Faircloth's next level

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ON THE RED RIVER — It's 7:55 a.m. in the Caspiana area of Pool 5 on the Red River. Todd Faircloth has had two good bites in this first hour of the final practice day for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.

This will likely be the closest the Classic will ever come to his hometown of Jasper, Texas. Not a bad setup for Todd, who ranks travel as being the number one aggravation in his life as a pro bass angler.

"When I first started doing this (fishing for a living), I had hardly ever traveled out of my home state," he says. "I guess I've always been just a real homeboy. Time away from home is hard."

So, only two hours away from home and feeling fairly comfortable, Faircloth fishes on across this big stumpy flat with a few ridges and drains running through it.

It seems that most of the hundreds of snags and stumps here feel a passing slither from his plastic lizard, rigged Texas-style but with no hook. Faircloth fishes efficiently but not over-fast, concentrating on very shallow water just outside and especially near the points of vegetation, mostly water lilies and a few hyacinths.

When a third bass takes the lizard, Faircloth reckons all three bites came from spawners. The water is too dingy for him to see beds, but he figures these are likely spawning spots, nice and shallow but outside the weedline.

At 33, Faircloth enjoys a reputation as one of the finest anglers to ever come out of the state of Texas. His bass education consisted of him and his dad "figuring it out for ourselves" on Sam Rayburn Reservoir as he went through childhood and early teens, "probably wearing my dad out with all the tournaments I wanted us to fish."

By age 15 he felt he had a knack for the sport. "Plus," he said, "I wanted to fish all the time."

Plenty of fishing, with good results, have followed in the years since. He just completed his finest year as a competitor, with an Elite Series win and a serious run at the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. Faircloth held the lead heading into the final event, but the Oneida Lake tournament proved to be his worst of the year.

"I got a little narrow-minded there," he says. " I found two good smallmouth places and I thought I was set up pretty well, but then they were just gone. Looking back, I should have spent more time locating some largemouth shallow as well."

It was a disappointment, but a good lesson to hang on to for Todd, who stresses that most of his success with the Bassmasters results from him making good decisions.

"To quickly be able to pick up on any changes day to day, decipher that information and make the right move — well, that's 80 percent of it at least," he says. "Some people are just instinctively better at doing that sort of thing. The rest of it is just time on the water. You can read all the books and articles you want, but nothing prepares you like being in those situations again and again."

Faircloth continues to work the lizard through the shallow cover. He's just as happy to fish this way as any other, but it's his proficiency with varied techniques has brought him success.

"That's a big advantage of living on Sam Rayburn — I can practice just about any style of fishing there with the exception of maybe super clear water and rocks," he said.

As the day wears on, Todd tries crank baits, spinner baits, dropshotting and even flipping heavy mats, but nothing ever comes close to the results he gets with the lizard, which keeps him right on the two-bites-per-hour pace he says has held through all his practice days.

He seems at ease with that, knowing that things could change big time when the Classic begins. Then he'll count on making the right decision — the one that could take him to the next level in his career.

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