BassFans who've followed the career of FLW powerhouse Clark Wendlandt know something's wrong. He's in a big-time slump – the worst of his career – and his recent 150th at the Beaver FLW (aka Wal-Mart Open) lobbed more misery onto the bomb-pile.
How bad is the slump? He joined the FLW Tour in 1997, and prior to this year, suffered only two finishes worse than 100th. That's 48 tournaments with only two finishes worse than 100th. And across
those eight seasons, he won FLW Angler of the Year twice and averaged an amazing 9th in the season-end points race.
In his own words: "How's my season been? Pitiful."
Not Sure What's Wrong
He's not the first angler to suffer a serious slump – in fact, a number of veteran sticks like Denny Brauer, Randy Blaukat and Dion Hibdon hit the regular-season skids this year.
"Usually, when I saw someone in a slump – if I saw something happening – I'd always think he's got some kind of trouble at home, or lots of different issues. For me, it's not been that way at all. Nothing's really changed.
"All I can really say – what I really think it can be attributed to – is I had a bad first tournament (Okeechobee). Mentally, when that happens, your confidence gets affected, and that snowballed into three more bad finishes.
"I've fished FLW since 1997 and this is by far my worst season."
Shoulder Doesn't Matter
Wendlandt had minor surgery on his right shoulder after the Toho FLW, but said that has not affected him at all. "I had something they call frozen shoulder. Basically, the connective tissue around the rotator cuff just kind of adheres to itself. You have no mobility in your shoulder and it gives you a lot of pain.
"They just put me to sleep and moved it where I couldn't move it without falling down in pain. That freed the tissue up. I had 2 or 3 weeks of rehab, and I'm still doing rehab now once a day."
He said his doctors didn't know what caused it, but they don't believe it was fishing-related. "I play tennis, which could have spurred it," he said. "Also, I'm diabetic, and diabetics are like twice as likely to get it. All I can tell you for sure is it hasn't hampered me at all. I had the surgery and 2 days later I was fishing already.
"The problem (with my slump) is definitely not mechanics."
The Mental Edge
"This whole sport is mental," Wendlandt said. "I probably just attribute it (the slump) to a confidence and metal deal.
"And the way I decided to deal with it – and I'm going to get a little religious here – is I'm trying hard to fish as hard as I can and let God take me where he wants to, but still be faithful to God for what he does for me. I may not be as outspoken about it as Jay Yelas or Mark Davis, but that's the way I've decided to approach it.
"I'm trying my best just to get with what the Lord gives me and be happy with whatever it is. I don't like the fact that I'm not doing well, but I'll trust in the Lord with everything. That's one of the ways I'm dealing with it."
Pelted at Beaver
One other way Wendlandt's dealt with the slump is to fish a lot – a heckuva lot. "Since the Ouachita River, I've basically fished every day," he said. "I've went to a couple of really good lakes and caught fish after fish. That helped me a great deal."
But it didn't help enough. After his 113th at the Ouachita River, Beaver Lake skinned him and left him with a 150th-place finish. He's dominated Beaver in the past – he won there in 1999 and 2001, then finished 4th in both the 2002 and 2004 events.
"Hindsight is 20/20, but what ended up happening to me is this. The fish I looked at as far as sight-fishing, I just ended up finding fish a lot of other people found. If you get on a bad roll in a sight-fishing tournament – if things don't go right – all of a sudden it's 12:00 and you only have one fish. Then you really need things to go right.
"Those sight-fish (at Beaver) were really hard to catch, so I needed a couple of easy ones for the morning. That didn't happen for me. In the past, I'd found out-of-the-way fish. I just didn't find any. Everything I had was something somebody else had. That's not really a very good excuse, but that's what happened."
Two more tournaments remain on the FLW Tour schedule – Wheeler Lake (Ala.) and the Potomac River (Md.). Wendlandt's had success on the Tennessee River chain, so he's looking forward to Wheeler. But it'll be a different type of event this year, since anglers are allowed to lock through to adjacent Guntersville – a heavyweight bass factory. It's estimated that most of the field will make the journey.
"I've only fished Guntersville one time, but the Tennessee River, as far as a stretch of water, has been about the best for me," he said. "Pickwick, Wheeler, Wilson – then Guntersville has tons of fish.
"We'll see the decisions people make in that one, but that's the way all tournaments should be – no restrictions. If you have the gas, you can go there."
Keep It Wet
Post-Beaver, Wendlandt's still trying to fish as much as he can. "I just think I'll have to fish my way out of it," he said. "I wish I had a more concrete way to say I'll start doing better. I feel at this next tournament (Wheeler), I'll turn it around. I'm just going in with an open mind."
Part of the fish-more strategy involves non-Tour events. "I'm fishing a Texas Tournament Trails (TTT) event, which is about as good as you can do in Texas. I didn't get to fish the Central EverStarts this year. Because of the surgery on my right shoulder, I wound up not fishing those tournaments. But (TTT) is something else to fish.
"And I'm thinking about fishing the Northeastern EverStarts this year. I can run a few together with the Potomac River (FLW).
"I think confidence has a lot to do with it. I've talked to a few guys who did tell me, just one fish will turn it around. One fish, and all of sudden you feel the momentum shift. So my personal opinion is I need to fish all I can – no matter the level."
> Even though Wendlandt thinks it's important to fish a lot, he still favors a shorter practice. "I think it's up to each individual. I think a guy that typically has done well with really long practices will probably struggle with a short practice. But for me, I think a short practice is better."
> Next year, the Bassmaster Tour will draw anglers from the FLW Tour. Will he fish BASS? "I'm going to look at how it all plays together. My family's important to me, and the thought of 17 major events throughout the year – it's difficult. I'll look at it. If I feel it's feasible and I like the (BASS) direction with real changes, then I might do it."