By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Chip Porche' freely admits that his performance during his initial Bassmaster Elite Series season was a blow to his ego. The 25-year-old from Oklahoma's highest finish in eight events was 83rd and out of the 100 anglers who competed during 2013, he was dead-last on the points list.
He's not ready, however, to give up on the dream he's had since he was 8 or 9 years old.
"I know I'm not the worst fisherman out of that group and I'm capable of fishing at that level," he said. "I got better this year, but it cost a lot of money to do it. It was difficult for me because I'm not used to that.'
He got an encouraging end-of-the-year pep talk from fellow Elite pro Cliff Crochet, who had a breakthrough season this year after being mired toward the bottom of the Angler of the Year standings following his first few tour-level campaigns.
"He said you're going to go home and be sitting there, dead broke, and you're going to come back and catch them next year because you know what it's like to be broke. I'm hoping I can come out and get settled in a little more, get my sponsorship stuff taken care of and just go back to having fun and catching fish."
These Guys Mean Business
It didn't take Porche' long to discover that he was competing in a different league than anything he'd experienced before. During practice for the initial Elite derby at the Sabine River, he drove an hour and a half from Orange, Texas, looking for a ramp in a remote part of western Louisiana from which he could explore a part of the system that he figured was way off the beaten path.
When he arrived, he found the trucks belonging to Skeet Reese, John Murray, Greg Hackney and Ott DeFoe already in the lot.
"That was an eye-opening moment because I didn't think there was going to be anybody there," he said. "I knew right then that these guys aren't messing around.
"I know now that at the start of the year I didn't know how to practice as hard as I need to. You hear a lot of guys talk about daylight to dark, but hearing it and actually experiencing it are two different things. These guys will beat you to the ramp just to send the message that they're here to beat you. VanDam, Skeet, Ike … there's a reason they're where they're at. They want it really bad and they work really hard."
It didn't help that he had firsthand experience at only one of the eight venues, and even that one was a lot different than he'd ever seen it when the Elite event launched.
"I'd been to Falcon, but the water was 30 feet lower this time. I was doing pretty much the same thing that (eventual winner Keith) Combs was and I watched him catch a couple 7-pounders, and you could see that he understood the lines. He'd spent more days on Falcon than anybody in the tournament and he knew right where he needed to be sitting.
"At West Point I saw (eventual winner Reese) catch his first 4-pounder. I'd had a good practice and I knew I was doing the right deal, but you need to understand those bodies of water so you can make decisions quickly when things change. If the next guy understands it a little better than you – or in some cases, a lot better – it makes a significant difference."
Always Better the 2nd Time Around
Porche' tasted a bit of success toward the end of the year in the final two Central Opens, posting Top-30 finishes in both, which at least showed him that he hadn't forgotten how to fish competitively. He also finished 2nd to former Elite pro Jeff Reynolds in a BFL Super Regional.
He's exhibited a tendency to fare much better on a circuit on his second try. For instance, he failed to crack the Top 100 in any of the three Central Opens in 2011, but took 4th in the points the following year to gain his Elite slot.
Money will again be an issue in 2014, though. He said it appears as if his primary 2013 sponsor, specialized motorcycle manufacturer U.S. Highland, won't be back. He's currently putting in a great deal of time in search of a replacement.
He got a loan from a good friend to make his initial $8,000 entry-fee deposit last week. Right now, he doesn't know where the funding for the second deposit (due in February, just a few weeks before the season starts) will come from.
"I need to get that stuff taken care of as soon as possible so I can get down to the St. Johns and Seminole (for pre-practice) before the cutoff," he said. "I want to get to the point that whenever I have down time, I can focus on ways to catch fish and understand the bodies of water better.
"It'd be nice to be able to put the boat in the water and just look for a day and a half and see what a place has to offer. Then I could pick an area and dissect it in practice and figure out what I need to do to catch a limit every day."