By Todd Ceisner
Brett Hite had his mind made up that he would skip the Arkansas River Bassmaster Central Open last year.
The Arizonan had a chance at a once-in-a-decade elk hunt in his home state and he was ready to set aside his pursuit of a Bassmaster Elite Series invitation for his pursuit of a once-in-a-lifetime trophy kill.
When he found out the hunt he registered for was actually later in the year, he proceeded to post a 7th-place finish at the Arkansas River, then finished the year with a zero-to-hero effort at Ross Barnett Reservoir to secure an Elite Series invite with a Top-5 finish in the Central Open points.
The sequence of events surprised even Hite, who sees the coming year as the start of a new chapter in his career as he'll tackle two-tour duty as an Elite Series rookie while continuing to fish the FLW Tour.
"I'm pretty excited," he said. "I thought I'd been drawn for one of the most premier elk hunts in the state of Arizona. It's a once-every-10-or-15-year thing. I figured I wouldn't go to Muskogee. I ended up putting in for the wrong time and got the later hunt. I wound up going to Muskogee and the next thing I know, everything fell into place.
"Everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that now after seeing what happened to me (last) year. I'm excited for the new season. I fished the (Bassmaster) Top 150s for 5 years before going to FLW. I've made a lot of money with FLW and they've been good for my career, but I'm at the point where I'd like to branch out a little bit."
Getting in the Mode
Last season, Hite said it was hard to stay in the fishing mode with just six FLW Tour events on the schedule. He fished the Central Opens (his first B.A.S.S. events since 2005) and the U.S. Open (he finished 3rd there), giving him a 10-event schedule for the year. It still wasn't enough in his mind.
By fishing the Elites and FLW Tour this year, he'll be plenty busy with 14 tournaments on his calendar, 15 if he qualifies for the Forrest Wood Cup. For the two-tour pros, the schedule is heavily front-loaded with six tournaments in a row starting at Lake Hartwell the first week in March and ending at Beaver Lake in mid April.
"That's a pretty hard stretch," Hite said. "I think it would be tougher if it were at the end of the season. This way, it's at the beginning and everyone's fresh and ready. After that, it's not as bad. I'm looking forward to it. I like the schedule of both circuits.
"I think it's really going to help me stay in that fishing mode if I just keep on fishing. You get in that mode in a tournament and you wake up in that mode and everything feels right. The more fishing you can do, the more in tune you are with the fish."
Hite feels like he's ready to take on the rigors of being a two-tour pro. His longtime friend and fellow Arizona resident John Murray is set to do the same.
"I've been doing it for a long time," he said. "It helps having the experience and having been to every lake we're going to. It's not something in your first couple years I think you want to go after, but it definitely helps having been around a bit. There's no substitute for experience and being in certain situations on those lakes."
After qualifying for five straight Forrest Wood Cups between 2007-11, Hite has failed to make the last two Cups, including a narrow 7-point miss last season. The culprits behind his 41st-place finish in points were results of 90th and 97th at Beaver Lake and Lake Eufaula, respectively.
"In both of those, I think I was on some of the right fish, but sometimes things don't work out and the wheels fall off a bit," he said. "I look back and I see I got three big checks and one small check. It always comes down to one fish."
At the Ross Barnett Reservoir Central Open last October, it came down to one day of fishing for Hite.
He entered the tournament in 5th place in the division points race, but was one of 21 anglers to post a zero on day 1 of competition. He could sense his Elite Series hopes were slipping away.
Unshaken by his struggles, he went back out the next day and targeted the same places and came back with the day's heaviest stringer, a 14-12 effort that catapulted him to 39th place, earning him a paycheck and clinching an Elite Series ticket.
"I didn't do anything different," he said. "I'm just hard-headed and I knew those fish were there. They just didn't bite that first day."
> Hite got married in November and he and his new bride honeymooned in Hawaii over the Christmas holiday.