By Todd Ceisner
(Editor's note: In observance of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, a new top story will not appear until Tuesday.)
For a second straight year, Jonathan Newton started the season with a triple-digit finish at the Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour.
Last year, he never did recover from his 120th-place effort and had four more finishes of 90th or worse. This season, a 122nd at the Big O followed by an 87th at Lake Hartwell to begin the year put him in a similarly deep hole. He rebounded nicely, though, with a 13th at Sam Rayburn Reservoir and a 24th at Beaver Lake, a venue where he'd finished in the 100s five other times.
With two events to go on the schedule, both on familiar Tennessee River lakes that he's won at in the past, Newton finds himself in position to make a run at his second career Forrest Wood Cup berth. He's currently 41st in Angler of the Year (AOY) points, just 20 points out of 35th place, the cut off for guaranteed entry into the Cup.
"That's a goal of mine," he said. "Without a (FLW team wrap) sponsor this year, it would mean a lot to me. I'm fishing more relaxed this year and enjoying it more and letting the chips fall where they may."
His results at Okeechobee and Hartwell seem to indicate he wasn't around decent fish at either venue, but that's where numbers can be deceiving.
"I've fished some really good tournaments and finished terrible," he said. "I felt like my first two were really good, but I just missed a little something at each one. I fished good and followed my instincts, but just didn't get a couple bites I needed.
"This game is real funny with how it goes and all of the ups and downs. It's so hard to get your mind back right and get back in the game sometimes."
At Okeechobee, he committed to an area "that literally had tons of them," but his timing was off and he couldn't recover.
"It you weren't in the right reed head at the right time, you didn't get bit," he added.
His effort at Beaver lifted a huge burden off his shoulders as it's always bitten him in the past.
"That place has never been one of my strong suits, but I went there with a different mindset this year," he said. "I decided to keep a Wiggle Wart in my hand all day and also mix in a little worm and I did really well."
If not for calm conditions on day 2, he thinks he could've made an assault on the Top 20. After weighing 14-07 on day 1, his weight fell off by nearly half.
"Day 2 was a bummer because the wind didn't blow in the clear water," he added. "I could've done a lot better had the wind blown."
Still Work to Do
The last day of competition at Beaver Lake was April 13 (Newton's was April 11), so by the time the field launches on day 1 at Lake Pickwick next month, about 7 weeks will have passed between competition days for Newton.
Maintaining momentum and that competitive edge can be challenging on a week-to-week basis, but when nearly two months go by between events, that challenge in magnified.
"Absolutely," Newton said. "It's killing me having this long break between tournaments. Every day I'm trying to stay motivated and keep a postitive attitude. Momentum works the same when you're doing bad, too. It can get into your head. It's a lot easier to ride the good wave than the bad wave."
With two lakes – Pickwick and Kentucky Lake – left on the schedule that he's very familiar with, maintaining that edge should be a little easier than if he was heading to new bodies of water.
"I definitely think you can keep that edge going," he said. "The only thing is it gets harder the longer the break goes."
'Pickwick A Little More Scary'
Newton says he's looking forward to the Pickwick event even though he says it could be "a little more scary" because it tends to fish smaller than other Tennessee River impoundments.
"It has some offshore stuff, but nothing like Kentucky Lake," he said. "If you don't get a good draw or have something different working, you could struggle."
He had planned to make a scouting trip to Pickwick prior to it going off limits just to see how the fish were setting up after the prolonged winter and colder-than-normal spring.
"Things have been a little behind, but we have had some warm weather and the fish are moving out well," he added.
He hopes to draw on his local knowledge of the lake when it comes tournament time. He won a Rayovac Series there in 2003 and has three other Top-10s in FLW competition.
"There are a few community holes that load up and the fish don't go anywhere else," he said. "If they get pressure put on them they might move 60 yards, but when they get a lot of pressure they can get hard to catch.
"A few years ago, we had a (Rayovac) on Pickwick and I caught them in a place I'd never caught them before. You're going to have to know that little area that you've looked at over 100 times and never caught them and hope they'll be there that particular day. That's where a little local knowledge will help. Maybe this will be the year they'll be there and get overlooked."