By Todd Ceisner
If Mark Davis continues to churn out Top-3 finishes at his current rate, the race for Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) this year will be void of any real drama.
Davis' dominance so far has somewhat overshadowed the fast start of other anglers like Jared Lintner, who on the strength of three finishes ranging from 12th to 18th, has assumed the No. 2 spot in the AOY race, 35 points behind the veteran from Arkansas who's chasing his fourth AOY crown.
It's a place Lintner appreciates – reigning AOY Aaron Martens is just 4 points behind him – as he understands what it took to get there, but the Californian knows the season is still young and he's far from satisfied. Frankly, he'd much rather just keep fishing than get caught up in the numbers.
After his 12th-place effort at Table Rock Lake 2 weeks ago, he received a phone call from his brother, applauding his efforts.
"He was like, 'Dude, you're up to 2nd in points now,'" Lintner said. "I said, 'Brent, I appreciate it, but I don't want to hear about it. There's so much more fishing left to do.'
"It's like the tournament days I've had. Every tournament, I'll have one really good day, one sub-par day and one average day. If I can have three really good days in a row, I'll be right there to win one of those things. That's how I'm looking at this season. I'm not complaining or saying anything negative, but I can't rest on the first three tournaments and think I have it all figured out because I don't. I'm scrambling around."
Scrambling or not, he's in the midst of his best three-tournament stretch since the summer of 2007 when he sandwiched two Top-12s in Bassmaster Majors around an 18th at the Potomac River Elite Series.
"I'm trying to not think about it a whole lot just because I don't want to change the way I'm fishing or thinking about tournaments," he said. "It is what it is. After the season I had last year, the biggest thing was when I'm not fishing how I like to fish, meaning if I'm fishing the way Jeff Kriet likes to fish or the way Mike McClelland likes to fish or even Kevin VanDam for that matter, if I'm trying to do what everybody else is trying to do … and I don't excel at that or have fun fishing like that, then I just find myself beating myself up after the tournament, saying I could've gone to the bank.
"I might not have won the tournament, but I could've had a lot of fun and maybe had a better outcome fishing my style instead of everybody else's."
Because of the prolonged spring this year, Lintner's been able to fish his strengths so far this season. With the schedule starting at Lake Seminole before shifting to the St. Johns River, there was no shortage of shallow vegetation for him to pick apart.
"Once they get out on the outside ledges and shell-bed type of cover, I can catch them like that," he said, "but on those TVA lakes where you have to have specific shell beds and wait for the right current and all that stuff. … With the fish being shallow and this prolonged spring, I like fishing like that when they're in that aggressive feeding mode and I'm not even talking about sight-fishing."
At Seminole, he found himself in a tie for 54th after day 1 with 14-09 as a result of his boat number (92) and a swell of competitors' boats in the same backwater pond he was fishing. He opted to bypass the crowd on day 2 and it resulted in a 21-05 bag that moved him up to 14th.
"I flipped all of those fish punching mats off a stretch I'd found in practice," he said. "Rather than expanding on that in practice, I was so focused on trying to find the bed fish that I didn't put enough time in to run and find more mats off the main river like I was fishing.
"I think if I would've done that and not gotten caught up in the sight-fishing deal, I'd have had more water to fish and it wasn't really getting fished. Everybody wasn't doing that and I would’ve had it to myself. I left them biting."
He caught 17-11 on day 3 and finished 13th, missing the cut by a little more than a pound.
"I went back (to Seminole) after St. Johns and absolutely freaking smoked 'em," he said. "I just liked how the lake set up. It reminds me a lot of Clear Lake minus the standing timber. There's grass and topwater stuff and punching stuff and you're fishing shallow. I went there to learn more and I was happy I did, but at the same time I was like, 'Oh my God, this was only 2 miles down the river from where I was fishing and I drove past it every day and I just jacked three 7s off of it.'"
The week after Seminole, the scene shifted to the St. Johns River, where plenty of attention was placed on bedding fish, especially in one section of Lake George. Lintner made a conscious decision to not play bumper boats and came away with an 18th-place effort. While it was his lowest finish so far, it was his most satisfying event to date.
"In practice, it was pretty evident where everybody was going to catch them," he said. "On the second day just driving around the lake, it was like, 'Oh my God.' Sure enough, I pulled in there and there were beds everywhere, but I just said I wasn't going to do it."
Lintner has compiled three straight Top-18 finishes to start the season and is trailing only Mark Davis in the AOY points.
Instead, he and a handful of other competitors had another smaller lake to themselves and he was able to build momentum through the event, coming from 47th after day 2 to 18th behind a 22-08 bag on day 3.
"As the tournament progressed and as I look back on it now, if I would've figured out earlier what I figured out on day 3, I think I could've caught some better bags overall," he said. "Not being familiar with the place and not having that much history there, that third day when I got some good bites early and figured if that's what they're doing, then I go run over here because that looked OK when I ran past it. I just expanded on it and it was unbelievable. I caught so many 2 1/2- to 4-pounders that day, I caught like 50 of them."
Focus On Fun
Lintner admits the dock talk at certain events has led him astray in the past. This year, though, he's focused on shutting all of the chatter out and finding water that suits his style.
"Whatever lake we were going to, whether it was an outside cranking deal or whatever it may have been, there was so much hype around what it would take to win or what techniques it would take to win, I would force myself to do those," he said. "I agree, to a point, you sometimes have to do that to be competitive. Like at Kentucky Lake, the odds of you placing in the Top 20 fishing the bank in May or June is not very good.
"That being said, if you had a decent sack in the boat fishing shallow, you could spend the rest of the day out on the ledges trying to get a couple big bites. That's one thing, but when I'm out in the middle of the lake doing things I don't necessarily like to do and I'm struggling anyway … I'm trying not to do that."
Above all else, he's putting an increased emphasis on enjoying himself.
"I'm out there to have fun," he said. "If I'm out there not enjoying myself then shame on me because I'm missing my kids grow up and missing games. If I'm out there doing stuff and I don't like doing what I'm doing, I can be home. I'm going to go out and have fun and enjoy myself and let it be what it is."
So far, the approach has worked. He's already matched his money finishes (three) from 2013 and is anxious to see what the rest of the schedule has in store.
"The bodies of water that we fish are so massive and diverse, you can almost find anywhere the water you like to fish," he said. "I look at Denny Brauer or Tommy Biffle and those kinds of guys and over their careers they're pretty consistent anglers and when it gets in their wheelhouse, they were going to blow it out of the water.
"The thing about those guys is they ran, if they had to, to find muddier water to flip and fish the way they wanted to fish. They went and found it. It might not have been right around the corner. They might've had to run for an hour and a half and jump over some logjams, but that type of water was available to them and they exploited it."
> Lintner has been traveling with McClelland and Kriet the last couple seasons and it meant a lot to him for the trio to make the Top 12 at Table Rock and to see McClelland win in his backyard. "I know he's had a rough couple of years just like myself with ups and downs and for him to have all of his family there. it was really neat. He wanted it really bad. I don't know anybody that works any harder than he does in the fishing business and I'm not just talking on the water practicing and stuff. He works so hard and it's good to see people like him who are hard workers and family people with good hearts, it's good to see good things happen to them."