Mark Davis and Jay Yelas are two of the best bass fishermen ever, but this year neither are fishing where they "made their bones," so to speak. Last year it was all BASS. This year it's all FLW Outdoors.
Actually, until this year Davis hadn't fished an FLW event since 1999, while Yelas fished both sides of the fence for a few years up until 2004.
Combined, Davis and Yelas have two Bassmaster Classic and five Angler of the Year (four BASS, one FLW) titles.
But neither fisherman is setting the world on fire this year. They're doing okay, but not really Yelas' and Davis' version of okay.
Between them they've only made one cut (Yelas' 6th at the Cumberland FLW Series), and here's where they sit in the points:
> 30th in FLW Series points (currently last man in for 2007 Forrest Wood Cup)
> 18th in FLW Tour points (should qualify for the FLW Tour Championship)
> 17th in FLW Series points (in good position to make 2007 Forrest Wood Cup)
> 37th in FLW Tour points (needs a decent finish to qualify for the championship)
What's going on here? Do they miss BASS? Are FLW events more difficult? None of the above? Here's what they said.
Davis Hasn't Adjusted Yet
In the five FLW Tour and two FLW Series events so far, Davis' highest finish is 23rd. Not terrible, but bear in mind that he's had four wins in the last 2 years.
"It's been different, to the say the least," he said. "There's no use denying it's different (fishing FLW events). It's not different 'worse,' it's just an adjustment for me and I probably haven't adjusted to it very well.
"I can't put my finger exactly on what's making it hard to adjust. Is it just a pure mental thing? Obviously it's the first time in my career I'm not fishing BASS. Whether I have some kind of little mental block there (related to that), I don't know. Fishing should be fishing. There's not any difference.
"But here I've fished seven events and not made a cut," he noted. "Yeah, I've had some good checks along the way, but the bottom line is I've not made a cut in seven events. People want to know why, and I don't really have an answer to that."
Is it the 200-boat field size? Or the unlimited practice time?
"The unlimited practice thing is very different," he said. "Two-hundred guys practicing for an unlimited amount of time, it changes the way things happen.
"Your approach has to be a little different. You can't go to those obvious deals. They've all been fished so many times, (the fish) still live over there, but they're real hard to catch now.
"And pattern fishing's out the window. If you leave area A to go to area B, three to four boats will be there, and area C's the same way. So all the practice fish are kind of beat up, and so many boats are in the event, you can't run a pattern." (He noted that the same conditions exist anytime you max out the number of boats on a particular body of water –Ed.)
Davis said: "I'm not saying that in a derogatory sense. I'm just saying it's different. It's just something I have to adjust to, and I have to realize that. A lot of it's just in my head.
"That amount of fishing pressure changes the water, changes the bite, changes the way you need to go about practice and changes the way you need to fish tournaments. The bottom line is I need to adjust to that and I haven't done a good job. It's something I have to work on."
"It all comes back to the same old thing: getting dialed in to what's going on" – which is something he hasn't done yet.
"I've not gone into one event this year where I was on fish, and that's always been my strong suit. I have not gone into one tournament where I could say, 'Man, I'm on them.' I'm just kind of making it up as I go, and when you do that you'll be mediocre at best. Until I start finding fish again, I won't do well.
"I have to get back to finding fish – get back on strong patterns and the big schools of fish I made my career on. I have to figure out how to make it happen again in this different format.
"I'm not fishing up to my potential," he said. "I've always been one of those kinds of guys who really has to get comfortable with something before I can excel at it. It just takes a while. Everything about these events is different than what I've been doing the last 5-6 years. I need to adjust, get in the groove and get back in the game. It just might take me a little time. I'm not there yet."
Format Not a Big Deal for Yelas
Jay Yelas thinks FLW's big field sizes require lots of fishing spots.
Yelas isn't having the problems adjusting that Davis is. He's more familiar with the FLW formats, but he said: "It hasn't been that big of an adjustment because I somehow seem to find water that not many other people are fishing.
"At Beaver a few of us were crammed into a small area, but other than that I haven't had anyone fishing anyplace I wanted to fish. Maybe that's why I haven't caught that many – because I'm fishing where there's no fish (laughs)."
He added that "200 boats is 200 boats. That really doesn't bother me. I'd rather fish against 200 guys than against a smaller field that's just the top guys in the country" – meaning he feels that's a mental asset going into tournaments.
"I don't have to beat VanDam, Hackney, Ike or Brauer, so mentally, it's a major relief. I've been competing against those guys for the last 16 years, and now they're not in the field. So for me, it's a positive, knowing I don't have to beat those top fishermen (in a particular event)."
Yelas also is enjoying sort of a mental freedom. "I've thoroughly enjoyed the changes this year," he said. "FLW for me is like a breath of fresh air. I haven't even had one second thought about missing BASS or wishing I was fishing BASS.
"This year's kind of been a confirmation that I made the right decision. I'm truly enjoying being at the events and having fun again fishing.
"Here's the perfect example. At Lake Cumberland, I've got a spot and I'm sharing it with another guy in the tournament. I was in the Top 5, so the third day a camera boat (is filming him and got to the spot first). The other guy pulled up and started fishing. Ten minutes in, he hooks a 4- to 5-pound smallmouth and loses it.
"Then he lets loose with a bunch of expletives that would've put Ike to shame. He throws his rod down, then picks it up and breaks it over his knee and throws it in the lake. He didn't realize the other boat was a camera boat.
"Well, he calms down, and about 20 minutes later I start teasing him. I said, 'Do you realize the camera boat got that whole thing?' He felt bad. He apologized and said he didn't realize it was a camera boat.
"Anyway, at the end of the day I talked to Jimmy Lindner (Al Lindner's nephew –Ed.) who was on-site as a (TV) producer, and said, 'Did you get all that stuff on film so and so did?' He said, 'Every bit of it.' I asked if he was going to use it. 'Absolutely not,' he said. 'We won't put something like that on the air. We'll save it for a blooper reel.'
"That was a breath of fresh air. If ESPN had that (footage), they would open the show with it, show it 10 times and close BassCenter with it," he said.
The "cleaner" approach of FLW sits well with him. "That's the way I am, and that's the kind of atmosphere I like to compete in."
Still, he isn't happy about his season so far. "I started (the season) 29th in the BassFan World Rankings and now I'm 30th, so it's been a mediocre season for me. I've been close to doing well but haven't had the breaks I needed. Hopefully I'll finish strong and make the championship. That's been my goal all year."
Notable: Is FLW Easier?
A favorite refrain of many BASS-only or BASS-mostly pros is that FLW events are "easier," or are "a joke" (or "the minor leagues") because of the unrestricted practice. That sort of talk is basic human nature – though FLW pros don't reciprocate – but does it have any merit?
It's not every day that big-time fishermen who also were BASS diehards switch trails, so Davis and Yelas are good people to ask.
"I used to be one of those guys, but it's not a dad-gum bit easier," Davis said. "You can just throw that out the window.
"I actually think the FLW Series might be the toughest going today. Here's what you have going on there: a bunch of BASS veterans, then the cream of the crop from the FLW Tour – all those young guys who have fire in their eyes – then a bunch of dead-ringer locals. That's in every event. That's what you have to contend with.
"Just think about that. You mix that up in a pot and it's not an easy deal.
"I used to be one of the ones saying – well, maybe not saying, but thinking a lot – that the FLW Tour is easy. Maybe there was a time when that was true. But I'll tell you what, it's not that way right now. It's tough.
"There's a bunch of guys out there you never heard of, but buddy, they can catch them. And they do catch them."
Yelas said: "Right now the talent is split right down the middle, pretty much. Half the top pros in the country fish BASS, and half fish FLW. It didn't used to be that way. It used to be that all the top pros fished the same tournament trail."
But he noted that "out of 200 guys (in FLW events), there's definitely a separation in talent there."
Notable: Unlimited Practice
Is unlimited practice (no off-limits) really an issue? The same pros who complain about unlimited practice being an advantage also say that more than 3 or 4 days of practice hurts more than it helps. Go figure. Here's what Davis and Yelas said about it.
"I still practice 3-4 days. Maybe that's something I'm going to have to change, but it's not real cost-effective to spend 10 days practicing. I'm not going to say I refuse to do it, but I don't want to do it. I've not done it so far, and I don't plan to start.
"A lot of practice can help you or it can hurt you. Some guys it helps, some guys it hurts, but I think it probably hurts more people than it helps. I think it would hurt me."
"It doesn't matter how much practice you can have. I used to think it made a big difference, but it doesn't. Pretty much the same guys catch the fish. The cream rises to the top. I was talking to Clark Wendlandt about that, and he said, 'Now you see what I've seen. It doesn't matter. It's just who gets on the best fish.'
"For me, I find that any more than 4 days is too much. You can cover massive amounts of water in 4 days, and you can only go to one spot once the bell rings on the first day.
"I used to think it was a bigger deal than it really was. It doesn't bother me at all. If someone practices for a month, it doesn't bother me."
> Yelas on big field sizes: "You have to move around and have a lot of water to fish because of the fishing pressure. It seems like FLWs are won by moving around to a lot of areas. But it's not much different than a 100-boat field fishing 4 days."
> Davis on missing BASS: "I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it. Anytime you're doing something for 20 years and stop, you'll miss it. I don't care if it's taking out the trash or eating ice cream."
> Davis on the FLW Series: "I really like the FLW Series events. I really do. They pay well, and a lot of good guys are fishing them – it's a very competitive field. I like the 4-day practice, I like that the whole field fishes 3 days. There's just a lot of things about it to like. They're run well. Honestly, I like them a lot better than the FLW Tour, which I like fine.