By Todd Ceisner
If life came equipped with a fast-forward button, Brent Ehrler would just as soon stand on it until 2012 was a distant memory. It’s been that kind of year for the FLW Tour pro from California.
Granted, it started swimmingly back in March at Lake Hartwell, where he posted his fourth career Tour victory.
After that, though, he never truly felt like things clicked into place the rest of the way, evidenced by his average finish of 60th in the remaining five Tour Majors. It just wasn’t the Brent Ehrler that BassFans had come to know.
On top of his struggles in the boat, he also endured the physical and mental trauma suffered in a two-car accident in July that claimed the life of the driver of the other vehicle.
Things did pick up for him on and off the water over the past 6 weeks. He recorded Top-30 finishes in the final two FLW Tour Opens and his body and mind are starting to shed the effects of the crash, but that continues to be an ongoing process.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, I’ve won one. Now, the rest of the year’s a breeze because I already won a bunch of money,’” he said. “I look at each tournament individually. I want to do well at all of them. I’ve always been the type of person who wants to be consistent and do well in any and every tournament. I never slacked or relaxed or anything. To me, it was just an off year.
“I really had a lot of near misses. It goes back to hearing (Jay) Yelas talk about when he won Angler of the Year. The following year, I remember hearing him on stage talking about how the last year everything went right, but that year he’d be going down the bank and he’d throw his spinnerbait out there and the blades were tangled. While he was snapping the line to get the blades untangled, a 6-pounder eats the entire bait and he missed it because he was jerking on it to get the blades untangled. It was kind of one of those years for me.
“It was just a strange year for me. My mindset was different and everything just felt different. To be honest, I cannot wait to get started on next year.”
Mind Was Elsewhere
Ehrler didn’t get to where he is today by guessing his way around lakes, rivers and reservoirs, but this season he found himself pulling up his trolling motor not knowing which waypoint he was headed to next. That scenario played out too often for his liking.
Last year, he became a dad for the first time as his wife, Kelley, gave birth to their son, Oliver (he goes by Ollie now). He said it’s been a tough adjustment having to leave his family behind for tournaments, whether it’s for a day even while they’re traveling with him or for a couple weeks out on the road.
“There were a couple times where I thought about my family a ton,” he said. “I’m not saying they got in the way, but I remember sometimes being out on the water thinking, ‘I’m not catching them and I don’t know where to go next.’ Even in the tournaments, I’d be like, ‘Where am I supposed to go now and what am I supposed to do?’
“I’d pull my trolling motor up without knowing where my next stop was going to be. A lot of times I’d go from, ‘Where am I going to go’ to ‘Oh man, I can’t wait to go see my son.’ Things went like that instead of – even if you’re not doing that well in a tournament – when I pull my trolling motor up I want to know where I’m going to go. It’s one of those things where if you can start getting into it mentally then you’re going to start making those right decisions. I started to feel that way during the last two Opens. I really started to feel like when I pulled my trolling motor I knew where I was going to go and what I was going to do and if it didn’t work I was going to go do this or that. I changed a few things on the fly and it worked.”
While he started to get his mojo back toward the end of the season, it was a legitimate struggle to get there. After his Hartwell win, he made three Top-20 cuts, but he didn’t threaten to make a Top-10 until the Wheeler Lake Open in mid-September.
“As it wore on, it just kind of felt different for me,” he said. “The way practice went and the way the tournaments went, it just felt like my decisions were just a little off. Everything was just a little strange. I made poor decisions and there’s not one thing I can put the blame on. I’ve always tried to figure out what I did wrong and I haven’t been able to figure it out yet.
Ehrler's win at Lake Hartwell in March was his fourth tour-level victory.
“I look at tournaments, even tournaments I’ve won, and I always look at how I could’ve caught them better. There were a couple tournaments where I don’t know how I could’ve caught them better. Sometimes, I didn’t even find them and other times I lost them.”
Anxious For Fresh Start
Ehrler’s year was also marred by a tragic car accident in Georgia that occurred shortly after ICAST. He had driven up from Orlando to do some scouting at Lake Lanier prior to cutoff for the Forrest Wood Cup. On the afternoon of July 16, he was towing his boat to a friend’s house before hopping a plane back to the West Coast.
According to news accounts, the crash occurred when a pickup truck driven by Clara Garmon, 58, hydroplaned on some wet pavement and slammed into the Chevy Suburban driven by Ehrler. Garmon’s seat belt broke and she was thrown from her vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene. No charges were filed in the case.
While X-rays of Ehrler’s ribs revealed no complete breaks, doctors suspect he suffered muscle damage around his rib cage, which drastically limited his range of motion and tested his pain threshold on a daily basis. The Suburban was totaled, his boat was badly damaged and nearly $5,000 worth of fishing gear and belongings was destroyed in the wreck.
His pain level was such that he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to fish the Cup up until the Sunday before the event. He toughed it out, returned to Lanier and finished 20th.
“My whole right side was sore,” he said. “I don’t think I could sneeze for like 8 weeks. If I felt one coming on, I’d hold my side and I’d have to cut it short. It was a drop-you-to-your-knees type of thing. Any time I’d sit down, sit up or twist, it would hurt. Early on, I couldn’t even take a deep breath, I couldn’t laugh. Everything hurt to do if it involved my stomach muscles. To this day, I still can’t do a sit-up.”
He said it still hurts to lean and twist and turn certain ways and it’ll likely be some time before he’s pain-free, but he’s turned a corner in terms of putting the experience behind him now.
“I’m starting to feel better,” he said. “Everything is starting to feel better – physically and mentally. To me, that accident put a decent strain on me. There’s no doubt about that and I’m starting to feel better about it.”
Looking ahead, he said he has not heard yet from FLW in terms of a team deal for next year. He has not been told if the National Guard is or isn’t coming back as a sponsor.
“I’ve had an absolute blast being with them and representing the Guard,” he said. “I would love to continue on and I hope they come back. At this time, I don’t know what the plan is. I haven’t heard anything. Hopefully, they’re back.”
As far as events, expect to his see on more than just FLW leaderboards in 2013. The elimination of the Opens will force him to look at other trails – most likely triple-A level – to fill out his calendar.
“I’m going to sit down and look at all of the tournaments,” he said. “I’m going to fish more than just the six FLW Tour events. I don’t know what all I’m going to fish yet, but I know I’m going to fish more than those six. I’ll probably pick up some EverStarts and who knows what else, but I want to get out there and fish more tournaments. That’s what I have to do.”