By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Joey Cifuentes' second year on the Bassmaster Elite Series has been a lot different than his first. And not in a good way.

The Cowboy hat-wearing Arkansan put together a stellar ledger in 2023 that included two wins and five other Top-30 finishes, resulting in a 5th-place showing on the final points list. Through seven events this year, he's 102nd in the standings – ahead of only Clent Davis, who hasn't fished since mid-April due to a shoulder ailment that required surgery.

So, what's the deal?

"Everybody's been asking me that same thing, and I just don't know, man," he said last week while on a family excursion to pursue redfish, snook and scallops off the Louisiana coast. "The schedule's been different this year, it's been mostly postspawn fishing, and I just kind of got off to a bad start.

"I really don't know the answer for it. I don't have the confidence I had last year to get on the right bite. You hear about guys changing the way they fish after they win, trying to win again, and I don't feel like I've done that. I can't put my finger on it – it just seems like things haven't lined up this year."

One big difference this year is he's been without his longtime travel partner and mentor. Hall-of-Famer and fellow Arkansas resident Larry Nixon retired at the end of the '23 season.

Nixon passed on a lot of wisdom to the younger angler, and Cifuentes reciprocated by handling a lot of the most physically demanding chores that are incumbent up a tour-level angler.

"He was a big help to me," Cifuentes said. "We didn't usually fish the same way, but he was somebody I could talk to and trust on the road."

"I had a roommate at the beginning of this year and we fished together until Murray (the season's fifth tournament), but it just didn't work out. Just having somebody like (Nixon) around, it was pretty special and we had a lot of fun. It's been a dramatic change and I started listening to different people and how they were catching them with different styles, and that affects the way you fish."

The 53rd he logged at Smith Lake late last month was his best placement of the campaign. Still, he lost a couple of pounds due to two dead fish and one that he was forced to release, which was critical in an extremely tight-weight event.

Those mishaps eliminated an opportunity to advance to weekend competition, but the showing was nonetheless a step in the right direction.

"When you've had two or three bad tournaments in a row, your confidence gets down and it's a snowball effect that leads to more bad tournaments," he said. "I feel better now because I fished really good at Smith – I did the right things and I was on the right pattern.

"When you know you're not going to make the Classic, it's kind of tough and you can lose some motivation, but it is what it is. It'll be nice to start over again next year."

He spent 5 seasons on the FLW Tour/MLF Pro Circuit before joining the Elite Series and was a consistent performer, with four final points finishes ranging from the 30s through the 50s. There was one bad one in there, though – in 2018, he had five showings of 113th or worse among the first six derbies. He got a smidgen of redemption in the final tournament (a 10th at Lake St. Clair) to end up at No. 104.

With no chance of qualifying for next year's Classic, he's just looking for a similar strong conclusion as the season wraps up with back-to-back outings at Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

"I think I can catch them here at the end of the year," he said. "We'll get around the smallmouth and I enjoy fishing for those fish. These last two tournaments, I'm not going to listen to anybody – I want to do my own thing.

"It'll be a lot more fun than Smith Lake in June."