By Todd Ceisner
It was the week before Christmas and Bill Lowen was doing what Bill Lowen loves to do when he's not bass fishing duck hunting.
This particular excursion had him stationed in Jonesboro, Ark., but things were not going as planned. Just when he had all of his decoys set up and after putting a couple dozen birds on the ground, the pit blind he was hunting from flooded and he had to take time redistributing dozens of Flambeau decoys. One step forward, two steps back.
It was that kind of year for Lowen, who was more anxious for hunting season this year than he has been in the past.
He was thrilled to see the calendar flip to 2014 because that means he gets a fresh start on the water as he looks forward to his ninth season fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series. He's coming off a year that started with a Top-5 finish at the Sabine River. From then on, however, he couldn't crack the Top 30 in any event.
He wound up cashing four checks and finishing 38th in points, grabbing the second-to-last Classic berth via the points standings.
"As a whole, the season was horrible," he said. "I know I qualified for the Classic so I can't complain too much, but it was just a miserable year in terms of execution and getting fish in the boat."
His frustration may also explain why he feels a little more amped up for the '14 season to get started.
"Typically at this time of year, I'm still not ready to go fishing," he said. "When I was out hunting (in mid-December), I told the guy I was with that I was so ready to go catch something. I've never felt that way that early."
Lost Fish Blues
Lowen seemed to find misery at every turn following his 5th-place effort at the Sabine River in March.
"I felt like I was around the right fish every time, but there were some key bites in each event that I just didn't get in the boat," he said. "You can live with it once in a while, but when it happens every time it makes a difference between a Top-50 finish and a Top 10.
"It didn't seem to matter if it was a crankbait, a jig or swimjig. It didn't matter. Fish that I'd caught 5,000 times I'd just lose them. There was no rhyme or reason or anything I could do. I just had to keep my head up and keep going."
His most frustrating event was at the Mississippi River, where he got on a swimjig bite that typically plays to his strengths. The frisky bass, however, weren't too cooperative.
"Throwing a swimjig is what I love to do, but the fish I lost there, I was like, 'How am I losing these?' They were all 3- to 5-pounders, the kind of fish you need there. It didn't matter if they were out of grass or flooded trees, I just couldn't keep them on."
He scratched out a 44th-place finish there, but more frustration was lurking ahead.
Later in the year at the St. Lawrence River, he watched what he thinks would've been the biggest smallmouth he'd ever caught get devoured by a muskie as he tried to bring the smallie back to the boat.
"Of course, I was by myself that day so there's no way to verify the story," he added. "I felt fortunate to limp into the Classic after all of that."
Craving A Win
Lowen doesn't sound as if the events of last season shook his confidence much. He knows all about the ebbs and flows of tournament fishing and understands you have to weather the lows to enjoy the highs.
But he's getting to a point in his career where he's starting to crave the ultimate high a victory more than ever.
"Every year, I feel like I'm getting better as an angler and it's more about making decisions," he said. "I feel like I'm making the right decisions at the right time and listening to my gut. I know it's all going to happen for me. It's just a matter of time."
By "it," he's referring to a breaking through with a victory. He's been 2nd twice before and he feels like he's on the right path to finally get a win.
"I'm one of those guys that the better I'm doing, the better I feel I perform," he said. "I've been close before, but I've not been able to capitalize. I'm overdue and I feel like it's time for me to shine."
> Lowen spent a couple days at Lake Guntersville in October, but opted to wait until the official Classic practice before seeing the lake again. "It's always so hard to practice months in advance," he said. "You just wind up spending more time driving around and trying to find key little deals that you think will work. It's Guntersville and everybody knows it's full of big fish. Hopefully, the weather works out for me. It's so hard to determine anything because it will all depend on that magic number of water temperature and whether they're still in their winter deal or making the transition to come in."