By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Joey Cifuentes is hard-pressed to come up with an explanation for why his second season on the FLW Tour was so much tougher than his first. Perhaps he just put too much pressure on himself to match or exceed the achievements of his rookie campaign.

"It didn't really feel like anything was different," the 30-year-old Arkansan said as he prepared for this week's FLW Series event at Lake of the Ozarks. "I just never got anything going and if I had a really good practice, things would be completely different when tournament day came around.

"I've heard several guys talk about a 'sophomore slump' (as if there's a jinx on second-year competitors who had good debut seasons) and I don't really believe in things like that, but if it's really a thing, then I'm hoping that's what it was this year and I can blow all that out and have a good year (in 2019)."

Something to Prove?

Cifuentes' rookie season in 2017 got off to an inauspicious start with finishes in the 100s at the first two events, but he was stellar after that. He fared no worse than 62nd in any of the remaining five regular-season tournaments and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup by landing at No. 37 on the final points list.

He started this year with back-to-back triple-digit finishes as well, and then appeared to right the ship with a 32nd at Lake Lanier. However, he followed that up with three more bombs (the best of those was a 113th at Lake Cumberland) and he was far out of Cup contention when he went to Lake St. Clair for the finale.

He finished 10th there to salvage something from the season. It marked his first final-day appearance in a tour-level derby.

"That was really huge, man," said Cifuentes, who's easily recognizable around the docks at a Tour event after he's switched out the baseball cap he wears on the water for his trademark cowboy hat. "Not to mention the momentum it gives me going into next season, it shows me that maybe I wasn't all that far off at some of the other tournaments and that I can still catch fish and compete, no doubt."

He seems to have an affinity for catching quality smallmouths when they're available.

"That's where I feel like I've shined anytime I get around them. We don't have great smallmouth fishing where I live, but I do quite a bit of it and I know a little about it. There's just something about it that I can really dial in."

He said one difference between this year and his rookie season was that he was fishing only for himself in 2017 and didn't feel any external pressure, whether it was self-generated on otherwise. Things changed a bit after his strong rookie showing.

"The first year I was fishing out of an unwrapped boat and I didn't have any big-name sponsors," he said. "The I got my deal with Abu Garcia and Berkley and I was in a wrapped boat and I maybe felt like people were looking at me a little more. That might've had something to do with it.

"I might've felt that I had to prove something to them – that I was worthy of that deal – and that maybe weighed a little bit on my mind."

Lofty Goal for '19

Cifuentes made a top-20 cut his first year on Tour and a top-10 in his second. His primary objective for his third year is to win an event. As a co-angler in 2016, he notched a victory at Beaver Lake.

He likes the layout of next year's schedule – particularly the opener at Sam Rayburn in January. He notched a back-seater victory there in a Southwestern FLW Series tournament in 2014.

"That's what really kicked it all off for me and really sparked my interest (in trying to forge a career) in bass fishing," he said. "That was in the fall, so this one coming up won't be the same time of year and it could be super-cold in January, but it's a lake that I've fished a bunch and I really like it.

"A lot of the tournaments should offer some really good shallow fishing and I like to do that. The lineup looks great."

The area of his game that he looks to improve upon this offseason is his use of electronics.

"Lowrance has got some new technology in depthfinders coming out and I'll be doing a lot of work trying to understand that stuff better. I think I'm pretty decent at it now, but I don't think I utilize it enough."