By Todd Ceisner
Chad Morgenthaler's career resurgence this season can be boiled down to three letters: PMA.
It's an acronym that's emblazoned on a bright yellow rubber bracelet he wears every day. It stands for Positive Mental Attitude and has been a trusty companion during his first season fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series.
"It's just a reminder that when your day is going crappy, all you have to do is look down at it and find something else to think about that makes you happy, even if it's not fishing," he said.
The long-time pro angler has endured plenty of days and seasons in the past where things have not gone his way. Over the last year or so, though, he's taken a different approach to the sport and he couldn't be happier with the results. He's more about fishing the moment and heeding what his instincts tell him.
"When you tend to try to fish safe, you tend to ignore that gut feeling," he said. "That thought has already crossed my mind for the rest of the season, but I can't fight what I've been doing. I've just been fishing the moment and it's gotten me to this point so I have to continue to act on that. I can't go out and throw a dropshot or shaky-head at the last two events and expect to maintain my spot and have a shot at Angler of the Year.
"I may zero but it won't be because I'm not fishing my gut."
He finished off 2013 strong and he's cashed a check in every event he's fished this year except for BASSFest, and is currently 4th in Angler of the Year points with two events remaining. He's also leading the chase for the Elite Series Rookie of the Year award against what is considered to be the strongest freshman class in the history of the Elite Series.
He had a close brush with victory at Toledo Bend Reservoir, where he was 2nd to fellow FLW transplant Jacob Powroznik by 2 1/2 pounds. All of the success he attributes to his new approach on the water.
"A lot of it is attributed to experience and just spending more time on the water," he said. "I'm getting better at techniques and controlling the mental aspect of the sport. I'm glad to be back fishing B.A.S.S. The no co-angler format fits me well and the lakes we've been to have fit me well and I've been able to power-fish my way through most of the season.
"On the mental side, a lot of things factor into that equation. I have my personal life in a good position and I don't have bunch of distractions going forward. The reduced schedule has also allowed me to stay really focused and I've been taking better care of myself, too, with improved nutrition."
Experience Paying Off
As former world No. 1 tennis player Jimmy Connors once famously said, "Experience is a great advantage. The problem is that when you get the experience, you're too damned old to do anything about it."
The same logic can be applied to pro bass fishing as many newcomers to the pro ranks struggle to get their footing early in their career and some fizzle out before their experience can truly be useful.
For Morgenthaler, the experience is there. He just wasn't seeing the positive results. He fished the Bassmaster Tour, the precursor to the Elite Series, from 2003 to 2005 and recorded four Top-10 finishes. Between 2004 and 2013, he was a regular on the FLW Tour. During that span, though, he posted just two Top-10s and finished inside The top 50 in points only once (2007).
Last year, he made a choice to pursue an invitation to the 2014 Elite Series via the Bassmaster Southern Opens in addition to fishing the FLW Tour. He finished 4th and 13th, respectively, in the first two Opens and finished the schedule with a 68th at Logan Martin Lake Ė he skipped the conflicting Lake Eufaula FLW Tour that week Ė to bank enough points to earn an Elite Series invite. With the FLW Tour schedule this year again set at six events, he felt like he was ready for a new set of challenges at this stage of his career.
A bracelet with the letters "PMA" serves as a reminder for Morgenthaler to stay in the right frame of mind.
"After 12 years of doing this, I've been through just about every situation that could go wrong," he said with a chuckle. "It's one of those deals you just learn to accept that there are uncontrollable factors. Fish get off, weather and lake conditions change, things like that. Now, I fish more instinctively and whatever my gut is telling me. I feel more ready to capitalize on those opportunities and when stuff goes wrong, I'm just able to shake it off faster."
Mo From The Big O
Morgenthaler is quick to point to his win at last year's Bassmaster Classic Wild Card at Lake Okeechobee as the flashpoint for his stellar 2014 season so far.
With an Elite Series berth already in his pocket via the Southern Opens, he was initially reluctant to jump into the Wild Card, but the venue and the payoff (a Classic berth) were too much to resist. He convinced one of his major sponsors to cover his entry fee and the rest is history.
He caught 63-13 over 3 days and punched his ticket to Guntersville, where he finished 23rd and lit the fuse for what's been a memorable 2014 campaign.
"It really was (the key)," he said. "You take an angler like myself who's spent so many years out here and never captured a win of any significance that was something I truly needed. The longer it goes, it gets to wearing on an angler and you start questioning what you're doing.
"Yes, it was a reduced field and did the cards play to my favor as far as the venue? Sure, but don't we all try to stack the deck in our favor? It gave me a lot of confidence."
Being able to fish the Classic also allowed him to build on the momentum from his Wild Card win and maybe gave him a leg up once the Elite Series season got started.
"That was a huge key," he said. "I never lost that momentum. I caught them good the first 2 days at Guntersville and I didn't have to pull out of a hole. I just had to be careful not to slide down into one. I felt like I had it going and the time off between Okeechobee and the Classic was just enough time to rest and it was easy to pick it up in a short period of time."
That good vibes carried over to the Elite Series season during which, prior to BASSFest, he hasn't finished lower than 46th. This is the highest Morgenthaler has been in the AOY race this late in the season. During the 2007 FLW Tour season, he was 7th with two events to go, but bombs at the Potomac and Detroit rivers saw him slip to 40th by season's end.
He admits the AOY race isn't far from his mind now that the schedule has turned for the stretch drive.
"It's certainly on my radar with as few tournaments left as we have," he said. "The Rookie of the Year would be great to achieve, but at the same time, if I take care of the big one, the second one will fall into place.
"There were would be a lot of satisfaction if I won, especially in a year when it's the stiffest competition the Elite Series has ever seen."
> Morgenthaler credits fellow Elite Series angler Gerald Swindle with helping him with his mental approach. "We have a lot of the same thinking processes," he said. "We both tend to get really scattered. We've spent a lot of time on the water together and we're learning from each other and that brings a fresh perspective."
> He's going to head to Philadelphia next week to take a look at the Delaware River, site of the next Elite Series event. "Pre-fishing typically doesn't work well for me," he said. "I'm probably not going to fish a lot, but I just want to learn my way around so I don't get lost when we come back. It's a big piece of water."