By Todd Ceisner
The debut season of the Bass Pro Tour proved to be a shot in the arm for a number of veteran pro anglers. For Jeff Kriet and Shin Fukae, though, it did not play out anywhere close to how they envisioned it.
Kriet saw his season undermined by a nagging neck injury that ultimately required surgery last month while Fukae had to make major adjustments to his normal routine as he prepare to compete on a different circuit for the third straight season. The end result were bottom-half finishes for both in the points standings.
Both are hoping that they’ll be able to get things in order this offseason and be consistent contenders during the 2020 season.
Kriet, who had competed in each Major League Fishing Cup prior to the launch of the BPT, made three Knockout Rounds this season, but only cracked the top 20 once and faded down the stretch as discomfort in his neck plagued him. Three finishes of 57th or worse to close the year knocked him down to 57th in points.
“I loved the season other than not being healthy,” Kriet said at a recent media gathering conducted by several of his sponsors. “I was excited to leave for every tournament. I was excited because typically this format is something I’ve excelled at.”
Fukae, who competed on the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2018 after 14 seasons on the FLW Tour, posted two 11th-place finishes (Lake Conroe and the second Table Rock Lake event), but those were weighed down by four results of 75th or lower. In an 80-man field, those are a real drag and the main reason Fukae wound up 64th in points.
“I was just out of sync,” he said. “I was very inconsistent. I’d have one bad one, one good one, then another bad one.”
Kriet Wants To Fish Looser
Kriet came into the season as one of the MLF mainstays who knew what to expect in terms of the changes to the scoring format. Things just never clicked for him consistently. He ranked 75th in pounds per competition day (19.82) and 76th in fish caught per day (11.26).
“I had the bites all year to have had a good season, but I lost a bunch of fish,” he said. “The thing that bothered me the most is not making a Cup. That disgusts me.”
His best shot to make a Cup was the two-event stretch consisting of the lakes around Raleigh, N.C., and Lake Chickamauga. He finished 25th in North Carolina and 45th at Chickamauga, leaving him six points shy of qualifying for the Heritage Cup. He then posted a season-high 20th at Smith Lake before the pain and discomfort in his neck became too much to overcome.
“I was in good shape for Redcrest, but then I started hurting bad,” he said. “I missed the cut at both Table Rock (tournaments). I know it’s an excuse, but my neck started hurting bad.”
Kriet had disc replacement surgery in his neck in mid-August and is hoping to be back to casting and catching sometime in October.
“I’m pretty disappointed, but my hope is I can get my neck fixed and feeling better on the stamina side,” he said. “It’s a big difference fishing a five-fish event versus the MLF format. In a five-fish event, it can get slow, but it’s okay because maybe you’re just looking for one three-pounder. In MLF, you have to keep catching them. It was a lot harder and you wouldn’t think so with a day off, but I was more worn out after tournaments this year, even after fishing four-day events before.”
One area Kriet hopes to improve on next year to not be so beholden to the time clock. Too many times this year, he said, he got caught up having a checklist for each period.
“I wouldn’t say I spun out, but a lot of times I operated in periods, like ‘I need to hit this in the first period, then that in the second,’” he said. “In the first period, I’d blast them and leave and go run to another spot in the second period instead of staying. I caught 22 pounds and didn’t have to leave, but I’d leave those fish and come back to it and somebody else would be going down it. I need to get away from that segmented mentality. If we were in a five-fish event, I’d have grinded all day there.”
Making adjustments during the day is something else he needs to be better at, too.
Jeff Kriet says his decisions this season were often dictated by the period format in the Bass Pro Tour.
“I get too locked in and don’t adjust to the fish as the day goes on,” he said. “I’m bad about that. If I have a good first period cranking, I want to keep cranking. That’ll get you through some rounds, but you’re probably not going to win like that. I’d like to win one of these suckers before I die. I’ve been doing it for a long time and the law of averages would say my time is bound to come.”
Routines Key for Fukae
For many years, Fukae and his wife, Miyu, have followed the same routine after the tournament season concludes. They travel to Japan to visit family and “eat good food,” he joked. They typically return to the U.S. before Christmas and then focus on preparing for the upcoming season.
With all the uncertainty last fall and winter surrounding what circuit he would be affiliated with in 2019, those plans had to be changed. Complicating matters was the scarcity of new Mercury outboard motors. Fukae feared one wouldn’t be available to pair with a new boat in time for the start of the 2019 season so he opted to keep his 2018 tournament rig.
Once the season got going, though, he could tell he wasn’t in his comfort zone. Despite just missing the Championship Round in two events, it took him a while to adjust to the MLF format.
“It wasn’t on the motor side or boat side or equipment side,” Fukae said, tapping the side of his head. “That’s on me. I really didn’t know how difficult the format would be to keep catching fish. It confused my game plan all year. In five-fish events, if I lost a couple 2- or 3-pounders, that’s no problem. In the BPT, if I don’t catch anything for an hour or an hour and half, that’s a big problem because you start falling down the leaderboard.
“I’ve had bad finishes before, but not like this year,” he added. “This is my 16th year in the U.S. and this was my second-worst year for me. 2005 was the worst. I’m ready to take a break, but I want to get back to my the old routine, starting with getting a new boat and motor.”
Adding to the different feel of the season was the death of one the Fukae’s family dogs during the extended stay at Table Rock Lake
“He was old, but it was a distraction,” Fukae said. “My mind was elsewhere.”
One bright spot in Fukae’s season was his ability to change things up at Table Rock from one event to the next. After finishing 75th in the first tournament there, he resorted to more finesse tactics the second time around and wound up 11th.
“The first one was big shad spawn and spawning deal,” he said. “I was fishing shallow and around boat docks, but I think the area I was in wasn’t great. It had fish, but it was not great. I missed the timing. Every time I’d get to a spot, somebody was leaving it.
“In the second one I saw Aaron (Martens) was fishing a summer pattern (to win the first one). That’s my style. I decided to look super deep and for big spots schooling and found three of them. (Jacob) Wheeler was on one and nobody was on one of the other spots so I fished there. I made good decisions and that’s a good feeling.”
Fukae says he’s already put the 2019 season behind him and has hopes he’ll return to the consistency that he’s been known for during his career.
“I hope so. I need to clean up the mental side,” he said. “I had a lot on my mind. All of my equipment is fine. It was in my head.”