By Todd Ceisner
After the weigh-in concluded on the final day of the 2018 FLW Series Championship early last November, Ryan Salzman did a Google search for an image of the Forrest Wood Cup trophy.
Once he found one he liked, he quickly made it the background image for the home screen on his smartphone. For the past nine months, the image has greeted him every time he’s used his phone.
Next week, he’ll be among the field of 52 anglers with a shot to win the actual trophy when he competes at Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark.
“I’ve seen it every day since then,” he said. “I want that trophy. If I’m going to win it, I’ll have to adapt and adjust and make every bite count.”
Part of the Plan
Salzman, who works as a fishing guide at Lake Guntersville, has the distinction of being the only double-qualifier in this year’s Cup field, a rarity for a Tour rookie. He qualified for the Cup, initially, by being the highest finisher from the Central Division at the FLW Series Championship last fall at Lake Guntersville, his home lake. He then followed that up with a 28th-place finish in Tour points this season.
“It’s literarily a dream come true for me,” said Salzman said. “I’m sure down the road I’ll fully appreciate it for what it is, but I never really thought about it. It just happened. I’ve had a plan since college. I remember 10 years ago, writing down my goals on a little piece of paper.”
At the time, he was stationed at Fort Knox and took time to jot down things he wanted to accomplish related to bass fishing once he was out of the service. Among the bullet points were to win a BFL (he’s won three now), win a BFL Angler of the Year title (he’s finished fourth twice), win the FLW Series Championship, qualify for the Cup, win the Cup, qualify for the Elite Series and win the Bassmaster Classic. He knows it’s an ambitious list, but he’s always felt that the higher he aims the higher he’ll finish.
“I’ve been self-driven and I’m a big believer in setting goals and visualizing them and attacking it,” he said. “Here we are, I’m on my way.”
He wasn’t intending on fishing the Tour this year, but after qualifying for the Cup last fall, he figured he’d make the move.
“That pushed me over the edge,” he said. “I wouldn’t have fished the Tour if I was not qualified for the Cup so I scrounged up every penny I could to make it happen.”
That included selling a portion of his stake in the company that makes True Bass Swimbaits.
He didn’t see the decision to move up to the Tour as a risk, but an opportunity.
“I didn’t see it as rolling the dice,” he said. “I’m of the mind that don’t do it until you’re ready and when I cut a check in every Costa event and qualified for the Cup, it was like, ‘Here’s your sign.’”
With a Cup ticket already in hand, Salzman said his first season on Tour likely wasn’t like that of other rookies.
“I literally felt no pressure,” he said. “It’s a goal accomplished and I’m happy to be there. That allowed me to not feel any pressure and fish the moment. Too many guys get caught up not living in the present.
He brought home paychecks from each of the first three tournaments and was 15th in points prior to heading to Grand Lake in late March. His confidence was on the rise, especially after a 15th-place showing at Lake Seminole.
“I was in a weird zone, like ‘Is it this easy,’” he remembers thinking. “Including BFLs, I had like 10 checks in a row, but I know the reality of fishing. It’s the losingest winning sport there is. Even the biggest winners lose a lot.”
At Seminole, he lost big fish each day on a swim jig around grass, a reminder that not everything was going to go his way.
“It’s a 1,000-mile race,” he said. “The guys who are like, ‘I have to finish the race usually wind up not finishing.’ I’m more in the moment and how to catch the next fish.”
The next two events, at Grand Lake and Cherokee Lake, served as his wakeup call as he caught 13 keepers in four days of competition and carded triple-digit finishes at both.
“Grand was my Achilles heel,” he said. “I caught one fish in practice and got on a pattern in the middle of day 1, throwing a ChatterBait behind boat dock cables. You go from one fish in three days to that and you think it’s going to happen, but it just didn’t.”
He said already being qualified for the Cup came into play at Cherokee, where he opted to stick with a topwater program that eventually fizzled out.
“Everywhere I went in practice, I could almost call my shot with a spook,” he said. “It didn’t work on day 1 and plan B was a jerkbait, which worked on day 2. Had I done that two days in a row, maybe I make a run at Rookie of the Year. Looking back now, I wish I’d caught every one of those suckers.
“Cherokee was a choice I made and Grand was I did the best I could and that’s where it fell. It was humbling.”
After five events, he was down to 60th in points, but he rebounded with two top-30s to close the season at Lake Chickamauga and Lake Champlain.
“I preach this to kids that I get a chance to work with: Don’t judge your confidence on your last event. Judge it on yourself as a whole,” he said. “I don’t let myself get down because of one event. When you get into this, you have to accept those are going to happen. To fully appreciate getting those checks and what it meant I needed those (two bombs).”
> Salzman did not pre-practice for any tournament this season, but he was going to make an exception for the Cup until an illness kept him at home.
“I have won on the Tennessee River using my electronics, which I consider one of my strengths,” he said. “I was excited about the deep brush piles (at Hamilton). Then I got a good ear infection and couldn’t get out of bed for a few days. It was out of my control and I believe in everything happens for a reason, so no pre-practice for me. I’m just going to show up and run with it. That’s the benefit of being a guide. I have to figure them out every day. I’ve never been a spot guy. I always prefer to run a pattern.”