By Todd Ceisner
Heads up to the largemouth bass at Lake Okeechobee: Koby Kreiger is ticked off and he’s planning to take his frustration out on you in a few weeks.
After spending the last three seasons on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Kreiger will be among the 187-boat field that kicks off the 2018 FLW Tour season at Okeechobee in January. It’s not where he’d prefer to be, but he’s taking the transition in stride after narrowly missing out on requalifying for the Elite Series.
“Obviously, the three years I competed wasn’t indicative of my past record,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a disappointment the way it all came to an end. It’s the first time in my career that I haven’t requalified for any tournament circuit the following year. It’s a little disheartening.”
This past season, Kreiger and Andy Montgomery finished with 432 points in a virtual tie for 74th place in the Elite Series standings. On the surface, a tie that far down the ledger doesn’t seem all that important until it comes time to figure out which anglers will be invited back for the 2018 season. Then tiebreakers take on a whole new importance.
In the case of Kreiger and Montgomery, it came down to this: Since the top 70 finishers in points are invited back automatically, their 2018 status initially hinged on whether any 2017 Elite Series rookies or qualifiers through the Bassmaster Opens would decline their invitations. All of the rookies opted back in and three Open qualifiers declined, so that meant Drew Benton (71st in 2017 points) and Keith Poche (73rd in points) filled two of those spots. Chad Pipkens, who finished 72nd, earned his way back in through the Northern Opens. That left one spot and two anglers – Kreiger and Montgomery – who were tied in the standings.
Per B.A.S.S. rules, “Year-end points/AOY tiebreakers will be broken by total weight from full field days for the season, to include the Toyota Texas Fest event and the AOY championship.”
After applying that criteria, Montgomery was awarded the Elite Series invite over Kreiger, who was left to rely on his average finish in the AOY standings (65.667) as his only avenue back into the Elite Series. He was 21st on the list of remaining anglers and B.A.S.S., working to fill a 108-man field, took the top 16 from the average career AOY ranking.
Needless to say, missing out on another Elite Series season stings, says Kreiger.
“To lose it on that, you can’t be mad,” he said. “I had a terrible year with everything that happened. And to lose a chapter in my career because of a tiebreaker, to me it’s funny. I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I’m disappointed, but I’ve moved on.”
If anything, it will serve as motivation to start the new season on a positive note in his home state.
“When you get kicked to the curb, you want to come out swinging,” he added. “The last three years were sort of embarrassing for me, so I’m looking forward to erasing those memories.”
More ‘Me Guys’
Kreiger qualified for the 2015 Elite Series after winning the Northern Opens points title in 2014. Like several other anglers who’d made their name with FLW, he decided to transition away from the FLW Tour, where he’d been a fixture since 1997, winning five FLW Series tournaments and competing in nine Forrest Wood Cups along the way.
As an Elite Series rookie in 2015, he finished 57th in points and was 65th the following year. He made two top-12 cuts overall, but couldn’t string good finishes together. He made the day-2 cut in consecutive tournaments just twice over the last three seasons.
Still, he has no regrets about leaving FLW to give the Elite Series a try, only to come back to the FLW Tour.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I realized more about myself before it started. On the Elite Series, the guys who do well are those who are more ‘me’ guys. To compete on that side, that’s the way it is.
“The way I grew up it was more of a buddy thing – teaming with a guy or couple guys to figure things out.”
Overall, he said it was a frustrating stretch marked by lost fish and being hampered by nagging injuries on top of he and his wife finishing off a new house they built on Florida’s west coast during the 2015 season.
“That first year I was a little overwhelmed by not doing due diligence prior to the events,” he said. “I didn’t do a good job preparing for events the first year. I tried to do a better job of that last year.”
Battled Through Pain
At 49 and as a veteran of more than 300 B.A.S.S. and FLW tournaments, Kreiger’s body is starting to show the wear and tear from being on the water and on the road over the past 20 years. He’s had back surgery, knee surgery and procedures done on his elbow and shoulder.
It reached a point this past season where his body was dictating his fishing strategy.
“I noticed it at Rayburn,” he said. “I had fish found down the lake about 12 miles and it was pretty rough. I decided to not go because I needed to be able to walk the next morning. I’m just as competitive as the next guy, but I have a future I want to look out for. I knew at that time something needed to be different.
“I’m not using my physical issues as an excuse, but I’m looking to my future because I don’t plan on being the next Paul Elias or Shaw Grigsby or Rick Clunn and do this into my 60s or 70s. You have to pick your battles.”
Going back to FLW’s less compacted practice schedule during a tournament week will be a welcome change for Kreiger, who like others before him noted how different tournament prep is on the Elite Series without a day off before competition begins.
“I think it’s going a whole lot easier because I was pretty used to the day off,” he said. “That’s crucial time to work on equipment or you can sleep in and rest. That day off is really good for everybody.”
> Since July, Kreiger has also been working as the sales manager at Roland Martin’s Marine Center in Clewiston, Fla., in addition to running the service department and tackle shop. He said it’s been refreshing to be back around Okeechobee after chasing saltwater fish near the Gulf coast the last couple of years.
“To be a figure back at Okeechobee is exciting,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason. I really enjoy it, working with fishermen again.”