By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Any angler who had the type of 2018 season that Josh Bertrand put together would be feeling pretty good as the new year dawned. But the Arizonan, who turned 30 in November just a few weeks after becoming a father for the second time, admits that 2019 could be an entirely different story.
He picked up a paycheck at all eight regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series events last year, earned his first tour-level win at the St. Lawrence River and dueled good friend Justin Lucas right down to the wire for the Angler of the Year title. However, having signed on for the inaugural season of the MLF Bass Pro Tour, he'll have to adapt to a different competitive format later this month. The same is true for Lucas and 66 other anglers who competed on B.A.S.S.' top circuit last season.
The 80 competitors who'll comprise the initial BPT roster will no longer pursue five-fish limits to take to a weigh-in stage in nylon bags. Every legal fish they can catch will count and then be immediately released, whether that number is five, 15, 50 ... or whatever.
"Having the year I did last year definitely helps my confidence, but this is such a fickle sport," Bertrand said. "I'm not taking anything for granted – we've all seen so many fishermen have a great year and then have a hard time backing it up. There are so many X-factors.
"I feel like I can do well (under the BPT format); I feel like I can be a guy who targets numbers. There are a lot of variables, though, like I'm going to have minimal familiarity with some of the fisheries, and that by itself makes me a little nervous. I'm confident, but I have to be realistic."
Definitely got Some Breaks
Bertrand, who competed on the Elite Series for six seasons, felt like he took a big leap forward in 2017, when he finished a then-career best 29 on the points list. His performance last year was another step in that progression, but he pointed out that he also had a lot of things go his way.
"I feel like I can think more clearly now than earlier in my career and I don't have to fight myself so much on the water about what I'm going to do," he said. "But even (last year), there were definitely some days when I struggled and there were tournaments that weren't as easy as others.
"It was just one of those years when everything clicked and I got a lot of good breaks. There were times when I might've had three places I was thinking about starting on and I'd pick one and go there and catch a big limit instantly, and that would set the tone for the whole tournament. At Travis I caught an 8-03 on my third cast and I knew 5 minutes into the tournament that if I caught anything to go with it, I was going to make the cut."
Bertrand will be in the same figurative boat with a lot of the BPT competitors when the season gets under way at the end of the month at Florida's Lake Toho. Those who didn't compete in the MLF Cup or Select events over the past several years have no experience with the every-fish-counts format and there's a learning curve looming for them.
"It's not the same thing you've done for your whole life – roughly 2 1/2 days of practice and then trying to figure out ways to manage your fish for multiple days," he said. "The research you need to do and the pre-fish strategies will be different and nobody really knows what's going to happen when everybody gets unleashed.
"Everybody will be going full-speed all day, every day, and there won't be much letting off. It's going to be interesting to see that. There might be guys who really get on the fish in the first couple tournaments and they're going to look like masters of the format, but over time things might go the other way. It's going to take a year or two to see who's really the best at making the adjustments."
He at least has one major factor working in his favor – a strong dose of momentum derived from the previous season.
"No matter where you're going to be fishing, you want to be coming off a year when you did well because that gives you a chance to succeed on the next level. It was awesome to have a chance at the AOY last year and it would've been great to win it, but winning it this year would be even better.
"It'll be the first one for the BPT and it's going to be a heck of an honor for whoever gets it."