By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Fishing to finish high on the leaderboard at each event didn't work out too well for Gerald Spohrer during his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2017. He fared no better than 68th in any of the first seven derbies and ended up at No. 87 on the points list.
He's taking an entirely different approach this year. Here's the short version in his own words:
"Instead of trying to figure out how to do really good, I try to figure out how to not suck."
Focused on avoiding the bottom rungs of the standings sheet, the 36-year-old from Louisiana finds himself in 16th place in the Angler of the Year race with more than three-quarters of the regular season in the books. He advanced to the final day twice in a three-tournament stretch (he was 6th at Lake Travis and 4th at the Mississippi River) and now has a much loftier main objective for the year than the one he started out with.
"The way the Elite Series is set up now, it's a lot different than it was 5 years ago when guys didn't have to worry about getting cut," he said. "It's so challenging and as a rookie, you basically have your back against the wall as soon as you come in. My primary goal for this year was to do well enough to continue doing this. The worst-case scenario is to come in for 2 years and then get kicked out (due to poor performance), and that was a fear of mine, naturally.
"Once I got to the point where I knew I was locked in for next year (top 70), then making the Classic became my No. 1 priority. It wouldn't be the end of the world if I don't make it; I'd be disappointed, but I'm already happy with what I've done this season."
Contingency Plans Critical
Spohrer's new approach would draw disdain from a high percentage of tour-level pros who constantly operate with a win-first mentality. However, there are a whole bunch of those guys who currently sit far below him in the points race. His worst placement of the season was a 71st in the most recent outing at Lake Oahe.
"For me, it's about recognizing when things aren't really happening and getting contingency plans in place," he said. "How do I avoid bombing and get out of here with some decent points? You can't afford those finishes in the 90s or 100s. Last year I had a couple tournaments where I didn't get points and that cost me. I needed to start minimizing the damage.
"Then, when you do make a top 12, it's not for nothing. It's not just offsetting a 95th at the last tournament."
His strategy isn't entirely conservative – he still tries to hone in on the best fish that he can in practice. However, he also pursues bail-out options.
"I'm always looking for contingency plans: how to make sure I catch a limit or where I can run to catch one fish if I need it, even though you can't always make those things happen."
Too Much Knowledge is Bad
When he does discover quality in practice, Spohrer makes sure not to become too intimate with his fish.
"I don't set the hook a lot and I never check things twice," he said. "I don't want to convince myself of something that I'm not going to know the outcome of in a few days. I try to get a feel for stuff, but I do everything I can to keep fishing free.
"I only want to know just as much as I need to make decisions and the reason that's important is I want to still be able to fish with an open mind. I don't want to get caught up with specific places where I'm supposed to get a bite because that can burn you. I try to let it free-flow and places where I get a couple bites, I try to see how they're set up."
He didn't expect to fare nearly as well as he did in the two tournaments in which he logged his single-digit showings.
"At Travis I felt like I knew how they were positioning, but not exactly where I was going to catch them. In that tournament I fished brand new water every day and caught like a 6-pounder each day, and every one of those fish I was not expecting.
"At La Crosse (Mississippi River), things were changing so much every day. I really just looked for places that I thought were going to be good in the future as the water was rising. I didn't fish places where I got a lot of bites in practice, but the fish ended up coming to me."
> Spohrer was not in favor of B.A.S.S.' decision to cancel this week's event at the Chesapeake Bay due to high water. "I'm pretty disappointed about this one," he said. "It was going to be a bad-case scenario for everybody, but I felt like I had a good game plan and an opportunity to lock myself into the Classic. All the hazards were way up north of the take-off and I was fishing 60 miles to the south. There wasn't going to be a single log where I was."