By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
There was no reason to think that Josh Bertrand wouldn't have a fourth straight solid season on the MLF Bass Pro Tour in 2023. The Arizona resident had finished in the 20s in the points standings the previous three years and had the momentum of a WON Bass U.S. Open victory at Lake Mohave in his home state the previous fall.
It was not to be, however. The Arizona resident finished inside the Top 40 just once in the seven regular-season events and ended up 62nd on the final Angler of the Year (AOY) list. He'll sit out both REDCREST and Heavy Hitters in 2024.
"It was the most frustrating year I've ever had," he said. "Consisistency is usually my thing and even in the years when I don't make Top-10s, I usually make some cuts.
"It was a really rough year and it wasn't (due to) one overriding thing – something different went wrong every time. In a way, I think it's almost good to have a year like this. I never want to have one again, but it definitely helps me look back and realize that the longer I do this, the easier it is to get set in my ways. I'm going to take some time this offseason and revisit a few things and sharpen them up."
His best regular-season showing was a 10th at Lake St. Clair in the second-to-last derby in June. His next-best was 41st at Saginaw Bay in the finale, where he missed the cut by a mere 2 ounces.
He posted a 5th in Heavy Hitters at three Louisiana venues in June and was 29th in REDCREST at Lake Norman finishes didn't help him in the points.
He thinks a lot of his troubles this year stemmed from worrying about what other competitors were doing and not staying focused on his own program.
"When things are going well, I don't get too concerned with ScoreTracker," he said, referring to the BPT's practice of keeping anglers informed of precisely where they sit in the standings throughout the day. "But when things aren't going well, sometimes I let it get to me, hearing what other guys have.
"It's not like I freak out if I'm in 25th place, but if a guy pulls in a pocket with me and catches a fish, I start trying to imagine what that guy's doing and a lot of times those guesses are wrong. I need to do a better job of filtering out the info that can affect me – I need to utilize the right info and throw the rest of it in the trash and not let it affect me at all."
Having made three straight REDCRESTS and with his U.S. Open victory still a recent memory, he started the year full of confidence that more success was forthcoming. But he said he never found a lot of quality in practice and didn't have strong first days, which kept him constantly in scramble mode on the second day of the Qualifying round while anglers who'd caught hefty bags on the first day were basically pre-practicing for the Knockout Round.
Cayuga Lake, where he'd finished 18th the previous year, was a stark example of how his game plans didn't come together. This year's visit was two months earlier on the calendar and was a bed-dominated affair, and he was fully content with the idea of developing a sight-fishing program for big smallmouth.
He started his practice near the middle of the lake, but discovered water that was 50 degrees (too cold for a lot of spawning activity) and didn't find any beds while running a two-mile stretch of bank. He picked up his trolling motor and went to the upper end, where he caught more than 20 pounds worth of largmouth.
"I said well, I guess I'll just fish for largemouth since that was so good and I didn't see any smallmouth," he said.
The green-fish action wasn't nearly as good once competition got under way and he ended up with a 71st-place finish in the 80-angler field. Meanwhile, the top finishers spent the tournament about five miles father down the lake than he'd gone on the first practice day, jerking big bronzebacks off the beds.
"That water was shallower and warmer and it all went down there – literally almost every guy who cashed a check was in that zone. It was a case of me not being patient enough."
He reiterated that he learned a lesson from that experience, along with others he went through during his season of frustration.
"Honestly, it's almost relieving to go through a year like this and get out on the other side. When you're a competitive person and so much of your life is wrapped up in competing, you tend to think that your whole world is going to crumble down if you have a bad year. Now that I've experienced it and everything's still all good, it puts a lot of things in perspective.
"But there's definitely motivation to not let it happen again."