By Todd Ceisner
The way Andy Montgomery sees it, fishing tournaments is much like shooting free throws.
The more you do it, the better you'll get at it.
"Except if you're my (North) Carolina Tar Heels," Montgomery quipped. "They can't seem to make one these days."
As Montgomery prepares to embark on an epic 6-week stretch of FLW Tour and Bassmaster Elite Series events that will see him zig-zag across the southern third of the country, he's hoping to find the touch that will earn him a ticket to each of bass fishing's premier events.
He's excited to get back to his roots by competing in FLW Tour events this year – "FLW is where my career started," he said – while at the same time trying to rebound from a 56th-place finish in Elite Series points a year ago.
"Making the Classic and the Cup – those are the two main goals," he said when asked how he'll measure success in 2014.
Been There, Done That
Montgomery is no stranger to fishing a busy schedule. In 2011, he fished 14 tournaments between the Elite Series and FLW Tour Opens. Among those were the Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup.
The year before, he was even busier with 16 events on his plate between the B.A.S.S. Southern Opens, the PAA, FLW Tour and FLW Eastern Series.
He's been down this road before and can't wait to get at it again.
"I've wanted to fish both tours in the past," he said. "This was the first year where I could make it happen logistically and financially. I enjoyed my time with FLW when I fished over there. I missed it a little bit and wanted to try both tours while trying to make the Cup at (Lake) Murray."
The grueling stretch starts this week with the FLW Tour stop at Lake Hartwell, which is a 90-minute drive from his home in Blacksburg, S.C. Oddly enough, though, he wouldn't call himself a local powerhouse at Hartwell.
"I went to Clemson and could see the lake from my apartment all 4 years, but we fished (Lake) Keowee all the time and didn't fish Hartwell," he said. "Looking back on it, that was pretty dumb because there's never going to be a big tournament on Keowee."
From there, he'll head south to Lake Seminole and the St. Johns River for the first two Elite Series derbies. Then it's a lengthy trip west to Sam Rayburn Reservoir for the third FLW Tour stop, before heading to Table Rock Lake for an Elite Series date on April 3-6. The 6-week journey will end with the Beaver Lake FLW Tour the following week.
While his season officially began with a 34th-place showing at Lake Okeechobee last month, he's hoping all of the time he'll be spending on the water over the next 2 months will pay off.
"The biggest thing is not getting worn out physically or mentally because BassFans will know, but some of the general public don't know exactly what we do," he said. "It's not like we're waiting on a bobber to go under. I've fished a lot before. You just get in a routine and get up and go fishing every day.
"Physcially, I'm in pretty good shape. I'm still fairly young. I hunt a lot during the fall and that keeps you in shape. Physcially, I feel good. My tackle's really organized and that's going to be key. Just keeping that end of it in shape will be important. I'm ready to get in a groove."
Murray on his Mind
The 2008 Forrest Wood Cup was Montgomery's first taste of bass fishing's major championships as a pro and it just so happened to be at Lake Murray in his home state.
The winner's share that year was $1 million, so he had plenty of motivation to put on a good show for the home crowd. He was 9th after day 1, but slipped to 13th after day 2 and missed qualifying for the final 2 days as Michael Bennett eventually walked away with the title and massive payday.
His goal this year is to get back to Murray, where he has some unfinished business. In fact, it's the sole reason behind his decision to fish the FLW Tour this season.
"The number one factor was the championship at Lake Murray," he said. "It's about 90 minutes from my house and I don't get to fish it a lot so I don't know it real well, but the last time the FLW championship was there I really felt like I had a chance to win and it didn't work out."
He knows the road again will be challenging, especially when the FLW Tour roster features more than 175 anglers vying for 35 spots in the Cup via points. He can't afford to slip up once.
"Any time you can make a championship it's a big deal, whether it's the Cup or the Classic," he said. "It's getting harder to make the Cup because there are 180 guys and only 35 spots from the Tour. Making the Cup will not be easy."
He put himself on solid footing with his effort at Okeechobee, but needs to back it up this week at Hartwell.
"It was a good tournament," he said of his finish at the Big O. "I had to work hard the second day. I caught them really good the first day, but the second day was hard and I made do with what I had."
He thinks that mindset will come into play a lot this season.
"There are times that people will say they swing for the fences or whatever, but typically, we try to catch as much as we can every day," he said. "I just need to take it one day at a time and try to catch as much as I can that day and see where you end up."