Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos courtesy of FLW Outdoors
VARYSBURG, NY – After competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series for two seasons in 2006 and 2007, New York’s Darrin Schwenkbeck stepped down from the Elites in 2008 to regroup and make another run at a career as a professional angler.
The fact that the New York angler hasn’t fished at the top level of the sport since the 2007 season has little to with performance. It all comes down to finding the sponsors and funding needed to take another crack at the big leagues.
In 2009, Schwenkbeck earned an invitation to the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series through the Southern Opens where he recorded finishes of 33rd, 39th, and 45th, but was unable to find the sponsorship dollars needed to make the commitment.
Schwenkbeck also made a strong run at the 2010 FLW EverStart Northern Division points title, ending the season in 2nd place after recording three Top 25 finishes. He continued a strong 2010 season with FLW by finishing 10th in the points in the FLW Series Eastern Division, earning an invitation to the 2011 FLW Tour.
Once again, Schwenkbeck was unable to clear the only remaining hurdle that kept him from rejoining the Elites in 2010. “It’s really frustrating,” he admitted. “I hope that I’m able to find a way to get back to the top level next year. There’s just no way that I was going to jump back into the Elites or the FLW Tour with no sponsors and no money. You just can’t do it that way.
“I was really hoping to fish the FLW Tour and things were looking good,” he continued. “It looked like I was going to have a good sponsorship deal lined up and then I ended up losing my title sponsor and my other deal didn’t pan out.”
There was however a bright spot in his 2010 performance on the FLW Series. With his 10th place finish, Schwenkbeck earned an invitation to the upcoming Forrest Wood Cup on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita.
It was a fact that he didn’t take lightly, and for the better part of 2011, Schwenkbeck has been planning and preparing for the upcoming week in Arkansas. “I just decided to not fish any other tournaments all this year and focus on getting ready for this one,” he explained. “I’m not fishing any other tournaments this year unless I win this tournament. If I win it, then I’ll start looking for other stuff to fish.”
Even though the last time that Schwenkbeck tasted tournament competition was in September of 2010, he said that he is prepared for the Forrest Wood Cup and spent some time during pre-practice scouting the fishery.
“A lot of it may have been wasted because when I was here in June, the water was about 13 feet higher than it is now and a whole lot has changed since then,” he admitted. “I’m still pretty optimistic but it’s going to be a grind out there. Once the sun gets up it is really tough.”
Schwenkbeck said that his key to success on Ouachita will come down to garnering several quality bites in the early hours of the competition. “If I can get three to five bites each morning and then grind it out throughout the day, I’m hoping to put a few big fish in the box.”
That being said, after the official practice period, Schwenkbeck stated that big limits will most likely be few and far between. “I don’t think that it’s going to be a whole lot better than it was the last time the guys were here for the Cup. I know that there’s a lot of hype about bigger weights, but after the past three days of being out there I think that it’s gotten a lot tougher.”
Part of that is due to the fact that Arkansas is experiencing a major heat wave and temperatures are expected to near triple digits heading into the weekend. The other factor is crowd control. Although the field is small (58 anglers), Schwenkbeck said that he believes the field, “is going to be pretty scattered but at the same time, the lake is going to fish small.”
Aside from the recognition and prestige that goes with hoisting the Forrest Wood Cup, Schwenkbeck said that he is looking at this week as a way to keep his dream alive of once again reaching the Tour ranks.
“I hop that I can make enough here to get back at the top level of the sport. It’s still in my blood more than ever. The thing is, you get to a point where you have to start figuring out what you’re going to do if it doesn’t pan out,” he said.
One thing is certain, Schwenkbeck is champing at the bit to get back on the water and compete for the first time in nearly a year. “I almost wish we didn’t have an official practice period,” he said with a chuckle. “I was ready last week to get this thing underway. Hopefully I can catch five every day and we’ll see where it gets me.”
Schwenkbeck said that he is also looking forward to brining back his signature hockey jersey that he sported during his tenure on the Elite Series. Blue Water Optics, a Canadian based sunglass company, is supplying Schwenkbeck with a jersey for the Cup.