By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
John Hunter failed to advance to the Knockout Round in four of the seven events during his initial campaign the on the MLF Bass Pro Tour. A lot of times, a statistic like that would preclude a strong showing on the final Angler of the Year points list.
However, he didn't miss by many places on those occasions when his tournament was done after two days on the water. And the three times he made the initial cut, he got way inside it, notching two Top-10 finishes and a 13th.
The end result was a 22nd-place showing in the points, which easily qualified him for next year's REDCREST Championship at Lay Lake in Alabama.
"I'm happy with the season, but I'm a little disappointed because I was really in good position to make a couple more Knockout Rounds," said the 33-year-old Kentucky resident. "When you get there, you can fish more freely because to a certain extent, you're playing with house money. You can take some chances and run some new water.
"I felt like I knew the adjustments that I needed to make, but I tried to force the issue instead of punting (i.e. resorting to a backup plan) and making sure I made it to the next round. On two of those days I only caught four fish and I was one 12-ouncer away. If I'd waved the white flag a hair sooner and gone to an emergency plan, I probably could've made the Knockout Round, but you live and learn every day you're out there."
He qualified for the BPT via an 8th-place finish in the 2022 MLF Pro Cicuit points, which culminated a four-year stint with FLW/MLF in which he matured as an angler. Prior to that, he had two rough seasons on the Bassmaster Elite Series after earning a spot through the Opens.
"I was a kid back then and I wasn't really ready for it, but when you make it, you go," he said of his short Elite Series tenure, during which he finished 103rd and 102nd in the final points in 2016-17. "I was one year removed from college and the times I'd fished outside of Kentucky I could count on one hand.
"The stars aligned for me (in the Opens), but I wasn't prepared physically, mentally or experience-wise. Now I definitely think I am. I'm fishing with confidence because at this point in my career, one whole step of the process has been taken out; most of the places I've been to, or if I haven't, it's more than likely that I've been somewhere that's very similar. I'm able to dissect and digest a place a little bit quicker."
His Top-10 finishes came at Lake Murray in April (6th) and Lake St. Clair in June (9th). However, he was perhaps most pleased with the 13th he logged at Cherokee and Douglas in March due to a tactical decision he made on the critical second day of the Qualifying Round.
"On Day 2 at Douglas I felt a lot of pressure to make the Knockout Round because I've spent a lot of time at Cherokee (where the final two rounds were held) and my practice day there was good," he said. "The first day I'd been running some docks, but it wasn't really set up for that the next day; it was cloudy and windy and only like 34 degrees when we started.
"I resisted the temptation (to go to the docks) early because I needed the teperature to get up into the high 40s and low 50s so the fish would get under there. When it finally got right, I made the move and caught some nice fish. I ended up with one of the bigger bags that day and I moved into the Knockout Round.
"It's cool when you can just fish off your gut, which is what I did a lot of this year," he continued. "When you fish what the day gives you, you've got a good chance of making the right moves and catching the right fish."
Despite the solid points finish, he hopes that his tournament ledger looks a bit different in 2024, as his objective will be to make the Knockout Round in every event.
"Of course, I want to make REDCREST every year and a Top-10 in the points would be a really good goal, but that just makes it simpler," he said. "If you focus on the Knockout Round, then you get a fresh start against 39 other guys for $100,000."