By Todd Ceisner
Clent Davis didn’t sign up for the Bassmaster Southern Opens this year in an attempt to make some extra money. He had two goals in mind, actually.
First was to try to win one, specifically the Alabama River because of his familiarity with it and to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. The other was to put himself in position to qualify for the Elite Series in order to give himself a different option for 2016 if he wanted to go a different route after spending the first six seasons of his career competing mostly in FLW events.
While he came up just short of his first objective – he finished 3rd at the Alabama River – he nailed down the second part by finishing 3rd in points behind Brandon McMillan and Trevor Fitzgerald. That gave him the options he was looking for and when FLW announced it was cutting back payouts and raising entry fees for the 2016 Tour season, Davis said the decision became a lot easier.
“The payout cuts were downright disheartening for next year,” he said. “I didn’t agree with anything they did. Nothing against them, but I didn’t like the changes and that summed it up for me. I didn’t (fish the Southerns) solely to qualify for Elites, but I did it to have an option.”
When Davis approached his sponsors about his potential move, he was greeted with overwhelming support and that was the driving force behind his decision to accept the invitation to join the Elite Series next year.
“It was more of an omen than anything,” he said. “I made it on my first try, so that probably means it’s time to try the other side. It’s definitely an awesome accomplishment because there are guys who try many times and never get there.
“I would like to thank FLW for everything they’ve done for me,” he added. “I started as a co-angler and they gave me the platform to get started. I’m excited about the Elites, though. I don’t know anything about the lakes. It just goes back to plain, basic fishing and putting time in before you go instead of going by history.”
Period of Change
The decision to shift tournament circuits will punctuate what’s been an exciting year for Davis. He rallied to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup after two miserable finishes to start the season, then he and his wife, Ashley, welcomed their first child – a girl – back in August.
“It puts life into perspective,” the 29-year-old Alabama native said about being a father. “It changes everything. Everything I’m doing now is for her and making sure she’s okay financially moving forward.”
He said the emotions range from nervous to excited about switching to the Elite Series after four seasons as pro on the FLW Tour.
“I’m excited in that I’m going to B.A.S.S.,” he said. “I grew up watching it and wanting to fish the Classic. I’m also nervous for the same reason. I still have to catch fish to keep this going to pay bills.”
He did a pretty fair job at that this season, logging four straight Top-35 finishes to close out the Tour campaign in 39th place in points to nab the final Cup berth.
“Consistency-wise, it was the best year I’ve had,” he said. “I had two bad ones out of the gate, but after that I felt good.”
He is still haunted by some of his decisions on the final day at Lake Eufaula, where he had a legitimate chance at his first career win.
“I remember losing a $100,000 check on TV there,” he said. “I learned not to try to boat-flip 5-pounders when you can reach down with your net. That was sickening to lose that tournament the way I did, knowing I weighed in a 13-ounce spot after losing that 5. I would’ve won had I not messed that up.”
Davis put together three Top-30 finishes in the Opens across three tournaments that spanned from January to October.
“I’d like to say I was conservative, but I wasn’t,” he said with a chuckle.
He said fishing was tougher than expected at Lake Toho in January, but he caught all of his fish there with a flipping rod and notched a 27th-place finish.
“I was very fortunate there,” he said. “I kept one rod I have the most confidence in in my hand and caught ‘em that way.”
The April tournament at the Alabama River in Prattville was a change of pace as he finished 3rd by catching the majority of his fish with spinning tackle.
“I caught them on a place I’d never fished before, but I’d put in my time there and understood what was going on,” he added.
At Lake Seminole last month, Davis found himself coming unglued on day 2. He’d caught 16-04 on day 1, but his livewell was empty at lunch time the following day after missing six bites over the course of the morning.
“I changed rods and went to a stronger rod and was able to get two in the boat,” he said, lamenting a brain freeze that resulted in him weighing 6-04, which dropped him out of contention for a Top-12 spot. “That night, I was back at the hotel working on tackle and realized I’d tied my snell knot backwards. Instead of the hook kicking up into the fish’s mouth, it was swinging backwards and away from it.
"I’m not sure if I’d have beaten Brandon (McMillan), but I figured it was one of those things that needs to happen to remind us to take care of the minor details.”