THE ROOKIE REALITY
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Moore, OK - In 2012, there were 10 Elite Series rookies – Brandon Card, Cliff Prince, Jamie Horton, Fletcher Shryock, Chris Zaldain, Kyle Fox, Kevin Ledoux, Casey Scanlon, Jared Miller, and Michael Simonton.
Combined, the rookie class fished a total of 63 Elite Series tournaments.
The 10 rookies combined to cash 30 checks. Brandon Card and Cliff Prince led the way and each cashed five checks in eight events. Fletcher Shryock cashed in half of the tournaments, and four other rookies each cashed three times during the season. Casey Scanlon cashed twice, and Jared Miller and Michael Simonton each cashed one check in 2012.
On the flip side, Brandon Card was the only rookie who avoided a finish of 80th place or below in 2012, and Jamie Horton was the only other rookie who didn’t finish below 80th in at least 25% of eight regular season tournaments. The rookie class combined to finish 80th place or below 22 times throughout the 2012 season.
Just to put that in perspective – the last time that Angler Of the Year, Brent Chapman, finished below 80th in an Elite Series event was in March of 2008. 2nd place TTAOY finisher, Ott DeFoe, has never finished 80th or below in his two seasons on the Elite Series, and 3rd place TTAOY finisher, Terry Scroggins, has finished below 80th just six times in his seven years on the Elite Series.
Out of the 10 rookies, six of them finished 90th place or below in at least one tournament in 2012, and three rookies finished 90th or below in at least two tournaments during the season. Combined, the rookies finished 90th or below 11 times in 2012.
On the other end of the spectrum, just three rookies recorded a top 10 finish in 2012, and only one, Cliff Prince, had more than one top 10 finish. Out of the combined 63 tournaments fished between the 10 rookies, there were just four top 10 finishes between them.
The reality is – it’s tough to cash a check when you’re a rookie.
Ohio’s Michael Simonton doesn’t need to review the stats to know that fact. In his rookie season on the Elite Series, Simonton’s only cash was a 47th place finish at the Mississippi River and he finished in 96th place in the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year standings.
“The bottom line is that I didn’t do what I needed to do, and the reasons that I can come up with as to why don’t really matter at this point,” he frankly stated.
“A lot of my friends have asked me what it was like out there on the Elite Series this past season, and I’ve really only come up with one analogy that seems to sum it up. I feel like I know how to do basic math – you know, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Fishing the Elite Series was like knowing basic math and getting thrown into a calculus class two days before the final exam. That’s exactly what the 2012 season felt like to me.”
Simonton firmly believes that his struggles in 2012 had nothing to do with his actual fishing ability; rather, it all boiled down to what was going on under his hat.
“Tournament fishing is all about getting in a groove, and I never got in that groove. I was always second guessing myself,” he admitted. “The guys who are above average can get in that zone quicker and stay in that zone longer than the rest of us. It’s such a mental thing.”
Simonton has experienced “the zone” before. From 2009 through 2011, he cashed a check in all seven Bassmaster Northern Opens that he entered, never finishing below 47th place and finishing in the top 20 three times.
“I kind of had a ‘who cares’ attitude when I fished the Opens,” stated Simonton. “It wasn’t like I was reckless or disrespectful on the water, but I just went out there and was open minded. When I made the Elite Series, I lost track of that. For some reason, I was like, ‘Now that I’m in the big leagues, I have to be fishing a certain way or be doing a specific thing.’ I got away from keeping things simple.”
A schoolteacher by trade, Simonton said that the uphill climb started even before he left for the first two Elite Series tournaments of the year in Florida.
“It’s a lot to compress in your mind. You think that you’re ready, but you’re really not. I had tons of paper work to get done before I stopped teaching, and then I just rushed out of the house and headed to Florida to start the year. I don’t think that I was mentally ready at all. I spent an entire day just driving around Orlando trying to figure out where I could buy a fishing license,” he admitted.
“Typically, I do a lot of visualizing about the lake that I’m going to be fishing and what I’m planning on doing. I think about everything from patterns to bait colors. That quiet time really allows me to calm down and get prepared,” continued Simonton.
“I didn’t do any of that during the Elite Series season. If you’re not calm before a tournament starts, you’re really jittery and you’re not thinking straight and staying relaxed. I remember times during practice in pretty much every tournament this year where I’d get done fishing a stretch and just look down at all the rods on my front deck and then sit down and just stare at my graph. I had no idea where to go next or what to do. I was that lost.”
Despite taking what he described as a “serious butt kicking,” Simonton is eager to take another crack at the Elite Series in 2013 if he is given the opportunity. “I definitely have to change some things for next year, but I’m dedicated to this sport because I quit a job that I really, really liked,” he explained.
“This year wasn’t great, but I still enjoyed every single second of it. I never crossed my mind that I didn’t want to come back for 2013, because how could I quit something that I totally love to do? I’m not discouraged one bit,” Simonton concluded.