Next month marks the 1-year anniversary of John Sappington's near-fatal accident that almost claimed his life. While practicing for the Atchafalaya FLW, his boat hit the cable behind a cable ferry, and he suffered a broken back and neck. In the span of just 1 year he's gone from intensive care to readying his tackle for the FLW Tour season.
BassFan caught up with him for a brief Q&A about how he's feeling, and how he feels about competing so soon.
BassFan: We're just a few weeks away from the start of the season. How do you feel?
Sappington: I'm feeling good. I'm itching. I'm ready to go. I've been downstairs resorting my tackle, I picked up my new boat, and I've been thinking a lot about where I'm going to try and how I'm going to take off.
I have a boat show that I'm working Jan. 8 and 9. I think the boat show ends at 9:30. They'll have my boat on display at the show, and when it's over I'll pull it out and head out that night.
You've been out on your local waters and took a trip to Mexico, but you'll soon be in a pro-level tournament. What are some of the things going through your mind?
Down in Florida, in four days of tournaments, you'll hit a day or two of bad weather. So I pretty much have to prepare myself for that and try to find fish close. I'm not going to go run 30 or 40 miles in rough water. I just don't think I'll be up to that. So that's really my only big concern.
I do have a concern about my endurance. My endurance is not where it needs to be, but that will come. Normally, I'd have gone mountain-goat hunting up in Washington. After the first week of climbing in the mountains I was usually pretty shot, but after that my body adjusted to it.
Now, it's just going to take some time of fishing all day, every day to build that endurance back up. I'm trying to do things I can do here, like walking and so on, but until I get out there and do it – we'll just have to see.
Many pros say that tournaments can be won close. Will you change your technique or strategy this year?
Yes. I was reading that Lake Okeechobee has 750 square miles of water, and I'm going to pick about 10 or 20 miles and just focus on that. I'm going to fish close. I have to look at doing that. Like you say, there are lots of fish close, and it may work out to my advantage if I just spend all my time prefishing close.
Another one of my concerns is, typically this time of year, there's a lot of fish underneath the mats. So that means long days of flipping heavy weights. I still have some problems with my shoulders and everything, so I'll just have to switch it up and find some different ways to catch fish. I've got some heavy spinning rods, and I'll switch back and forth between spinning rods and casting rods, to give one shoulder a break at a time.
A lot of it will play out as I go. I just have to keep the mental aspect of it together and if I'm having some physical problems, then just let the mental part override the physical part.
I'm going to start off trying to catch five keepers, and work my way up from there.
Does the spring-loaded schedule help or hurt you?
I think it helps me. I would like to see every tournament we hit be a spawning tournament. That's one of my strong suits. That's how I like to fish, and I can adjust to other ways, but fishing for spawning fish is my favorite way to fish.
But in a bedfishing tournament, won't all the close fish be found by others?
A lot of people look for off-the-wall stuff, and that's how I've kind of done it too. Even on close fish, there's off-the-wall places where people aren't finding them. A lot of people will be trying to cover 750 square miles, and I'm just really going to focus in and try to learn the close areas as well as I can.
How are you doing with getting around by yourself? Can you handle it all alone or will someone be traveling with you on the Tour?
I think I can handle it. My mom and dad are going to the first three tournaments with me. They've been a real help to me. That way I don't need to practice as hard. If I need something, they can take care of getting that for me. And I can practice easier – just take my time and not be so rushed.
I can just come home and mom will have something cooked for dinner so I can kick back. I'm looking forward to it. I really enjoy spending time with my parents, and to tell you the truth, the last few years they've been going to a lot of the tournaments with me. It's really helped me out a lot.
Did you have to do any special modifications to your boat?
I'm running a Z-21 Ranger, and it has the shock absorber seats in it. It's the best riding boat out there. It's a 21-footer and takes the rough water real well. Obviously, I haven't been in any really rough water as of yet. I've been avoiding that. If it's rough I just don't go through it.
I may start off by letting everyone take off, then follow behind them – just so I'm not running in rough water. I'll know a lot after this first tournament about how I feel. I'm just trying to be as optimistic as I can, and if I'm having some physical problems, I'll have to overcome those mentally, stay within my physical abilities and hope my mental side is stronger than what the physical side is.
Are you in any pain right now?
I'm in pretty much some kind of pain every day. I've been getting a lot of headaches and I've been trying to figure those out with some different types of medication. So there's that, and my neck and back muscles have been real sore. I just got about eight different Botox injections in my back 2 weeks ago. I have knots in my back and that's supposed to relax the muscles to where they don't knot up.
I'm fighting the physical aspects of it, but I certainly don't want to focus on those. I'm expecting to come back strong and that's what I'm going to focus on. I don't want to get my mind caught up in worrying about any pain and just think about the fish. I know when I'm out there fishing, I still have a strong desire and a strong drive toward figuring out how to catch the fish, and I think that is the key to being a successful angler – having the desire and the drive to figure out how to catch them.
You can work around the conditions, you can work around physical limitations, you can work around a lot of different obstacles, but you have to have that mental drive to get you around them.
So that's my real focus now – to get my endurance back. When you break your neck – I had like five different vertebrae broke, and some of those had three or four different breaks in them – you're going to have some long-term side effects from that.
But I'd just like it all to go away, and if I can stay strong enough in my mind, and just put it out of my mind, I think I can overcome it.
> His goal this year: "My goal this year is to make the (FLW Tour) Championship. I've finished in the Top 50 every year I fished the FLW, with the exception of last year. I don't want to work the show like I did last year. I want to be up on stage, fishing. That's pretty much been my goal every year, and somehow I've been blessed to do that."
> He said fishing close this year could complement his strategy, since he's not a gambler. "I'm not the kind of guy who fishes to win every tournament. I mean, if I know where I can go catch a decent limit of fish, and I know where I can maybe go win the tournament, I'll go catch my decent limit of fish first and then try to build up from there. If you get to the Championship, that's the time to fish to win."