By Todd Ceisner
For several years, Jason Williamson has been counted among the Elite Series anglers who “swung for the fences” every time out. He just wasn’t wired to fish for points or willing to punt when a practice pattern went to pot during competition. He did it his way and that was the end of it.
That approach has its advantages for sure, evidenced by his Elite Series wins at Lake Amistad (2009) and Clarks Hill (2010). At the same time, it also can handicap an angler, especially when making the Bassmaster Classic becomes more of a priority and the main way to get there is to stack up consistent Top-50 or better finishes and earn as many points as possible.
About to enter his seventh Elite Series season, Williamson is starting to turn a corner in his career in that sense. While his go-for-broke mantra is still alive and well, he’s placing more emphasis on becoming a better points fisherman with an eye toward increasing his Classic participation (he’s only fished one despite finishing among the Top 50 in points every year).
BassFans who followed Williamson in 2012 saw a breakthrough in his results from the Bassmaster Southern Opens. He posted three Top-15 finishes and wound up 2nd in points behind Kevin Hawk. He’s still miffed at himself for failing to claim the points title, but he’s hoping to parlay the confidence boost into a more balanced strategy during the coming Elite Series season.
“I fish with no regrets,” the South Carolinian said. “When I say that, I mean I try to win every tournament. That’s the thing about me. If I leave a place after I finished 89th, I’ll say, ‘Well, I tried to win the thing. I didn’t try to finish 35th.’ That’s where I’m starting to prepare a little different for those tournaments where I didn’t have a good practice. If that means pulling a spinning rod out of the rod box, I’ll do it and move on to the next one. You’re not going to win every one of them.
“The last couple of years, I’ve been working on that pretty hard and I’ve seemed to have more consistent finishes, but I’ve lacked the Top-10s in trying to be a better points fisherman. I feel like this may be the year I break through and do something special.”
Preparation Takes On Greater Importance
Williamson remembers making the transition to the Elite Series in 2007 and “not knowing whether to turn left or right when leaving the ramp.”
His experience and lake knowledge was limited to the region around South Carolina and fishing anywhere outside that area put him at a distinct disadvantage because he didn’t have the time or budget to take scouting trips to faraway rivers and reservoirs before the off-limits period. His lake study was restricted to the Internet and what he could figure out during the 2 1/2 days of official practice prior to a tournament. Most times, that just wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t know anything about anywhere we were going and it’s been a complete learning experience from day 1 for me,” he said. “The fishing and mechanics of fishing, I’ve always been blessed to have that. It’s taken me a little longer than I wanted it to take me to learn how to prepare to fish against the best in the world.”
Heading into the upcoming season, he’s brimming with confidence largely because of the schedule and the momentum he gained from the Opens a year ago.
“I’m probably as excited and as prepared as I’ve ever been for 2013,” he said. “As go you along in this sport you learn how to prepare and you pick up on the things that work for you that may not work for other people like traveling around and visiting the waters that you’re going to be fishing.
“The last couple of years, I’ve been able to go to some of these places and spend a little time and get more comfortable before we come back for the 2 1/2 days of practice. It’s a fine line.”
Another area he’s more zeroed in on now is tinkering with tackle during the offseason. He likens spending time in the shop to pro golfers heading to the range each day.
“If you don’t have a chance to get on the water, you can just go out there and stay in tune with what’s going on,” he said. “You mess around with your baits or paint a few or do some research on the Internet about where you’re going and learn about the main forage at a lake you’re heading to. You just get a lot of stuff packed in your brain to where you’re mentally prepared before you ever get there.
“The more you’re out there and the more organized you are and you know what you’ve got, you can get something in your mind that might work at the Sabine River or Falcon. You just get a mental picture that as you go into your practice you’re already ahead of the game.”
“Just staying in tune and focused is maybe where I may have lacked in not making the Classic,” he continued. “I feel like I’m more focused on what I need to be focused on now and I’m getting better at preparing. Lord knows anybody can go out there and have an 80th-place finish in points. Fortunately for me, I haven’t had that.”
Classic Will Come With Consistency
Williamson’s only taste of the Classic came in 2011 at the Louisiana Delta. It was not a memorable experience by any stretch as he spent the majority of the week leading up to the event in bed with a bad case of food poisoning. He liked the area he’d found, but mustered only a 47th-place finish.
To get back to the Classic he knows he may have to adjust the win-or-else mentality that’s carried him to this point in his career. In his defense, had the current rule that awards tournament winners an automatic berth been in effect earlier in his career, he’d already have competed in at least three Classics.
He’s proud that he’s been able to finish in the top half of the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year standings each of his first 6 years on Tour, but he expects more from himself now.
“Is that good enough for me? No,” he said. “I definitely want to be a Top-10 angler. That’s what we all strive for. I think we’d all like to win an Angler of the Year trophy. That’s the most prized possession. To me, that would be more of a prized possession than winning the Classic because the Classic is just one tournament.
“I try not to let myself get too low just about the Classic. Yes, I want to be there and yes, I want to finish at the top, but I’m not going to hang my head too low. I’m going to go out there and I feel like once I break through, I’ll be a Top-10 angler every year and when I find my way, I’ll be there every year. I don’t think I’m lacking in anything. There are just a few small things I need to put together to make it work. I’m working hard on those two or three little things and once I get those worked out, I think we’ll be there.”
Knowing the 2014 Classic will be held at Lake Guntersville, the big-fish Mecca of Alabama, gives him a little more motivation.
“That in itself will probably be enough to let me know that I can do it,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to get to Guntersville. I really like that lake. I’ve been there enough over the years to think that if I can get to the Classic, I can be a contender with a chance to win it. That excites me more. When you know where the Classic is going to be and you’ve been there before and you’ve had some success, it gives you that much more enthusiasm to want to get there. I think it’ll be a good year for me.”