By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
As he prepares for the final FLW Tour regular-season event of 2018, Mark Rose stands on the precipice of a feat that many professional anglers consider a career-making achievement. The veteran Arkansan, who's in his 20th Tour campaign, doesn't view it that way.
If the low-keyed Rose claims his first Tour-level Angler of the Year (AOY) title at Lake St. Clair at the end of the month, well, that'll be fine and dandy. If he doesn't, that'll be okay, too – he won't spend the rest of the summer and the entire off-season beating himself up for letting the points crown slip through his grasp.
"To me, it wouldn't change anything at all," he said. "To my sponsors and the people who've supported me all down through the years, I'd love to win it for them, but on the flip side of that, it's not like I put any pressure on myself to win the AOY or the (Forrest Wood) Cup. I'm not going to change anything about how I prepare just for this tournament and if I don't win it I won't lose 1 second of sleep over it.
"Whoever wins the AOY, does it really mean that guy was the best fisherman? Yeah, he got more points than anybody, but in today's sport there are a lot of things that skew that. Maybe he had more waypoints than anybody else for one lake or he got more help on a certain body of water. There are a lot of different variables that determine the outcome over the course of a season."
In the simplest terms, he won't view an AOY trophy with his name on it as validation of anything.
"I'm very comfortable with where I'm at in my career and with my performance level," the five-time Tour-level winner said. "I'm going to have my bad tournaments and I'm going to have my good ones, but what I try to do is stay consistent.
"I'm content with wherever I finish in the points, whether that's 1st, 10th, last or whatever."
Big Comeback at KY
Rose, who'll turn 47 shortly after competing in this year's Forrest Wood Cup in August, has his rally in last month's event at Kentucky Lake to thank for his lofty lead in the AOY standings. He was in 64th place after day 1, but turned things around the next day and eventually ended up 5th – his second top-5 showing of the season (he was 3rd in the opener at Lake Okeechobee).
"I got a lot of personal satisfaction out of my day 2," he said. "I fished my strengths to get back what I'd lost the first day (when he weighed only four run-of-the-mill keepers) and get back to where I needed to be
"That first day I fished what I'd gotten on in practice after I'd let the (Asian) carp intimidate me. I think the ledge bite really started happening on the second and third days of practice and during the off day (prior to the start of competition), after I'd already written it off."
He didn't know the location of a single offshore school when he launched on day 2.
"A lot of people had done good (on day 1), but I didn't rely on anybody else's fish or anything like that to get back on track. I went out and worked hard enough that even though I'd missed it for 3 days, I was able to make it happen during the tournament."
Likes Final Venue
Rose, who won the first two events of 2017 en route to a second straight 10th-place finish in the AOY standings, will take a 64-point advantage over 2nd-place Scott Martin into the finale at St. Clair. The venue is one that he likes, but not one that's treated him extremely well.
He's competed in four Tour events there, with a best finish of 26th in 2007 and a worst of 95th in 2001. His most recent visit occurred in 2012, when he ended up 57th.
At the triple-A level, he finished 12th in 2005 on his way to winning the Midwestern Stren (now FLW Series) points title. He was 35th the year before that and 105th the year after.
With a finish anywhere above the mid 60s this time, he'll join Martin (2015) as the only anglers this decade to win an AOY who weren't named Bryan Thrift, Andy Morgan or David Dudley.
"St. Clair is one of my favorite lakes in the country to fish," he said. "I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited about going.
"I've been there several times and I'm not going to say I have it completely figured out by any means, but I understand the movements of the fish and I understand the habitat a little bit. I feel like I've got the best equipment with my (Ranger) boat and (Garmin) electronics – they're what you need to go up to that part of the country and withstand what nature gives you. In 3 days of practice, you might only get 1 day where you can get out (offshore) and try a bunch of things and figure a lot of things out."
He's been keeping a close eye on the Michigan weather and has deduced that the tail end of the spawn might be going on when he and the rest of the Tour competitors arrive, but the reproduction ritual should be all but over with.
"I'm looking forward to doing lots of different things, whether it's power-fishing or fishing with a spinning rod. I like how big it is and how much versatility it offers. It really doesn't matter how many waypoints a guy has there because it's vast and those smallmouth roam around.
"You have to get in tune with the fishery and get on the right bite. I don't think it'll be won on a spot and that's something I really like."
One thing's for sure: He won't "lay up" in a quest to ensure the middling placement he needs to secure the AOY.
"Sixtieth place isn't on my radar. I'll go up there with a lot of confidence and the anticipation of having a good tournament. I'll go and fish the way I always do and shoot for a good, solid finish."