By Todd Ceisner
Jeff Kriet is fed up.
He's tired of getting stressed out and spun out. He's tired of building some good momentum early in the season, only to fritter it away once the calendar hits June. More than anything, though, he's tired of missing Bassmaster Classics.
He wants bass fishing to be fun again and the Ardmore, Okla., resident is going to devote much of this offseason to making sure that's the case once the 2014 season gets here.
"I need to have fun again because I don't think I've had much fun these last 2 years," he said recently before pursuing his other passion – saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. "It's a pretty damn good job to have, but if you fish like I have the last 2 years you don't get long to do it because you don't win any money."
He's been quite strong in the first half the last two seasons, with an average finish of 33rd across the first four events of both years combined, including three Top-12s. The second half is where things have come unraveled for one reason or another. Over the last two seasons, his average placement over the final four tournaments was 63rd with his only money finish coming at Toledo Bend Reservoir last year. What's more is those second-half slumps have taken him from being comfortably inside the Classic cut line to well below it.
In 2012, he was 13th in points with three events left and finished 38th. This season, he was 5th after three events and 22nd with three to go, but three straight placements of 68th or worse saw him slide all the way to 59th in points at the end. His 85th at the Mississippi River in June was his worst Elite Series finish since a 92nd at Lake Toho in March 2008.
"I can't make any excuses about the whole deal," he said. "The fact is the last 2 years, I have sucked at the end of the season. You have to really suck to be sitting in the Top 8 or 10 in the points midway through the season and not make the Classic. That's unacceptable. Even with a mediocre second half, I make the Classic in 25th or something like that."
Missing this year's Classic at Grand Lake in his home state was a big letdown. Missing next year's Classic at Lake Guntersville will be another disappointment.
"It eats me up," he said. "I can't sleep at night when I think about missing two Classics in a row. I have to block it out of my mind, but I've always been a little too mental when it comes to this deal. When you're sitting up there that high in the points, I end up putting so much pressure on myself.
"It's like when you're in school and you're making straight As, everything's good, but even a C pulls you way down. I think I get to looking at the points and start stressing about that. Instead of going into a tournament thinking about having a good event, I'm worried about not screwing up. If you're in the Top 3 or 4 in points and you have a 30th, you're going to fall, but it's not like a 30th is a horrible tournament. What happened to me was, when I do miss a check, I go to the next one thinking, 'Just don't miss a check.'"
Uptight Up North
His peers will tell you no one is wound tighter mentally than Kriet. It doesn't take much to get him going. Sometimes, it's a mere glance from a competitor during a tournament that can send his mind racing. It can be a blessing and a curse at the same time, but when the schedule has shifted to Northern fisheries over the last two seasons, he's turned into a glass-half-empty guy.
In the six tournaments over the last two years where smallmouths were a factor, he failed to crack the top 60 in any of them.
Kriet hopes to use the offseason to refine his on-the-water skills and get into better physical shape.
"I don't understand why in the last couple of years, I haven't done well at all up north," he said. "I should. I live on a lake that's full of smallmouth. I love to catch them and I'm good with electronics and I'm good with a spinning rod. I really don't understand it. I know it doesn't make any sense because I'm about to run 100 miles out into the Gulf, but I get intimidated on the big lakes running around in a bass boat.
"I don't like the long runs up there. That's part of it. I let the weather and wind stress me out. But the rule is at those lakes, if they let you go in the morning, you have to go. You can't say, 'It's too windy to get to my spot.' These guys now have no fear."
At the season finale at Lake St. Clair, he pretty much needed a win in order to make next year's Classic. Instead of pushing himself and running to Lake Erie or Lake Huron, he let his nerves get the best of him and stayed put.
"I'm pretty disgusted with myself because of the St. Clair tournament," he said. "I kind of threw in the towel for some reason. I caught the hell out of them there. I even talked to (Kevin) VanDam during practice at the gas pump. I told him, 'You know we're wasting our time. There's no way we can win in St. Clair.' He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Nope, there's no way we can.' I still had 2 days of practice left and spent them both in St. Clair. That's the kind of stuff I look back at now and am like, 'Damn, if you're going to do this, you better go for it.'"
Back To Basics
Between now and the start of next year's schedule, Kriet said he's going to devote a lot of the time to getting in better physical shape. He's also going to resume regular sessions with the sports psychologist who's helped him off and on over the past 10 years. He's seen the benefits of therapy in the past and is convinced it can help him again.
"When I go, I don't seem to miss Classics," he said. "I've spent a fortune on them and they tell me what I already know, but for some reason, when I hear it from somebody that I'm paying, I believe it more. I made three or four Classics in a row and got a little comfortable and said, 'I don't need to see a sports psychologist.' Then I end up somehow screwing it up.
"I'm going to get back on that groove. I've been doing this long enough I should have a lot better résumé at it than I do. I've had some good tournaments and some good years, but I'm still not getting the results I feel like I should.
"I feel like I should have won multiple tournaments (by now). I've had quite a few 2nds, but it's still really important to me to win the Classic. It's important to everybody, but it eats at me to win the Classic. I know I can win the Classic. For some reason, that tournament when I go into it I have no pressure. It's weird because I'll fish all year with pressure, but when I make the Classic, I don't feel any of it. You win or you don't."
In addition, he's going to spend more time on the water, working on what he calls fundamentals. Last year, he sold his 2012 tournament boat shortly after the season and didn't pick up his new Triton until he was on the way to the season opener at the Sabine River. This year, he's holding on to his boat through the winter so he can maximize his fishing time.
"Even though I had a good first part to the season, I felt like I was out of the groove," he said. "I'm going to keep the boat I have now until I get my new boat and I'm going to fish a lot more. I think that's important. Technically, I don't feel like I'm as good as I used to be. I need to get back to some basic stuff. I think I've been overthinking it too much. I'm definitely going into next year with a pretty big fire."
> Kriet is undecided right now on whether he'll fish the Classic Wild Card at Lake Okeechobee in December. He has registered for the new Platinum Team Trail in Texas and the first event is scheduled for the same weekend as the Wild Card. "I'm still up in the air," he said. "I will be at one or the other. I'd sure like another crack at making the Classic, but the truth is that's a long drive. It's an entry fee and after expenses, you'll have to have a great week to make it worth it. The winner-take-all deals have never been my favorite."