By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
A lot changed for Kevin Hawk when he won the Forrest Wood Cup at Georgia's Lake Lanier 2 years ago. And a lot has changed since then.
Hawk won't be anywhere near Atlanta when the new Cup champion is crowned this Sunday. He'll be a thousand miles away in Seneca Falls, N.Y., practicing for the Cayuga Lake Bassmaster Northern Open.
He'll do his best to keep his focus on the Cayuga smallmouths, but he admits that his mind will wander back to the renowned Southern spotted-bass fishery where he captured the Cup in 2010. The native Californian had spent most of the previous year camped out at Lanier in preparation for that single event.
"I've been home (in Guntersville, Ala.) for a week now, and I have to say (the Cup) has crossed my mind more than once," he said last week. "I always check BassFan on a daily basis, so I'll stay abreast of what's going there."
Ups and Downs Abound
Hawk, who qualified for the 2010 cup via the now-defunct Western FLW Series, was in fairly dire straits when that derby launched. He needed to cash a big check in order to bankroll the tour-level career he so desperately wanted.
The $600,000 he garnered for his victory filled that bill nicely. His initial Tour campaign the following year got off to a solid start with three Top-25 finishes in the first five events, but things haven't gone so smoothly since then.
He'd logged lower-pack finishes at the Potomac River and Kentucky Lake early last summer, but was still in Cup contention when the final Tour Major of 2011 got under way at Alabama's Lake Pickwick. He was disqualified from that event on day 2 after inadvertently fishing in Tennessee waters, which were off-limits for that tournament.
The DQ cost him a chance to defend his Cup title at Lake Ouachita. Then this year was a struggle from the outset as he finished 74th or lower in five of the six Majors – the lone exception being a 16th at Kentucky Lake in June – and ended up 74th on the points list.
He insists that the Pickwick disaster was not the impetus for his lackluster performances in the aftermath.
"I think that's coincidental," he said. "After that happened, I took some time to reflect on it, and I learned from it and moved on. It hasn't affected me at all this year. The bottom line is I didn't make good decisions on the water, and because of that I didn't bring the right fish to the scales."
He said his approach on the Tour this year was too conservative.
"Before the start of the season, knowing the Cup was going to be at Lanier again, I started thinking about how to approach each tournament. If you can cash a check at each one, that's going to put you in that Top 35 to 39 in the points at the end of the year, where you need to be to qualify.
"Looking back, I probably should've had higher goals for each event. I think I got a little complacent just getting bites in practice and I didn't focus enough on the quality of those bites. If you can get one big bite each day or catch one good bag, that can carry you through and it goes a long way toward making cuts."
League Switch Forthcoming?
Hawk's difficulties on the FLW Tour haven't carried over to the Bassmaster Opens, as he's among the Top 10 in the points chase on two circuits (2nd in the Southerns, 10th in the Northerns) with one event remaining on each. A Top-5 on the final list for either would garner him a Bassmaster Elite Series invite for 2013.
"I would definitely consider it very hard," he said. "I don't want to get ahead of myself because I still have to finish in the Top 5, but I'd definitely sit down and take a really hard look at which circuit to fish.
"Even though I've struggled with the Tour stuff, my results in the Open circuits have been good and that's kept me motivated and in a positive frame of mind. Wherever I fish next year, I need to raise my goals and make trying to fish the final day at each event my main objective. In practice I need to focus on finding a better grade of fish to help boost my place in the standings."
As for this week, he'll be pulling for Brent Ehrler and Cody Meyer – two fellow Golden State natives who finished among the Top 5 when he won at Lanier.
"They're both good friends of mine. They don't need any advice from me, but if I could give them one piece, I'd tell them that they know how the fish need to be caught, so just stick with it and grind it out."