By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Clark Wendlandt is a low-key guy to begin with, and he's now 50 years old with 20 seasons worth of FLW Tour experience on his résumé. You might think it'd take quite a bit to get him excited about an upcoming campaign.
The three-time Angler of the Year (AOY) has several reasons to look ahead to 2017 with great anticipation, however. He'll have an event in his back yard and another on a venue (the Potomac River) where he broke a 14-year winless drought in 2015. He'll also visit two fisheries – Florida's Harris Chain and the Mississippi River in Wisconsin – that'll be totally new to him.
"I usually wait until a month or two before the season starts to really start putting some thought into where we're going and what I might do (fishing-wise) at some of those places," he said. "The Tour season starts in early February, so we're almost three months out and right now I'm still kind of on vacation, spending time with the family and hunting a little bit.
"But I actually have started thinking about next year and I'm real pleased with the schedule. Going to a couple places that I've never fished ramps up the excitement about the whole event and causes me to put in more effort going forward to figure out what the fishery is like."
In a way, 2017 will be like a trip back in time.
"When you're 20 or 30, you've got a level of enthusiasm bubbling out of you that you really can't explain, but that usually doesn't last forever. This coming season, both of my kids will be in college and one's married, and (wife) Patti will be traveling with me again – not to every tournament, but most of them.
"I've had my best tournaments when she was around, so I'm happy about that."
'Home Game' Coming Up
Wendlandt ended up at No. 18 on this year's points list and qualified for his 17th Forrest Wood Cup. That was the same position he occupied at the end of 2015, when he rallied back from a heart ailment that caused him to miss the final two tournaments of the previous season.
He's finished among the Top 20 in the AOY race 14 times over the course of his career, giving him a .700 batting average in that category. He's been a member of the Top 10 on eight occasions.
He stands a very good chance of extending those marks next year. Following the opener at Lake Guntersville, he'll get to sleep in his own bed for the Lake Travis stop 2 weeks later. Travis sits only about 10 miles from his home in Leander, Texas.
The event comes 10 years after Travis' first crack at hosting a Tour stop. Wendlandt finished 4th in that derby, which was won by Aaron Hastings. That was during the time when weights were zeroed after the cut to the Top 10 following day 2, and when it was over Hastings had averaged right around 10 pounds per day.
"It's a different fishery now," Wendlandt said. "It's a highland lake with a lot of rocks and docks, but we had that huge drought for several years and a lot of brush grew up, so now there's that element that's out there at 40 to 50 feet deep.
"I definitely think the weights will be higher than they were in '07. A lot of keepers were caught in that tournament, but catching anything over 2 pounds was tough and a 12-pound bag was really good. (The water level) came all the way up about a year ago and this year the spawn happened on high water. For Travis, it should be some pretty outstanding fishing."
In the Hunt for No. 4
After capturing his most recent AOY in 2009, Wendlandt went 3 years as the only three-time winner of the title. Then he was caught by David Dudley in 2012, and now Andy Morgan has joined the party. Morgan has copped three of the past four titles.
The idea of once again setting himself apart in that category appeals to him.
"Between the three of us, I think we all think about it a little bit," he said. "I think any of us could do it and I don't think I'm really a favorite because of the schedule. It's a long season and you have to do well in a lot of events.
"I'd be shocked if one of us didn't have one of those special seasons to make a run at it."
His heart issues are firmly under control – he's switched to a Mediterranean-style diet that features lots of fruits and vegetables and eats reduced portions of just about everything. He also does his best to walk for 45 minutes to an hour at least five times per week.
He's not entertaining any thoughts of retirement.
"As long as I still enjoy it, I'll probably continue, and right now I enjoy it," he said. "If you get to the point where you dread it every day, you're probably not going to do very well."