By Todd Ceisner
Matt Herren had just finished up a wicked 7-week stretch on the road, fishing six tournaments in a row from Florida's east coast to east Texas and several points in between.
So how did he plan on relaxing once he got back to his home in Trussville, Ala? Go crappie fishing, of course.
The season within the season for Herren and 13 other pros fishing both tours this year has come to a merciful conclusion.
The odyssey started the first week of March at the Lake Hartwell FLW Tour and zig-zagged across the southeast and out to Texas and up through the Ozarks where it finished at Beaver Lake last week. Six consecutive tournaments, one after the other after the other when laid out on a calendar, served as the ultimate bass fishing gauntlet or bass fishing's equivalent to the Ironman Triathlon, minus the finish line.
It was a grueling test of mettle that saw the 14 pros log thousands of miles on the road and hundreds more on the water, all the while making sure they had enough tackle and sleep to move on to the next one. It's the most tournaments in a row that any of the pros could remember fishing, and some even said they'd be willing to do it again. Others weren't too keen on the idea.
"Sure I would," said Herren, who's currently 8th in FLW Tour points. "Unless B.A.S.S. decides to offer us 12 to 15 tournaments a year, then I wouldn't feel the need to fish both. Without that happening, I'm just like everyone else in America with a job. I have to be on the water to make a living."
Added Greg Hackney, who was kicking himself for not fishing both circuits last year: "It was really grueling, but it went by so fast. I was nervous going into it because I'd never fished basically every day for 6 weeks in a tournament. It was a new deal for me. Looking back, I wish I'd have done it last year. Now, I know what to expect.
"It was a pretty good test," he added. "I didn't know if I could do it or not. I'm tired, but if I had to I guess I could've gone fishing again (last week). I'm glad I didn't have to, though."
Another compacted schedule could turn some off to chasing both tours again, including Jason Christie, who won three times as a two-tour angler last year.
"Absolutely no way would I do it again," he said. "The only way I'll do both tours next year is if they're more spread out. I'm missing too many of my kids' games and activities. I'm pretty much killing myself physically, too. I have no problem fishing 20 in a year if they're spread out, but I have a problem with six in a row or four in a row. I can do two or three in a row, but I can't handle this 6 weeks straight."
Last year, seven anglers opted to fish both the FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Elite Series – Ish Monroe, Steve Kennedy, Zell Rowland, Tommy Biffle, Christie, Fred Roumbanis and Kelley Jaye.
This year, that number doubled for a number of reasons. Some just like fishing as much as they can. Some are doing it to maximize payday opportunities. Others opted to do it in an effort to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray.
Of the 14 pros pulling double duty this year, just four came out of the 6-week stretch with five paychecks – Hackney, Herren, Casey Ashley and Christie – while 10 managed to cash in at least half of the six tournaments. At least one two-tour angler qualified for the final day at all six of the events with Hackney, Ashley and Brett Hite making two apiece – Ashley won at Lake Hartwell, Hite at Lake Seminole.
Jason Christie feels he's fishing more consistently this year even though he he hasn't won as frequently as he did in 2013.
"It went by so fast it was a blur," said Hackney, who's one of seven two-tour pros currently in the Top 37 in FLW Tour points. "It seems like we just started at Hartwell and now we're through it. Now, we're back to two tournaments a month. I don't know how to act with all this free time."
Looking ahead, there is only one other back-to-back scenario remaining on the schedule and it's not until June when the Pickwick Lake FLW Tour and Lake Chickamauga B.A.S.S.Fest Elite Series events occur in consecutive weeks. For those anglers who qualify for the Cup in August, they could face three in a row with two grueling drives. The Delaware River Elite Series is slated for Aug. 7-10 in Philadelphia with the Cup slated for the following week at Lake Murray. The Elite Series concludes its regular season the week after the Cup at Cayuga Lake in Auburn, N.Y.
The refrain among the pros contacted for this story was that the driving between the events took the most out of them, not the fishing.
Christie is fortunate in that he has a friend who helps with driving to and from events, but the majority of guys had to go it alone. Herren said he put nearly 6,800 miles on his truck during the extended roadie.
"Maximizing my time and staying one step ahead on the things you don't prepare for or enter your mind, like the logistics of doing laundry and preparing tackle," Herren said. "I have a slide-in camper and the thing that was hardest was making sure I had the right amount of tackle, got the laundry done and had groceries, and also making sure I was restful and got enough sleep."
"It was harder the first couple of weeks, but without a doubt the fishing wasn't hard on me," added Hackney. "It was the driving. Making a 3- or 4-hour drive was nothing, but anything longer than 8 hours, I felt sick when I'd get out of the truck."
The toughest segment came between the St. Johns River Elite Series and FLW Tour stop at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, a 15-hour drive. Jason Williamson was the only two-tour pro to make the Top-12 cut at St. Johns and he followed it up with a money finish at Rayburn (59th).
"It was tiring, I can tell you," said Ashley, who's fishing both trails for the first time. "It's hard to get out of bed in the morning when you drive from one to the next to practice.
"Once you get to where you're going and start fishing, you can pace yourself and get some rest. You just have to bust your butt to get there. You miss a lot of practice time on the road. That stretch from Florida to Texas, I had to push it. It was a 16-hour drive and there's no way you can do it in a day. I knew I'd miss the first day of practice at Rayburn, but I still had to bust my butt because I knew I'd be behind from the start."
Steve Kennedy, a veteran of many two-tour seasons, missed nearly all of the practice session at Rayburn condensing his tackle from his family's RV to his pickup as his wife had to head home for a family wedding after St. Johns. He arrived in east Texas in time for a half day of on-the-water prep and came away with a 6th-place finish, his best result of the season.
Greg Hackney said he could've fished a seventh tournament in a row if he absolutely had to.
"The way FLW does it now with practice starting on Sunday, it's tough if you make a Sunday cut on B.A.S.S. You lose a lot of practice time," Kennedy noted. "Practice isn't as a big of deal as getting enough sleep at these week-long events. As long as I'm rested and having fun, I'll do okay."
While some of the 14 pros didn't fare as well as others during the 6-week stretch, some got into a groove that carried them up the standings of both circuits.
Christie, who posted three wins last year fishing both tours, hasn't sniffed a win this year, but he feels like he's fishing with better consistency in 2014. A 53rd at the St. Johns is his lowest finish so far this season. He's currently 12th in Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) points and 7th in the FLW Tour AOY chase.
"Other than winning those two early on last year, I think I'm off to a better start this year than last," he said. "I've missed some breaks and lost some fish that would've drastically changed my outcomes. I'm not saying I’d have won, but last year those fish were finding their way into the boat.
"When I started fishing both tours, my goals were to make the Classic and the Cup and cash a check in each event and hopefully win one along the way. My big goal has been to eliminate the bombs I've had in years past. Other than St. Johns, I think I'm off to a more consistent start. I'm just missing that little break that gets you rolling during a tournament. I haven't been in contention to win yet and that makes me mad."
Randall Tharp, another two-tour newbie, is also off to a good start despite missing checks at the final two. He's 14th in Elite Series points and 11th on the FLW Tour side.
Hackney's finishes steadily improved throughout the lengthy road trip until a 96th at Beaver Lake halted his run of two straight 3rd-place efforts. Still, he's well inside the cut line to make the Cup with two FLW Tour events left. He's 6th in Elite Series points.
"I feel better (about my fishing) and I'm glad I fished both," he said. "For me, it's a lot harder being off too much. I found that one takes pressure off the other one. Whichever one starts, I forget about the other one, whereas if I was only fishing one, during the off time, I'd only concentrate on the one I was doing. Fishing both, I forget about what went on previously and focus on what's going on right there.
"Last year, I was on the outside looking in on this deal. I think everybody should have the opportunity to try this one time."
More To Come?
If a similar schedule came about for 2015, some of the pros said they'd jump at the opportunity to maximize their time of the water. Others, like Christie, said they'd likely choose one or the other.
"The biggest thing that forced my decision to fish both was I started my career with FLW," Herren said. "I'm an Elite Series guy through and through, but right now unfortunately there's not a lot of tournaments on the Elite Series side. To me, the Opens and Rayovacs offer little in the way of payday opportunities. I'm a tour-level angler and with sponsor dollars being tight, I have to find as many opportunities as I can to fish for a living. I had the chance to fish both this year and FLW pays back good money."
Kennedy hopes B.A.S.S. and FLW don't get back in the habit of scheduling tour events on top of each other. Otherwise, he'll continue to fish both circuits.
"Yes, definitely," he said. "I hope we get to keep doing it. If we don't, we'll have to fish PAA or something else. BA.S.S. and FLW don't get it. They can still compete without scheduling on top of each other."
Christie believes compacting the schedule could lead to burn-out on some level.
"That's the thing that worries me about fishing so many," he said. "It's hard to get fired up for every single one of them. I don't mind fishing 20 tournaments a year, but to fish 20 in a 5-month span is ridiculous. If they spread them out over 11 months, it would be awesome and I think you'd see the number of two-tour pros triple if they would scatter them out."
The main reason Ashley did both tours was because the Cup is at Murray and Hartwell was on the FLW Tour schedule.
"I knew it wasn't going to be that bad," he said. "I'm not saying it was going to be easy, but I'd have felt like a fool to let it go by and not at least try. I'm not sure I'd ever do it again, though. It's a lot and it's hard to do it. I'm a homebody and I'm gone a lot as it is, but always being gone, it's like when I want to be home, I want to be home. Even fishing one tour is a lot … that's a big deal on its own."