By Todd Ceisner
Nine months ago, Greg Vinson was just about on top of the world. In early February, he became a father for the first time. Less than 2 weeks later on the Red River in Louisiana, he finished 2nd in the Bassmaster Classic to Chris Lane. Life was pretty darn good for the Wetumpka, Ala., native.
Life’s still treating the Bassmaster Elite Series pro well, but his focus from now until the 2013 season gets under way is how to make life better on the water. His Classic result still stands as his career-best finish and he wants badly to elevate his game so he can become a mainstay on the weekend at future events.
He made three checks during the Elite Series season this year, which featured a handful of fisheries that were new to him, but he just missed on four others where he finished between 51st and 62nd. The end result was a 47th-place finish in Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) points. He found better success fishing the PAA Series, notching three Top-20s and finishing the year 4th in AOY points.
“I really felt like I had to battle at each tournament,” he said. “I don’t remember any particular tournament – maybe the St. Johns River – where I felt like I was on something special. Every tournament after that, I really had to grind it out. I made some good decisions, but unfortunately, I didn’t execute real well on those decisions when I had the opportunities. I certainly had the opportunities the catch the fish that would have me fishing at Grand Lake in February.”
Bottom line, he went for the win virtually each time out, but he’s learning to harness that tunnel vision and punt when the situation calls for it.
“I certainly had my best tournaments fishing in my comfort zone and that’s shallow-water power-fishing,” he said. “One thing that’s helped me survive on the Elite Series is I’ve learned to become a decent offshore fisherman, but I think my reluctance to give in and try those finesse patterns hurt me in the end this year. I was really focused on having that one big tournament and going for the win. I think, at times, it may have hurt me being a little hard-headed not being willing to go with the patterns I thought would catch fish to have a strong finish versus what I thought I had to do to win the tournament.”
The ‘O’ Woes
Vinson’s undoing this past season can be traced to two tournaments – one at the beginning of the year and the other at the end. Combined, they prevented him from qualifying for a third straight Classic.
After kicking off the season with a 32nd-place finish at the St. Johns River, he was primed to go to Lake Okeechobee for some old-fashioned, shallow-water power fishing. He struggled mightily, opening the event in a tie for 80th after day 1 before scratching together 13 1/2 pounds on day 2 to wind up 62nd.
“I really dug myself a hole at Okeechobee,” he said. “I had a decent tournament at St. Johns, but at Okeechobee to be quite honest, I didn’t find anything. I actually went pre-fishing the first day of the tournament.”
Fast forward to the season finale at Oneida Lake. He arrived at the central New York fishery in a tie for 45th in points with Jared Lintner. He knew he needed to make a run at a Top-12 finish to even have a shot at making the Classic and to do that, he felt targeting largemouth was the way to go.
Another slow start put him behind the 8-ball right away as his 10-06 stringer on day 1 had him buried in 74th place. He went after smallmouth on day 2 and caught 13-09, but wound up missing the cut by 3 ounces.
“I’m a southern Alabama guy and that’s how I learned to fish so it’s always a challenge when we go up north,” he said. “I love catching Northern smallmouth and fishing the Northern fisheries, but it is a totally different concept when you get to those types of lakes. I found a good group of smallmouth that I felt like I could cash a check on and finish in the Top 50 and seal the deal on Top 50 in AOY points, but I had my eyes on the prize of making the Classic so I actually fished for some largemouth I’d found in practice and felt like I might be on something really special to get me that high finish. I knew it was the end of the season and I’d have to swing for the fences and probably have a Top-6 or Top-7 to pull it out and I just didn’t feel like those smallmouth were going to get me there.
“Boyd (Duckett) was able to do that, but if you go back to decision-making and trying to make the best decisions based on what you find in practice and where you feel the most potential is and I really felt like I had a better chance of making the Classic by fishing for those largemouth. I dug myself a big hole on the first day by only catching 10 pounds, which is pretty much nothing at Oneida. The next day, I went and caught smallmouth and had 13 1/2 and had I done that each day, I might’ve put myself close to where I wanted to be.”
As the calendar ticks toward a year since Vinson and his wife welcomed son Gaige to the world, he’s had a chance to meld the added responsibilities that come with fatherhood with the devotion to his career. He said it was tough being away from home those first few months during the season, but should be better equipped next season to handle the juggling act.
“It’s been a wild and crazy year,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been. It’s been a lot of work as I’m sure anyone who has kids will tell you, but we’re having a ball.
“It’s been an adjustment on my part and I certainly have to adjust my schedule, which is something I’ve really embraced, and I’m enjoying the challenge of learning how to be a good father and a good fisherman and a good husband. This coming season, I’ll be a lot more comfortable in my role in all three and I think that can really help me going into 2013.”
Atop his to-do list next season is to qualify for the 2014 Classic, which will be held in his home state at Lake Guntersville. Back in 2009 and 2010, the last times the Elite Series stopped there, he logged 35th- and 44th-place finishes, respectively.
“I was really excited to hear that it’s coming to Guntersville,” he said. “It’s been so long and Guntersville’s such an awesome fishery, especially at that time of year. It’ll be one of the best fisheries we can fish at that time of year. Of course, being close to home – even though it is 3 hours away and I don’t get to fish it as much as some people think – I know enough about the lake that I think it’ll be a real exciting tournament and I can promise you I’ll be working as hard as I can to get there.
“I’m looking forward to a shot at redemption. Finishing 2nd at the Classic has been great for my career and great for my confidence, but I’m looking for a shot at redemption and I feel like I can do it. I’ve got to get there first, so we’ll take it one step at a time.”