By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
A couple of bad finishes to begin the 2013 season proved to be no real obstacle for Greg Vinson in his quest to qualify for this year's Bassmaster Classic.
To make next year's Classic, he'll have to overcome three consecutive stinkers.
"I thought I'd learned my lesson last year," said the affable redhead from Alabama. "It's a tough pill to swallow."
He's fared no better than 82nd in any Elite Series derby this year and sits at No. 102 in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) race. He'll need a victory or a string of second-half finishes even better than the one he turned in last year to make the '15 Classic at Lake Hartwell.
"I said this last year, that earlier in my career, something like this could've ruined me. But now I'm at the point where I know I'm capable of doing well and I've made decent decisions this year – I just haven't gotten the bites or the results I needed.
"I've been in the right areas doing the right things at the right times, but I haven't gotten the key bites it takes to get to where I need to be. If you do that in one tournament, you can deal with it because you know that just happens sometimes. When it happens again, you start to get frustrated.
"Then when it happens the third time, you start to get really mad."
A New Trend
Vinson, now in his 7th year as a tour pro, hasn't traditionally been such a slow-starter. From 2009 through '12, "the Rooster" always had at least one solid check-cashing finish over the first two events of a campaign.
That all changed during a disastrous trip to Texas last year, where he followed up a 76th at the Sabine River with a 91st at Falcon Lake. He got things turned around in the third event at Bull Shoals (23rd), however, and concluded the year with five straight money placements, including four Top-25s, to climb all the way to 16th on the final points list.
There were no third-event charms this year as he ended up 92nd at Table Rock. That bomb came on the heels of an 82nd at Seminole and an 84th at the St. Johns River.
"At the St. Johns I felt like I was right in the middle of things, but I never could get a big one to bite," he said. "It was like I was fishing in circles around the bigger fish.
"I was in the area where a lot of those big bags were caught on day 1 and day 2, so I was right where I needed to be. It seemed like everybody caught them but me, but when I looked back after it was over I saw there were some other guys who had 9- and 10-pound limits."
A week later at Seminole he gambled on a program that he felt had the potential to produce victory. He opted to target pre- and post-spawn fish by cranking woody cover on the edges of creek channels, disdaining the visible spawners that most of the field was targeting.
"I wish now I'd been a little more conservative at that one, but I tried for something that would sort of separate me from the crowd and I took a shot to win. It didn't work out."
He had a decent first day, but knew he was sunk if he didn't switch things up on day 2. He resorted to sight-fishing and quickly caught a couple of decent keepers, and then the first really nice one he enticed was hooked outside the mouth and had to be released per the Elite Series rules that cover bed-fishing.
A short while later, the same thing occurred again on a fish in the 4-pound class.
"I always try to take a little extra care setting the hook to make sure that doesn't happen, and it had never happened to me before that day. For whatever reason, I wasn't supposed to catch those fish."
Another Possible Route
Gambles like the one Vinson took at Seminole are outside of his standard operating procedure. He feels he can't afford to take a lot of risks or he'll end up back in his former profession (he worked for his home state as an environmental scientist before turning pro).
That wouldn't be the worst scenario in the world, but he'd prefer to stay in the game for the long haul. Therefore, money finishes remain his overriding priority
"I feel like I've been forced into that style because, even though I've got the best sponsors I've ever had, this is still a very expensive sport," he said. "Most of my income has come from tournament winnings and because of that, I've always fished a little more conservatively. I want to be aggressive, but I can't afford to be foolish."
His best career finish was a runner-up showing to Chris Lane in the 2012 Classic at the Red River. If he can top that this year, the points issue – at least in regard to next year's Classic – would become moot due to the win-and-you're in provision.
"I told somebody recently, maybe it was my wife, that I felt like I was going to win a tournament this year. My finishes so far have obviously been a long way from that, but as bad as things have been going, I don't think I'm too far off from doing what I need to do to accomplish it."
He has Top-12 finishes on his résumé from each of the next two venues (Toledo Bend and Dardanelle), so he's eager to get back into action early next month.
"Those places have been good to me in the past and they suit the way I like to fish. They represent good chances for me to start working my way up the ladder.
"Don't count me out yet. The greatest fighters in history were guys who could take a punch. I've taken a few, and now I'm ready to get back up and start swinging."