By Todd Ceisner
Shortly after the St. Lawrence River Elite Series in mid-August, Dixie Canterbury made a flight reservation for Oct. 1. She chose a one-way itinerary: Birmingham to Detroit.
She kept it a secret so as not to put any undue pressure on her husband, Scott, who happened to take over the lead in the Angler of the Year points race with a third-place finish at the St. Lawrence. He was going to be under enough pressure with two tournaments left before the AOY Championship event at Lake St. Clair near Detroit.
Canterbury left New York still atop the points standings after an 11th-place finish at Cayuga Lake and remained there following a 19th-place showing at the regular season finale at Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma. That set him up for a chance to win the AOY title in Motown, prompting Dixie to finally reveal her travel plans. As it turned out, her planning paid off as she was able to join her husband on stage to celebrate his AOY triumph on Tuesday.
“It was a great surprise,” Scott said Tuesday after capturing the first AOY title of his career.
A 14th-place finish, built largely on dragging and snapping a tube, was what clinched it for Canterbury, a former FLW Tour champion who was one of more than a dozen anglers to slide over to the Elite Series from the FLW Tour during last offseason, but it was just the final panel on what was an exquisite mosaic of a season.
To assemble an AOY-caliber season, an angler must avoid finishes that are widely referred to as “bombs,” which are typically any outcome in the bottom quarter of the field. Canterbury did that with ease, registering no finishes lower than 49th. He ranked eighth in the 75-man field in total weight caught over the 10 tournaments and seventh in total fish caught. He made eight (of nine) top-35 cuts in full-field events and turned six of those into top-20 finishes, including a trio of top-10s (St. Johns River, Winyah Bay and St. Lawence River).
Goals Didn’t Change
Consistency was always a hallmark of Canterbury’s tenure on the FLW Tour. In 11 seasons (2008-18), he posted 21 top-10 finishes and qualified for 10 Forrest Wood Cups, where he posted two runner-up finishes. His only top-10 finish in points, though, came last year and that’s arguably where the foundation for this year’s success was laid.
He didn’t make across-the-board changes to how he practiced or formulated tournament strategies. His success, essentially, was a product of having another year of experience under his belt, plain and simple.
“Last year, I fished pretty freely,” he said. “I’ve just been fishing hard and putting time in on the water, even at home. I just love catching bass, even when I’m not in a tournament setting.”
Over the past two seasons, he’s competed in 18 tour-level events and finished outside the top 50 just three times.
When he accepted the invitation to join the Elite Series last fall, Canterbury said he didn’t recalibrate his goals from previous seasons. He immediately set his sights on winning the AOY title and, just as important to him, qualifying for his first Bassmaster Classic.
“It’s always your goal whether it’s FLW or B.A.S.S.,” he said. “The highest goal is (winning) AOY so it was in the very back of my mind. The biggest thing to me, though, is I’ve been doing this a while and made it to 10 Cups, but I’ve worked the Bassmaster Classic a bunch of times. My number one goal was getting there.
“While I was at FLW, my main reason for fishing the Opens was to get to the Classic. People wake up in the middle of the night when you’re 8 years old dreaming of being in the Classic.”
One of the perks of winning this year’s AOY title is next March at Lake Guntersville, Canterbury will be boat number one on day 1 in the 50th anniversary Classic.
He entered 2019 poised to start a new chapter in his career. He was joining a new circuit that included a mix of competitors, some familiar, some not. He changed boat and motor companies, going back to the Skeeter/Yamaha combination that he started his career with. It was a fresh start and he welcomed it.
“It was a lot of newness, but it wasn’t really,” he said. “That very first tournament at the St. Johns River, there were fans on building rooftops across the road watching us weigh in. It was surreal. That’s when I got the feeling that I knew I was in the right place.”
No AOY winner looks back on their triumphant season and says, “Phew, that was easy.” As impressive as Canterbury’s season was, he recalled several instances where he was able to make something happen at a critical time in a tournament.
“There were hurdles at every tournament, but I’d make a move and things happened,” he said. “When that happens and you’re on the upward swing, you can ride it. I’ve been on the downside of it, too, and you just have to fish your way out of it.”
At Tenkiller, for instance, he was almost out of time on day 2 with four spotted bass in his livewell that he estimated to weigh less than four pounds total. In the final hour, he finished his limit, then culled them all out and wound up with 8-09 to make the day-3 cut. He ultimately finished 19th there to stay atop the points standings before heading to St. Clair.
Two other days stand out to him as turning points – day 2 at the St. Johns River and day 3 at Winyah Bay. Both were new fisheries for Canterbury, but he made key decisions each day that resulted in top-10 finishes.
After day 1 at the St. Johns, Canterbury found himself in 55th place with 10-03. He’d caught all of his fish on a lipless crankbait and had the same two rods laying on the front deck while the national anthem was being played prior to the start of day 2.
“As soon as the anthem was over, I put them up and got out my flipping sticks,” he said.
The decision led to him catching 25-12 that day and then followed it up with 30-04 on day 3 to earn a spot in the top 10.
At Winyah Bay, he’d caught 7-01 on day 2 swimming a jig on high tide in the Cooper River, but when day 3 rolled around, he had to make an adjustment. Similar to the St. Johns, it paid off and led to a runner-up finish.
“I ran up the river further than anybody just to get away from the crowds,” he said. “I caught 15-04 fishing off instinct. The tide was lower that day and I caught them that day on a buzzbait and I hadn’t caught them on that in practice or up until then in the tournament. I was just fishing the moment. The times where I tried to force it were my weakest times of the year.
“I’ve been fishing freer and looser than I ever have in the past. I was just letting things happen.”