By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Andrew Upshaw admits that going straight from collegiate angler to FLW Tour pro, with only an appearance in the Bassmaster Classic in between, might've been too big of a jump.
"By no stretch of the imagination was I prepared for those first few tournaments," the 25-year-old Texan said. "I went in thinking I knew how to prepare, but I ended up really getting a crash course.
"That's why I'm actually more enthusiastic for next year than I was for this year, because I've learned a whole lot. Instead of being 10 steps behind, I feel like I'm going to be one step ahead in certain places."
No Substitute for Time
Upshaw, a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State in Nacogdoches, Texas, discovered this year that preparing for a tour-level derby requires a lot more diligence that prepping for a collegiate event. To start with, he wasn't getting himself out of bed early enough.
"One of the main things I learned was the amount of time you need to put into practice," he said. "Before I'd be one of the last boats in the water, like say at 7 o'clock, maybe 30 or 40 minutes after daylight, and then I'd be off by 3. In college that was all I had to do, but that doesn't work at this level.
"Now I'm one of the first guys out there, and a lot of times I'm literally the last guy to come off. I'm practicing a lot smarter, too, like I'm not spending too much time in certain places."
He struggled throughout the Tour campaign, with three finishes of 100th or lower and a high of 55th, which resulted in a 108th-place showing in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race. He was much more impressive in the Bassmaster Northern Opens, logging finishes of 16th at the James River and 3rd at the Detroit River to carry the AOY lead into the final day of the last event at Cayuga Lake.
Things fell apart for him at that point, as he caught just one fish on day 2 at Cayuga to end up 89th in the tournament. That finish dropped him to 15th on the final points list.
"I'd caught them the first day cranking and I had about 11 pounds. Then I had a bunch of fish on the second day, but I didn't land them.
"I had to resort to flipping (the weakest part of his game at this point) and I wasn't matched up equipment-wise. I didn't have a big enough rod, and when I'd set the hook and pull them up, they'd jump off. I wasn't able to get the hook penetrated."
Had he been able to stay among the Top 5 in the points, he would've had the option to fish the Elite Series in 2013.
"I had a few sponsors approach me about fishing the Elites, and I probably would've done it because that's where I've always wanted to be. But I feel at home with FLW – the people are really nice and they treat me with respect.
"Sure, I wish some things would change at FLW, but it's that way with any trail. Right now it's the best thing I've got going for me."
Different View of the Classic
Believe it or not, Upshaw said he isn't too bummed about going to the 2013 Classic as a sponsor's representative rather than as a competitor, as he was this year.
"I was so fortunate to make it and I know what those guys go through now – all the pressure that's on them," he said. "The Classic is a tough event mentally and it's tough physically, and I have more respect for it now in general and it won't really bother me to sit on the sidelines and watch it again.
"There are a lot of things about the Classic that you don't see when you're there to fish it. Yeah, you get an inside look, but you miss so much. Fishing it was amazing, though, and I hope I make it every year for the next 20 years or however long I fish. Maybe one day I can make it through the Opens or the Elites."
He was the first to qualify via the college ranks, and he'll be followed by Matt Lee of Auburn at Grand Lake in February. He had a few words of advice for his successor.
"I'd tell him to not be complacent just catching fish, and to not let the big guys intimidate him. Show them as much respect as you can, but it's probably going to be another crowded Classic, and you're there to fish just like they are."
> Upshaw is already getting a chance to put his marketing degree to work with his primary sponsor, lure-maker Strike Pro America. "My first signature bait is the Slingshot Minnow, which is a suspending jerkbait, and I get to do my own marketing for it. It's going to be released in January and I think it'll be a big hit. I'm a very young angler and my name isn't established like some guys' are, and for (the company) to give me the leeway to market it the way I want is a huge thing at this point."