By Todd Ceisner
Ron Nelson has competed in three FLW Pro Circuit tournaments in 2020. He has yet to finish lower than 11th. He sits atop the Angler of the Year points standings with a 29-point cushion over his closest challenger.
Yet, the 44-year-old from Berrien Springs, Mich., still feels like he hasn’t hit his stride.
“I’m looking forward to getting into that groove where you feel like what you’re doing is what you’re supposed to be doing,” Nelson said. “I’m not complaining at all because I feel super blessed to be where I’m at, but it’s not yet a magical year.”
But it certainly has been a charmed first part of the season, his second in FLW’s top circuit. He avenged a triple-digit finish at Sam Rayburn Reservoir last year with a 5th-place showing to open 2020. He followed that up with an 11th at the weather-shortened Harris Chain of Lakes event last month. Last week at Lake Martin, he finished 2nd to Jason Abram, coming up 1 pound, 2 ounces shy of winning.
A three-time winner at the FLW Series level, Nelson said he’d be willing to trade the points lead for a win at one of the first three derbies of the year.
“Obviously, the number one goal for this year was to be in contention for Angler of the Year,” he said. “That slipped away last year in the first tournament. The second goal is to win one and then to qualify for the championship.
“We all have those same goals and I fish every event with the same mentality – to try to win. I don’t fish to make the top 30 or top 50. My smaller goals are to the make the top 30, then the top 10 and then get in position to possibly win. If you put yourself in that position enough, the chips will eventually fall your way.”
Nelson isn’t sure when that next opportunity will come. All FLW events through April 5 have been postponed and it’s possible the Lake Hartwell FLW Pro Circuit, scheduled for April 23-26, could be postponed as the nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak. With the season possibly on hold for now, Nelson isn’t concerned about any momentum he may lose during what could be a prolonged layoff.
“Not at all,” he said. “I know my strengths. I’m a shallow-water sight-fisherman and it’s prime time now for that, but that’s not all I know how to do. I’m going to roll with the punches and what it’ll be is what it’ll be as far as when we get back out there.
“This is a first for all of us. Fishing is a secondary priority now. The first priority is making sure we’re taking steps to keep everybody safe and get through this.”
Nelson said his hot start in 2020 feels like more of a continuation of the good work he did during the 2019 FLW Tour season rather than a standalone occurrence.
“I worked hard last season and felt like I had some success,” Nelson said. “This year, I got off to a fast start whereas last year, I had to play catch up.”
Did he ever.
After encountering an issue with his trolling motor on day 1 of his first FLW Tour event at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Nelson took a zero before rebounding with 16-10 on day 2. It was a good salvage job, but the 120th-place finish still left him with little wiggle room the rest of the season if he was to achieve any of his goals. After posting five top-40 finishes over the final six tournaments, he rocketed up to ninth in points and captured the Rookie of the Year award.
“I let the (trolling motor) issue get to me and I acted like a rookie,” Nelson recalled. “I had a school found with big fish in it. This year, things were evolving more when we were there. I wish I had found something like I’d found last year.”
His day-1 bag of 15-11 was his heaviest stringer of the week at Rayburn, but he backed it up with consistent bags in the 14-pound range to nail down a top-5 showing and kickstart the year with a little revenge.
“It felt good to make the cut and be in a position to have a chance to win,” he said. “I lost several fish on a Carolina rig, but hey, that’s fishing. I love the strategy and challenges involved with tournament fishing, and it’s definitely rewarding when it comes together.”
Nelson says he’s a big believer in visualizing positive outcomes on the water and that has helped him overcome situations where other anglers might get derailed by frustration.
“It’s like a golfer visualizing how a shot needs to be played,” he said. “If I’m fishing a dock, for instance, I’ll visualize how the bait needs to fall in order to trigger a bite. When you visualize positive things, the positive results will come.”
En route to his runner-up showing at Lake Martin, Nelson said he had to overcome some mental hurdles. For instance, the strategy he intended to follow prior to practice wound up being replaced by a different game plan.
“I felt like I was being pulled in other directions,” he said. “I was dialed in but every day in the tournament, I lost a big fish.”
He also got into a bad rotation in certain pockets as he later learned that fifth-place finisher Laramy Strickland was getting into some areas first that Nelson thought he was getting the initial crack at each day. Still, he was able to make the necessary adjustments and came home with a premium finish.
“At Martin, the key was not being committed,” he said. “On day 4, if the first two pockets I went to didn’t produce, I was going down lake to fish (for spotted bass), then I’d go to my largemouth water. You have to be willing to adjust to the present conditions, and having been on the water for seven straight day, you see how much stuff evolves.”