By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Todd Faircloth is a pretty low-key guy, and it could be said that he takes a pretty low-key approach to tournament fishing. There's no question, though, that his paychecks-first mentality is paying off.
The mild-mannered Texan put together an outstanding season on the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series,
capturing his third career win on the circuit and logging just a single finish outside the Top 30. He's become an annual fixture near the top of the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) race and he'll make his seventh consecutive Classic appearance next month at Grand Lake in Oklahoma.
"The one thing that really separates the top echelon (of Elite Series anglers) from everybody else is on-the-water decisions, and I feel like I'm getting more and more comfortable with making those," he said. "It's something I've been gaining with experience, and I think I'm better now at developing a feel for how a tournament's going and what the fish are doing – whether they're replenishing in my areas or if I have to go look for something else.
"I think you pick up little clues that help you make those decisions, and a lot of it is gut instinct, but you have to factor in things like whether you're sharing water and if you feel like you've maximized what you can catch in that area. A lot of times that I've been in contention to win or make a 12-cut, it's been adjustments on the second or third day that've put me in that position."
Won't Ignore Dock Talk
A lot of pro anglers will tell you they pay no attention to the banter among their fellow competitors regarding weight projections during practice. Faircloth, on the other hand, admits that he listens closely to such dock talk.
"I start out fishing for checks, and I want to know going into the tournament what that's going to take," he said. "I'll ask a few guys what they think it's going to be because I want to have the right idea.
"Lots of guys say they're out to win the tournament and I'm not saying that's not my goal, but you have to be realistic about the situation. If I have a practice where I don't get on something special, then I want to get through that tournament and get some points and cash a check. You have to understand what you're on.
"On the second day, if I feel like I've got enough to cash a check, then maybe I'll change up and go look for something special," he continued. "That's when a check can turn into a Top 12, or maybe even a win."
His victory at the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis. in late June was one of those events at which he didn't feel completely dialed in after practice.
"My wife asked me how I felt and I told her I was on a solid pattern and I thought I could have a good finish, but I wasn't on the fish to win. But I made some good decisions during the course of the tournament and expanded on a couple of key areas, and that enabled me to pull it out.
"When I was out there fishing on the second day and I had 18 pounds, I wasn't doing myself any good by continuing to catch those same-size fish – in fact, that was hurting more than it was helping. I could've gone elsewhere, but I stayed in that one big area and learned more about it. In previous years, I probably would've pulled up and gone to a totally new area."
Conversely, staying in the wrong area at Bull Shoals resulted in his lone bomb of the year (67th).
Adjustments on the middle days of Elite Series tournaments have been among the keys to Faircloth's success.
"They'd had an EverStart just prior to that and when I looked at those weights, I felt like what I was catching in practice was going to be pretty good. I don't know if it was just the time of year or what, but the weights went up and I was off the mark.
"I ended up feeling like I'd been in the wrong part of the lake because I fished around lots of guys who had similar weights to what I did, and then there was the other group of guys (the top finishers) who I never saw. It was a frustrating tournament because I was out there on the second day catching keeper after keeper after keeper, but I couldn't get one over 3 pounds. I knew all I needed was one 3 1/2-pound bite to get in the money, but it just never happened."
Title Coming Soon?
Having firmly established himself among the game's best, Faircloth has a hunger to capture the sport's major titles (the AOY and the Classic crown). He's come very close to both – he carried the points lead into the final tournament in 2008 before losing out to Kevin VanDam and he finished 3rd in the 2010 Classic, which was also won by KVD.
"I keep telling myself that if I keep fishing good and making good decisions, they're going to happen eventually," he said. "The competition level's by far the highest it's ever been, and that's just driving people harder and harder to get better. Everything has to develop just right and you can't have any stumbles.
He felt good enough about his chances for the upcoming Classic at Grand to forego a pre-practice trip.
"I've been there three or four times and it's definitely a great lake, but weather's going to play such a big factor in what's going on and what kind of weights will be caught and how I'll need to approach it. It's still quite awhile before we're going there, and I'll be paying close attention to the weather as the time gets closer.
"I understand why some people pre-practice and I understand why other people don't. Every Elite Series event I've won was a place where I didn't pre-practice and I didn't do it when I was 3rd in the Classic, either. That just seems to work out better for me."
> Faircloth recently signed a major sponsorship deal with Strike King that covers all bait categories, along with accessories such as sunglasses.
> He lives just an hour and a half from the Sabine River, site of the Elite Series opener in March, but has never fished for bass there. "There's some club tournaments held there, but none of the major team trails ever go because they know they can pull a bigger field at Rayburn or Toledo Bend," he said. "But that's a good time of year in this region, so there should be some fish caught."