished. He found a consistent bite in a backwater creek and carried the lead into the final day, but came in with just one fish on day 4 and ceded the win to Todd Faircloth. He settled for the runner-up spot.
"From there on out, I would be around them, but I just had some crazy stuff happen to me during the event where I could've maybe notched probably three more Top-10s with some more stability in the weather," he said.
Weather or Not
It's a not a big leap to say the 2013 Elite Series season will be remembered for the utterly dreadful weather at some of the tournaments. On multiple occasions, B.A.S.S. postponed competition for a day to allow inclement weather systems to pass through.
"It really threw a wrench into a couple of my plans, but that's the way it goes," Rojas said. "We just had extreme weather wherever we went this spring."
Among the events where it played a role was at Bull Shoals Lake, where day 1 had to be pushed back 24 hours due to a nasty cell of thunderstorms. It threw Rojas for a loop and he wound up 82nd.
"Bull Shoals really hurt me having that day off like we did," he said. "There were two, three or four things that happened throughout the season that really prevented me from having a really good year, or even a great year. I was so close so many times and just on the cusp. I was just one or two bites away from really either winning or finishing in the Top 3 and having a shot at Angler of the Year instead of finishing in the 20s."
He bounced back in fine fashion, logging Top-25 results in the next three derbies – 22nd at West Point Lake, 25th at the Alabama River and 19th at the Mississippi River – but again he feels like he missed some opportunities that would've improved his standing.
"All that is a pound or a pound and a half and I'm in the Top 10," he said. "I look at it as what could've been, but I made the best decision I could at the time and what I felt what was going to be the best thing for me."
Rojas arrived at the St. Lawrence River firmly planted in 13th place in the points standings. He knew two more solid finishes would give him a puncher's chance at making the All-Star event.
Catching fish was not an issue, but the quality smallmouths eluded him on day 1 despite making a lengthy run from Waddington, N.Y., to where the river met Lake Ontario. He bounced back with 16 1/2 pounds on day 2, but he still fell 3 1/2 pounds shy of the money.
"So much of what we do when go to those places is who runs the furthest," he said. "That seems to be the way it's won, like Kota (Kiriyama) did at (Lake) Erie. It's always how long and how far do you want to run. I was running about 90 miles to the mouth of the river. I didn't go quite as far as the winner was.
"When I got there, the weather was a lot different from where we put in. I was having a hard time finding them and getting them to bite so I struggled on the first day. On the second day, I had three 5-pounders and two 1-pounders. If I could've had two more, I was on pace for a 24- or 25-pound sack. It just didn't work out."
It was more of the same at Lake St. Clair, where he found himself in 92nd place after day 1 in a tournament that again featured harrowing journeys to and from lakes Huron and Erie. Things didn't improve much the next day as he wound up 81st.
"You can never win close it seems on those Northern lakes," he added. "I went to Erie both days and again, I had a hard time getting on the fish. We had some weather and it made it difficult on me. For whatever reason, I just struggled. It wasn't for lack of trying. I put a lot of time and effort into it. It just didn't work out for me."
Gunning for Guntersville
As the calendar starts to inch closer to February, Rojas is like most of his Classic counterparts in that thoughts of how the tournament might play out start to occupy him more and more.
Lake Guntersville hasn't always been kind to Rojas, who does have two Top-12s there (2002 and 2006), so he's anxious to get to Alabama this fall to do some homework in an effort to capture the title he's coveted his whole career.
"I've been thinking about it every day for the last month or so," he said. "I've struggled there in the past so I want to make sure I'm prepared and comfortable with everything. For me, I want to win (the Classic) really bad so I want to stay focused on developing some patterns that are going to be beneficial for me in February."
> Rojas' latest topwater creation – the SPRO Bronzeye Shad – started to hit retailers' shelves in recent weeks and early reports indicate it's been a strong seller. "It's exciting because we've been working on that bait for 15 months," he said. "I remember sketching it out on a piece of paper and to see it come to life has been neat."