By Todd Ceisner
The pain was getting to be too much for Rick Morris to contend with. Fishing for multiple days in a row often required wearing a brace on his left wrist to blunt the discomfort. The pain only intensified when the schedule called for back-to-back events.
After the Bassmaster Elite Series season wrapped up, he decided he’d had enough. He wasn’t going to go into 2013 at a disadvantage because of the pain associated with the arthritis that had developed around his left thumb.
Earlier this month, the longtime pro from Lake Gaston, Va., had surgery done that he hopes will bring him relief and allow him to focus 100 percent on fishing next season. He had the original bandages removed this week and his forearm and wrist were placed in a water-resistant cast. He thinks he’s healing at a good rate so far, but he said the total recovery time is expected to be around 12 weeks.
“I thought I was going to die the first couple of days (after surgery),” he said. “It was not pretty. It was a tough decision to make. I’ve been struggling with it for a couple of years. … I’m a power-fisherman, making a million casts a day with big, heavy stuff. I’d been thinking about it since the end of the season and figured the best time to do it would be the fall.”
The procedure involved the removal of the arthritic portions of the thumb joint and the repositioning of a tendon through a hole in his thumb joint that, once healed, should offer him full range of motion and strength.
“The doctor said it was pretty bad,” he said. “They had to remove a lot of stuff.”
His right thumb hasn’t been immune to the effects of years of fishing either, but he’ll likely delay any sort of surgery to his dominant hand until after next season.
Morris isn’t one to make excuses and he didn’t once bring up his physical ailments when discussing the results of his 2012 season. Actually, considering what he had to deal with, he probably did better than most.
He was the only Elite Series pro to cash at least six Top-50 checks this year and not qualify for next year’s Bassmaster Classic. He intends to get his mind and body to a point where that anomaly doesn’t happen to him again.
“That’s hard to do,” he said. “I figured six would get me in. I had a couple little mishaps that cost me the Classic and frustrated me.”
He was 2nd after 2 days and in position to make the 12-cut at the season-opener at the St. Johns River, but managed just two keepers and lost a giant on day 3 and slipped to 17th, which held up as his best finish of the year.
He sandwiched two finishes in the 80s at Lake Okeechobee and Douglas Lake around a 34th at Bull Shoals Lake before finishing the season with four straight money finishes that helped him finish 44th in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) points.
His chance to make a fifth career Classic was likely lost on day 3 at the Mississippi River when he experienced an equipment failure. He had been 30th after 2 days and figures he had another 13 or 14 pounds in the boat, which would’ve gotten him close to the 12-cut, but he wound up zeroing and took 49th.
“I had one guy offer to take me in,” he said. “It would’ve been cutting it so close and with my boat sitting out in the middle of the Mississippi River, I just couldn’t let the boat fly. So I let him go and that probably cost me the Classic right there. That cost me a lot of points.”
He’s probably right. He missed qualifying for the Classic by 34 points, which he would’ve earned had he finished 15th or better at the Mississippi.
Already Thinking 2013
While he’s unable to do much on the water right now, Morris has recommitted himself to getting back into better physical condition and eating better so he’s better prepared to deal with the rigors of next year’s schedule.
In addition to the Elites, he has registered to the fish the Northern Opens – partly because he likes the fisheries on the schedule, but mostly because he wants badly to qualify for the 2014 Classic and an Open victory equals an automatic Classic berth.
“I’m coming out with a vengeance,” he said. “I’m going to that damn Classic even if it kills me.
“My mind is already on next season. I’m not doing a lot of fishing right now. I’m going to go to a couple events around here and support the Federation guys in Virginia and do a couple youth events in the next couple weeks. My whole goal is to get myself physically and mentally ready for next year because I’m excited. I still have the drive. I’m fixing myself. I’ve got my hand fixed and I’m going to work out some more again. I’ve worked out my whole life, but there are times where I’ll go a few months without doing it. I’m going to jump back into that and get this old body in shape. I am 50, but I’m a healthy 50 and I’m competitive. I get better every year. Even at 50, I’m getting better. I’m on my way up. I’m not on the way down. That’s how I look at it. I’m going to be ready.”
He loves the Elite Series schedule for next year, which includes stops at venues where he’s fared well in the past like Falcon (11th in 2009) and the Alabama River (2nd at the Open Championship in 2005). He’s also anxious to return to La Crosse, Wis., and Bull Shoals, where catch rates were out of sight this year.
For now, though, he’s going to pay attention to getting his health in order and when the tournaments roll around, he’s going to try to trust his instincts more.
“What I need to focus on the most is being rested. I’m one of those guys that like to have 30 rods in the boat and a bait on every one of them,” he said. “I always win the preparation deal the night after a tournament day. I’ll be sitting in my boat until 10 or 11 (o'clock) sometimes when a lot of the guys are already in bed. I’m going to focus on being in better shape than I am now and watch my diet. I need to rest more while I’m at tournaments and be confident that what I have in the boat is going to work.
“I am a versatile fisherman. I can do it all. It’s a game of choices and with a clear mind and being rested, I’m going to make better decisions. It’s a decisions-and-mental game and you can’t afford to burn out toward the end, especially on those back-to-back events which are harder on the older guys.”