By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Kevin Hawk's preference would be to compete on both major professional tours in 2013. But if financial considerations limit him to one or the other, he'll fish the Bassmaster Elite Series.
The 2010 Forrest Wood Cup champion qualified for the Elites via a stellar performance in the Bassmaster Southern Opens, where he logged two 4th-place finishes and a 7th. He captured the circuit's Angler of the Year (AOY) title by a relatively hefty 16-point margin over Elite pro Jason Williamson.
The 33-year-old has logged a couple of mediocre seasons on the FLW Tour since coming out of virtual obscurity to capture the Cup 2 years ago (he qualified for that event via the 2009 Western FLW Series, and then moved to Georgia and practiced at Lake Lanier for nearly a year in preparation for it). He's notched some strong Tour finishes, but has also turned in quite a few bombs and has been unable to develop the consistency needed to become a consistent check-casher.
If he's unable to secure sufficient sponsorship for both tours next year, he'll opt for the Elites and their less-restrictive rules regarding logos.
"I just think it's a better opportunity to represent sponsors from my end," he said. "I've struggled at times the past 2 years on the FLW Tour, but I did everything I could to be considered for a team deal, and it never came together.
"With the Elites, the sponsorship situation is in my own hands a little bit more, and that's the reason I'm going in that direction now."
Numbers Must Add Up
Hawk earned more than $600,000 for winning the '10 Cup. But like Michael Bennett – another native Californian who achieved that milestone after relocating to the Southeast – he's unwilling to gamble it all away on entry fees and travel expenses.
Bennett left the tour-level scene completely after he was unable to garner a team deal and, by all accounts, he's completely happy operating a small business in Florida that he purchased with a portion of his million-dollar Cup check. One big difference between him and Hawk, however, is that the Elite Series option wasn't on the table for Bennett at the time he walked away.
"My goal is to make a living in pro fishing, and sponsorship dollars are extremely important for that," Hawk said. "You need to be in a situation where your entry fees are covered, along with a lot of your expenses, if you plan to stick around for any length of time.
"For me, this move is to put myself in a situation where the sole responsibility (for acquiring sponsorships) is on myself. I don't have to rely on another organization or anybody else to supply them for me."
He hasn't yet nailed down a wrap sponsor for next year's Elite Series, but he's comfortable with where those negotiations stand right now.
"I don't have anything secured, but I've got a few different things going on and I'm confident that something will come together."
Big Confidence Boost
The four Top 10s that Hawk posted in Bassmaster Open competition this year (he also fished the Northern Circuit and added a 10th there) have given him confidence that he's scaled a big hill on his journey to consistency. It simply seemed as if he could do no wrong in those events.
"It was all about decisions on the water," he said. "One wrong one can lead to a bad finish, and one right one can make for a good tournament. Most of mine had to be good to end up doing as well as I did.
"I was fortunate that I was never in a position where I had to dig myself out of a hole. I had some really strong first days where I caught big bags and put myself in position to win. There were times when I didn't back them up on day 2 as well as I would've liked to, but day 1 had been so good that it allowed me to have a solid tournament."
He said that his tournament preparation has improved since he made a commitment to covering more water in practice. After all, most events aren't like the '10 Cup, for which he had a year to get ready.
"Coming out of the West, we've got some smaller bodies of water and I grew up fishing fairly slow. There are times when I have to tell myself to keep moving or to pick up the pace to keep from becoming stagnant.
"Now I try to cover water like mad and keep trying different things."
> Hawk spent nearly a month in Europe this fall. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit his brother, an engineer who's working in the Czech Republic on a 2-year contract, but he also toured Rome and parts of Germany and Austria. "I'd definitely have to say Rome was the best part," he said. "I got to see the Colosseum, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. I got chills just looking at St. Peter's Basilica – I can't describe how massive it is."