By Todd Ceisner
Spencer Shuffieldís 2013 tournament ledger lacked the lustrous single-digit finishes that were the highlight of his FLW Tour rookie season a year ago, but consistency and his ability to avoid major stumbles allowed him to enjoy a breakout sophomore season.
He shook off a 73rd-place finish at the Lake Okeechobee season opener to post Top-35 placements in four of the final five events to conclude the season 12th in Angler of the Year points, an impressive increase over his 56th-place showing in 2012. His learning curve isn't as steep as it was just a couple years ago and he's looking to make an even bigger push upward next season.
"There's a lot of areas where I see I made some errors," he said. "Part of this year was about fixing those mistakes I made last year. Next year will be all about fixing the ones I made the last 2 years and even have a better season. Having those good tournaments and seeing where Iím putting those pieces of the puzzle together more than in 2012, I added more to it this year. I was a lot more consistent this year."
It's rare in a six-event season that an angler can blunt the effects of a season-opening finish in the 70s to wind up where Shuffield did in the points.
Okeechobee seems to have his number, though. He finished 67th there as a rookie in 2012.
ďI always feel like I get on them decent there, but going into the tournament itís a case of I could catch 20 or just catch 10," he said. "Usually, in tournaments Iíve done well in I pretty much know that if I can get to them and weather allows, Iím going to catch them really good. At Okeechobee, itís just one of those lakes where Iíll catch a couple 7- or 8-pounders in practice and shake off a couple that size and get quite a few 3- to 4-pound bites. Then come tournament time, it seems like those fish just donít bite."
The highlights of his year came in succession after Okeechobee. He'd never fished Smith Lake before, but posted a 12th-place finish there. He followed that up with a 23rd at Beaver Lake, a fishery he adores, before carding a 22nd at Lake Eufaula, another new fishery to him. When he gets on a roll like that, he says there's no limit to his confidence.
ďIt skyrockets," he said. "Even the tournaments I didnít do well, I still was on the fish. It gave me the confidence that I can go to these lakes like Smith and Eufaula, both of which Iíd never seen before in my life, and those were two of my best tournaments. Thereís still room for improvement, though."
His other letdown was at Grand Lake, but his 70th-place finish was more due to mechanical issues than anything else.
"I was on them really good there," he said. "The first day of the tournament, I knocked my lower unit off so I didnít get back out there until after 1 oíclock. I still managed to catch 13 pounds, but the sun had already gotten up. It was a 25-minute run to my fish so by the time I got to them, I only had about an hour to fish for them. That hurt."
He rebounded with 15 pounds the following day, but the borrowed boat he was using had some issues and he wasn't able to fish his way into the money.
ďOther than that, everything was fine,Ē he said.
Shuffield said he's going into next year fueled by a growing desire to break through and make a lasting impression. He came close during his rookie year with a runner-up showing at Table Rock Lake.
"My goal right now is to win an Angler of the Year or win a tournament," he said. "I need to win a tournament and maybe thatíll help me get a team deal. Thatís really hurting me right now. As good a year as I had this year, itís hard to scrounge up the money for deposits and entry fees that have to be paid before the season. It hurts."
"If I were in the position I am now 5 years ago, or even 4 years ago, Iím pretty certain I wouldíve gotten a team deal. I guess there arenít as many of them now so it makes it harder to get one. Iím still shooting for it."
As far as his career arc, he thinks a change in organizations might benefit him down the road in terms of exposure and sponsor possibilities.
"Ultimately, Iíd like to get moved over toward the B.A.S.S. side of things," he added. "I really want to get over there and have whoever I want (as a sponsor). FLW is a great group of people. I love their tournaments and I think you can make more money in the fishing part of it, but with sponsors and being able to get your name out so people can recognize you more, I think B.A.S.S. is where you need to be.
"I donít take anything away from FLW. Itís a great bunch of people and I love their tournaments. Itís one of those things where I feel like Iím deserving of a team deal. Why I havenít gotten one is beyond me. I havenít won a tournament yet."
> Itís been a successful deer season for Shuffield as well. Shortly before BassFan interviewed him Wednesday, he bagged an Arkansas 8-pointer with a bow. It was his fourth whitetail so far this year (he has three tags left). ďIíve been after him for 2 years and I finally got him,Ē he said. "It's gun season here, but I like to shoot them with a bow."