By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Dion Hibdon's 2012 FLW Tour season wasn't great by any means, but he did notch his best finish in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race since 2003. And he did it under some pretty trying circumstances.
Jill Hibdon, his ex-wife and the mother of his three sons, was killed in an auto accident shortly before Christmas. In the 7 months since, he's kept an even closer watch over his boys than he otherwise might have.
"It's been hard on everybody, for sure," he said. "As a family, we've had a rough couple of years, but we're coming back and everything's working.
"I can't say (Jill's death) isn't always on my mind. Payden and the other boys (17-year-old twins Lawson and Connar), I'm constantly watching them to see how they react to different things. It's been very difficult and I think fishing's been our best release. It was a good thing for us to get out on the road and get going again."
Could've been Better
Hibon's Tour Majors campaign was primarily a string of middle-of-the-road finishes. If you throw out his best (21st at the Potomac River) and worst (85th in the opener at Hartwell), the other four fell into the relatively narrow range from 40th to 67th.
He cashed five-figure paychecks at just two of the six stops, but his avoidance of triple-digit placements allowed him to land at No. 38 on the final points list. That earned him a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup with one spot to spare.
"I had one of those years where at I was one fish away at each tournament from possibly contending for the Angler of the Year, but instead I just barely made the Cup," he said. "At Hartwell I lost one key bass in the last 15 minutes that not only would've put me in the money, but might've put me in the 20-cut.
"Then at Table Rock, the second fish I got ahold of was about a 6-pounder and I let it get off. If I'd have landed that one and then fished clean the next day, I could've made the cut there, too."
He said that it seems like one or two lost fish are oftentimes more costly in terms of an angler's overall finish than they used to be.
"It might not sound like much, but anymore you can't lose anything. One here and one there can turn a good year into a mediocre year. If I could've landed them all, I would've been in the big money all season long.
"Another thing was I tied (for placements) three times this year and I lost all three tiebreakers. Two were for good checks (50th place) and one was for the Top 20. I feel very good about the way I fished and I feel like I was right on the edge of having a whale of a season. I'm tickled to be back in the Cup and hopefully I can go there and make something happen."
Likes Lanier A Lot
Hibdon, one of just a handful of anglers who've won both the Cup and the Bassmaster Classic, will compete in his first tour-level championship event since 2009 next month at Georgia's Lake Lanier. It's a venue he's visited several times over the course of his lengthy career and he says it suits his style.
"It's got everything I like – it's deep, it's got good, clear water and it's got big spotted bass," he said. "It's a lot like fishing at home (at Lake of the Ozarks). The only difference is (Lanier's got) those dang blueback herring and you have to learn how to deal with them a little bit.
"You have to do that all over the world, though. It seems like every place we go to has some new minnow that the fish love to eat, like those alewives in Champlain. Every time you turn around there's something changing."
Like a lot of veteran competitors, he takes a mindset into a championship event that's much different than his regular-season outlook.
"I really get into them because it's the only time you're not having to scratch around to try to qualify for something. You're fishing for the top spot and that's it, and that makes them a lot more fun. I like chasing big ones and fishing for game-winners.
"You hear guys talk about how they want to make a good showing for this reason or that, but I'm kind of past that. To me, dead-last in the Cup is as good as 3rd. I fish them with the attitude that I'm trying to win, and I'll keep doing that every day until they tell me I have to get off the water."
> Hibdon re-married in January and now has four step-sons in addition to his three sons.
> He said his twins have vastly different interests at this point. "Lawson's sole ambition is to catch something or kill something every day," he said. "Connar's all about sports – he plays them all and works out every day. He'll hunt and fish a little, but not if it's going to get in the way of football practice."