By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Ron Nelson's primary goals for his initial season on the FLW Tour were to make a decent run at winning the Rookie of the Year award and to qualify for the FLW Cup. Both objectives became more difficult when he started the campaign with a 120th-place finish at Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
"After the first tournament, I took the focus off (the goals) and just went fishing," he said.
That approach paid off handsomely as he bounced back with a 23rd-place showing at Lake Toho and never finished in the lower half of the field the rest of the way. He concluded the season on a roll with placements of 16th at Cherokee Lake, 3rd at Lake Chickamauga and 14th at Lake Champlain to claim the ROY title and a Cup berth as he ended up in the No. 9 slot on the final points list.
"I feel really blessed to have gotten that (ROY) title. I didn't think I was in contention for it until I read something that said I was a longshot at Champlain, but I could still pull it off. The way it came out was pretty neat."
The 44-year-old Nelson joined the Tour this year after experiencing great success at the triple-A level. He's a three-time FLW Series winner (including back-to-back triumphs at Champlain in 2017-18) and has finished among the top 15 in the points in the Northern and Southeastern divisions a combined 10 times.
He could've moved up to FLW's top level earlier, but he and his wife both operate businesses in their hometown of Berrien Spring, Mich. (he's a painting contractor and she's a salon owner) and he didn't want to take too much time away from his "day job."
"We're both busy all the time, but fortunately I can step away when I need to," he said. "My wife's a big supporter and she understands all the travel that comes with this – when I'm gone, it causes some extra stress on the home front.
"I probably should have done it earlier – I consider myself a pretty good sight-fisherman, but I was a lot better in my younger years when I had better eyesight. My wife and I talked about it, but we're both self-employed and we work really hard. I wasn't a guy who was going to sleep in my truck to follow that dream; I needed to take care of business."
He did a considerable amount of sight-fishing en route to his season-best finish at Chickamauga in early May, even though he didn't originally want to. His initial game plan was to focus on stop-over areas a bit off the bank that were harboring post-spawners, but he realized on day 1 that he'd have to call an audible.
On the final day he looked at two females (through water that had become murky due to overnight rain) that he determined to be in the 10-pound class and tangled with one briefly, but was unable to put either in the boat.
"That was really exciting," he said. "That kind of thing is what makes fishing so much fun."
Off to Hamilton
Nelson has never been to Arkansas' Lake Hamilton, the site of this week's FLW Cup. He considered making a pre-practice trip, but opted against it, choosing instead to prepare for his shot at a three-peat at the Champlain FLW Series (he finished 10th).
"I was really kind of torn," he said. "I didn't have enough time to go down there (to Hamilton) and spend a week, which is what it would take to really understand the lake. If I spent two days I'd just end up scanning for brush piles and I might end up with too many preconceived notions about what I should be doing. I decided to stay home and focus on work for a few days, get my tackle prepped, get some rest and get ready to hit it hard when I get there.
"I'll get four days of practice, so I'm pretty confident. I'm going there with the mentality to win it. There will potentially be multiple patters that will work and I don't think anybody's going to be able to sit on the same brush pile every day and catch the winning bags. The winner's probably going to have to mix and match a little bit."