Gary Klein's Classic diary

Feb. 20, 2010

If you've taken a look at the standings for the first day of the Bassmaster Classic, you already know that things didn't go the way I had hoped yesterday. I'm in 43rd place and well out of the cut to the top 25 right now. It's time to turn things around. I want to put myself in a position to make the cut and to fish on Sunday.

It's a realistic goal, and that's important. It wouldn't be realistic to expect to jump up into the lead after Day 2, but I can see myself moving into the cut, fishing on the final day and then doing all I can to make something happen and finish as high as possible in this tournament.

I think I'll need about 12 pounds to make the cut. That would give me 14-10 for the first two days. Unless the leaders slow down and come back to the rest of the pack, it won't put me in striking distance of them, but that's out of my control. Right now I have to focus on catching a good bag of fish and making that cut. Then I'll start thinking about busting a big bag on Sunday.

On Day 1, I stayed shallow just about all day. I was mostly pitching and flipping docks, but I did throw a football jig to some key rocky banks throughout the day. In fact, it was the football jig that caught my only bass, a 2-10.

I think the big bass are in the shallows, and I'm going after them again on Day 2. Even though I'm down in the standings, this tournament is still a long way from over, and I want to be there at the end.

If there's a lesson to be learned from my tough day in the first round, I think it's that an angler must maintain focus throughout the day — no matter how slow the fishing is — if he hopes to capitalize on the opportunities he gets.

My first — and only — strike of the day came at 2:23, very close to the end of the day. If I had lost concentration or become distracted or down because the bites were so few and far between, I'd have missed that fish and been in an even worse situation than I am right now.

It's critically important to maintain focus while fishing, and especially while tournament fishing when time is such an important constraint. When you lose focus, you take yourself out of the game and make it far less likely that you'll capitalize on the bites and other opportunities you get.

And focus is more than just what your lure is doing under the water. It's also about your surroundings, the water, the weather and any other cues out there. You have to be in tune with all of that to perform at your best.

After all, things can change in a hurry, and one or two casts can make all the difference.

You can bet I'll be ready if those opportunities happen for me today.

Feb. 19, 2010

By the time this is posted on Bassmaster.com, I'll be out on Lay Lake fishing my 28th Bassmaster Classic. You might be surprised to hear this, but that fact is still sinking in with me.

It's easy to go through life on cruise control, motoring through the daily grind without really thinking about what's going around us. I try not to let that happen to me, but sometimes an event — like the Bassmaster Classic — can get me reflecting on just how fortunate I am to have an opportunity like this.

I get to fish for a living, and this weekend I'll be fishing with a chance to win $500,000 and the most sought after title in the sport. It's humbling and awe inspiring in the truest sense of those words.

And it doesn't stop there. I'm fishing with the best equipment to be had against the best competition to be found anywhere. During Media Day here at the Classic, I was surrounded by the best fishermen in the world, and we were being interviewed by the best-read outdoor writers in the business.

Even though I've been through it 27 times before, I don't dare take it for granted. I can't. Each and every time I have the same sensation of good feeling, good fortune and good will. It's a feeling that I hope I never lose.

But it doesn't stop there, either. One of the things I've tried to do with this Classic Diary is to express just what it's like to fish the Bassmaster Classic, but even more importantly than that, to express what it's like for me to fish it — a guy who's been here before and come ever so close so many times.

It's impossible to do that without talking about the tremendous support I've received from fans over the years. It makes a real difference. The fans are vital to the sport and to my success in it. When I step up on the stage or talk with a fan about the sport we both love so much, I'm filled with the joy and camaraderie of bass fishing. There's nothing better and — for me, at least — no better connection. It's humbling, exhilarating and inspiring. Thank you all for your part in that.

That said, you should know that I'm probably out on the water as you read this. The conditions are pretty tough, but I like my chances. I'm ready, and I'm fired up.

And if I can make the right adjustments throughout the next three days, I just might win this thing.

At least I have the opportunity, and for that I'm grateful.

Feb. 18, 2010

There's just one day to go before I fish my 28th Bassmaster Classic. I can tell you that it's going to be a challenging one. The fishing is going to be tougher than most of us thought it would be. In fact, I've had only six bites in three days of practice.

My fun meter is not pegged right now.

The fish I've hooked or caught have all been healthy and in great condition, but there just haven't been enough of them. If I could get five bites of this quality every day, I think I'd have a great chance to weigh in 45 pounds and win the tournament, but I'm not sure that I can get those bites right now.

Today (Thursday) is Media Day at the Classic. For several hours we'll be surrounded by writers, photographers, broadcasters and the like. I'm looking forward to the break and to talking with the people who tell the stories that we all read or watch. It's an important part of my job and one that I enjoy.

Maybe the weather will stabilize the bass and make them bite better. It's starting to warm slowly, and the muddy water in the creeks is starting to clear. At this point, I need a break to improve my chances. Right now, I'm not on enough fish to win.

I really haven't had the practice period that I was hoping to have. The good news, though, is that I've had worse practices than this but still managed to win the tournament. The bad news is that a bad practice seldom leads to a great tournament. Still, that's tournament fishing, and I'm keeping a good attitude as the first day of competition approaches.

There are 51 of us — all in it together and all fishing under the exact same conditions. With a field this strong, you just know someone is going to find a way to catch them and win the tournament. I want to be that angler.

And I still believe it can happen — in this tournament. I just have to find the right pattern — the right approach — and then capitalize on it and expand it through the three days of the Classic. I know what has to be done, and I'm prepared to do it.

It's a challenge, but I'm up to it.

Feb. 11, 2010

The Bassmaster Classic is getting close, and I'm ready. That's saying a lot because there's lots to do when you're preparing for the biggest tournament of the year and a victory would mean so much.

But I've gone through my checklists, picked up my new Triton, installed my new Lowrance HDS units and even done a little fishing on some waters near Lay Lake that I think will help me get in tune with the Classic waters. Mentally, physically and with regard to my equipment, I'm right where I need to be to win this Classic.

And it's shaping up to be a tough one. It's a little early to predict just yet, but water temperatures and rains just might be combining to make fishing a lot tougher than it was at the 2007 Classic here. Instead of 17- and 20-pound bags, limits weighing 12 and 13 pounds could be enough to put an angler in a position to win.

I like that. I thrive in tough conditions. I think they give me a greater opportunity to win.

I also like the Classic being in the late winter, as it's been since 2006. When the Classic was in the summer — as it was for more than 20 years beginning in the early 1980s — there were always lots of ways to catch bass and lots of bass being caught.

Under tougher conditions and at this time of year, there will be fewer productive patterns and fewer productive techniques. The rain, sleet and even snow that's being predicted for the Lay Lake area over the next week is likely to narrow things down for the fish and the fishermen. If I can create the proper game plan, I know I can win here.

Part of that successful game plan involves developing the right patterns. I think the Classic winner is going to need a mixed bag dominated by spotted bass but having three or four key largemouths. If things are really tough, it might be almost all spots with just one or two big largemouths.

One thing I feel certain about is that the winner will have to use a combination of several techniques if the fishing is any good at all. In 2007, Boyd Duckett worked a lipless crankbait and flipped a Berkley Chigger Craw to win. A similar one-two punch will be necessary this year, too, for any angler to have a chance. The exception would be if the fishing is extremely slow. Under those conditions, a single bait and technique could win.

Either way, this Classic is not shaping up to be one of those 60-pound blowouts, and it won't be over until the last angler has weighed in on the final day. That suits me just fine. It plays to my strengths and my experience.

Lately, several people have asked me about the prize money the Classic winner gets — $500,000 — and what it would mean to me. Honestly, I couldn't care less about it. I'm interested in the title and the trophy. The money is just a very nice bonus for the championship I've been seeking for more than 30 years.

To get there, I'm going to take it one day at a time, one fish at a time, one cast at a time and one decision at a time. There's no feeling like launching on the final day of the Bassmaster Classic and knowing you have a chance to win. I've been there before, and I plan to be there again next week.

Speaking of next week, these diary entries are going to be coming a lot faster as the tournament gets closer and is underway. Keep checking Bassmaster.com for the latest, and thanks for reading!

The Classic is almost here. Bring it on!

Jan. 28, 2010

The Bassmaster Classic is right around the corner, and spread all around the country are 51 anglers with all different kinds, and all different levels, of emotion. Some will be fishing their first Classic. Others, like me, have been there many times before.

Emotionally, I think I'm in a really good place for this Bassmaster Classic, and that's probably more important than most people realize. It's tough — maybe even impossible — to fish at the highest level when your head is not completely in the moment and focused on the task at hand.

Part of my being in a good emotional position comes from my sponsors. I've been very fortunate over my career to work with some of the very best companies in the business — companies like Triton, Mercury, Berkley and Zebco/Quantum.

In the rough economy that we're experiencing now, lots of professional anglers have experienced cutbacks in their sponsorship contracts. I'm no exception. But the reason I'm sticking with my sponsors — my business partners — is that I want to support them just as they've supported me over the years.

An even bigger part of my being in a great emotional place heading into this year's Classic has to do with my family life. I have unbelievable support at home.

My wife, Jana, and I just celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. There's just no way that I could do what I do without her and her support.

Our girls, Lakota and Sierra, are vitally important to my success, too. They love the outdoors, were raised on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail and have a real understanding of what I do.

Because of my family and my sponsors, I can fish with a free mind. If you've ever had that, you know how important it is and how great it feels.

But with the freedom and success I've had come responsibilities. Not only must I provide for my family and work for my sponsors, but I feel a tremendous need to accomplish more in my career and fulfill my potential and their expectations. Winning the Bassmaster Classic would be a wonderful step toward that goal.

In 2003, when I found myself in position to win the Classic on the final day, I had a feeling that I want to recapture at this Classic. It was partly that freedom that I've just mentioned, but it was also a feeling of support and exhilaration — it was knowing that my family, friends, sponsors and fans were there for me, rooting me on and offering as much positive energy as they could. It was also a feeling of confidence, of knowing that I had the skills and ability to win the tournament that I want to win more than any other.

Of course, things didn't work out for me that year. Mike Iaconelli won that Classic. It wasn't my first close call, and it wasn't my last. But my memories from that tournament are positive. They're building blocks and inspiration for me. I'll never forget that feeling.

The only feeling that could be any better would be the one you get from winning the Bassmaster Classic.

Jan. 21, 2010

You don't have to be fishing your 28th Bassmaster Classic to reflect on what got you there, but for me this sort of reflection is important, and I think it's helping to prepare me for the championship of our sport.

As I write this, I'm in California with my mentor, Dee Thomas. We're doing a little fishing (in between some heavy rains) and some reminiscing, and it's been a great experience for me. It's been especially helpful as I think about how I've evolved as an angler and competitor.

I grew up in the dawn of the competitive bass fishing era, and I consider my career to be an example of what you can do if you dedicate yourself to the sport. Spending some time with Dee out here where it all began for me has helped me to think about the four men who have most influenced my fishing life and career.

Dee, of course, was the first of those four. I met him when I was just 15 years old and he took me under his wing. In the 37 years since then, he's been like a father to me and I love him dearly.

Dee not only taught me flippin', the technique that he invented some 40 years ago, but he taught me how to be a competitor and he made me a better shallow water angler. It also helps to learn from the very best, and Dee started my education off right. The lessons he's taught me are too many to mention and too important to merely gloss over here. For now, I'll just say that without Dee, I wouldn't have fished even one Classic.

The second big influence in my fishing was Mike Folkestad, the legendary deep water structure expert and tournament champion from California. "Mikey," as I call him, is in many ways 180 degrees different than Dee. While Dee was the best shallow water target angler in the world, Mikey was the best offshore angler. I've fished for days with him without ever making a cast to the shore.

Mikey taught me how to read electronics and how to take an image on a sonar screen and translate it into something real in the underwater world. I use what he taught me every day that I'm on the water.

You may never have heard of Rich Forhan, but he was the third person to shape my fishing life and career. Rich is not a competitive angler, but his fishing instincts and abilities are very real, and he's been a mentor of mine for 30 years or more.

It was Rich who encouraged me to leave my comfort zone in Western waters and move East to fish the Bassmaster Tournament Trail. He gave me confidence and told me that my flippin' and deep water fishing skills could stand up against the best. I owe him a great deal.

My fourth great influence is my friend and four-time Classic champion Rick Clunn. If you know anything at all about Rick, it probably came from a magazine article or book that mentioned his Zen-like approach to the sport. A lot of that is true, but Rick doesn't get enough credit or attention for being one of the fiercest competitors the sport has ever known.

Rick taught me about the power of the mind in bass fishing. Through him I learned that I had to eliminate negativity from my thinking if I wanted to be successful. He is one of the strongest mental competitors you'll ever find in any sport, and my relationship with him has been more than a friendship; it's also been an education and an inspiration.

As I get ready for my 28th Classic, a lot of what I'm bringing to Lay Lake comes from these four men. Though I've put my own spin or read on their teachings, they are never far from my thoughts.

On a more mundane level, this has been an interesting week for me, too. I'm in the process of finalizing my boat wrap and tournament jersey for the 2010 season. My boat is not yet rigged, but it should be ready for me to pick up next week.

I've upgraded my electronics to the new Lowrance HDS series. I think the side-imaging is going to play a big role in my success not only at the Bassmaster Classic, but also in the Elite Series. Right now, I'm still learning the system. Luckily, my roommate in the Elite Series, Shaw Grigsby, is a wizard with that sort of thing.

So, right now, all of these things are in my thoughts — some past, some present and some future. Lay Lake is at the center of them all. I'm always thinking about what I'll have to do to win this Classic. I'm not certain what it's going to take to win, but I feel certain that I'll need several productive patterns — at least one for shallow water and another for deep.

Right now, I'm one of 51 anglers who's qualified to fish. We're all even.

It's up to me to create that winning difference.

Jan. 15, 2010

The 2010 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake will be my 28th. And if you don't already know it, let me be the first to tell you that no one has been to more Classics without ever winning.

In fact, only one angler has been to more Classics — my friend Rick Clunn has qualified for 32 championships and won four of them. One of these days I want to share the experience of winning with Rick and the other champions. I think it's going to happen one day for me — if not this year, maybe the next... or even the year after that.

Since the field has been set for the 40th Classic, I've had a lot of people asking me the same question: Is my 28th Bassmaster Classic any different from the earlier ones? After all, when you've done something so many times, making each one special becomes a challenge.

I tell them that my 28th Classic is both very different and very much the same as the others. That might sound a little sarcastic to those who don't know me, but it isn't.

This Classic will be very different for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'll be making history no matter what happens on the water. I'll be the only angler to have fished a Classic in each decade of its existence. Also, I'll either win and set a record for having fished the championship the most times before winning, or I won't win, and I'll add to a record I already hold. No matter what, it's history.

At the same time, this Classic will be much the same as the others I've fished. I'll go into it with the same drive and determination that I had at my first Classic in 1979 (and every one since). I know that I'll need to fish perfectly — or very nearly perfectly — to win. The competition is tougher than ever now. There is no margin for error. Make one mistake and you're history.

I'll have the same confidence going into this Classic that I've had at the others. I always believe that I have a real chance to win. There have been times when I was surprised that I didn't win, but I won't be surprised if I do.

And I've come close to winning before. Six times I've finished in the top five and once (2003) I finished second. I've come about as close to the Classic champion's experience as you can get without raising the trophy over your head.

But close doesn't satisfy me.

This year, I feel I have a couple of advantages that some of the other qualifiers might not have. For one, I'm a better angler now than I've ever been before. For another, I have more experience than ever before. I still have that drive and desire — not just to compete, but to win.

When I got into the sport of bass fishing, I had no vision about where it was going to take me. All I had was a desire to compete. When I was 15 years old and a junior in high school I watched my first bass tournament and knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be for the rest of my life. Bass fishing and Ray Scott's vision gave me and many other anglers the opportunity to pursue our dreams.

The ride — which is not nearly over for me — has been wonderful, and a Bassmaster Classic championship is just about the only stop on the route that I haven't made... yet.

Through this diary I hope you'll join me as I work to make that dream a reality.