By Alton Jones

Most years, by the time we reach the end of the Elite Series season, I’m ready for a bit of a break, and I that has become even more the case as I have gotten a little older.

Not this year.

The final leg of the season was so good for me that I didn’t want it to end. I’m fishing with confidence and having fun, and I want to keep fishing. In fact, I’m going to have to find quite a bit of fishing to do during the offseason. I need something to scratch that itch. Maybe that will mean some extra trips down to Falcon or fishing central Texas lakes like Fayette County Lake. I just know I’ll be fishing and having fun doing so.

This season actually started tough. A 92nd-place finish at the season opener on the Sabine River put me in a major hole. To recover from that and to not only qualify for the Bassmaster Classic but to finish inside the Top 20 in the Angler of the Year race provide great momentum to carry into the Classic.

Momentum is an interesting thing. You see it in sports like football, baseball and basketball and it’s important in fishing, too. It’s a hard thing to quantify, but when you’re fishing well, you have confidence in every decision and you really feel like you’re going to catch a fish whenever you put your bait in the water. It affects the way you fish.

Smallmouth Swing

Most of this season was positive, but I’m especially excited about what I would call the “smallmouth swing” – the final three tournaments of the year. I finished second at the St. Lawrence River, was leading for a while at St. Clair and ended up finishing in the 20s and then wrapped up with a third-place finish at the Angler of the Year Championship at Sturgeon Bay.

I’m not the best smallmouth fisherman on tour. Look down the list and several names will jump off the page before mine. However, I think I probably had the best run in this year’s smallmouth events, and I believe a very large part of that is the fact that I was one of the first anglers to recognize just how good the YUM Warning Shot is as a goby imitation and to fish it with confidence.

In a way I hope some of those guys never figure it out, but I’d have trouble not talking about this bait because it has been so productive for me. I’ve watched it out-produce a different bait on another angler’s line through repeated drifts as we fished the exact same spot and used the same basic technique. I had major confidence in the Warning Shot before we ever got to the St. Lawrence and was excited about the northern events in part because of it. That confidence has only increased.

Grand Lake

One place where I look forward to spending some time during the offseason is Grand Lake of the Cherokees, the site of the upcoming 2016 Bassmaster Classic. I intend to invest in a lot of preparation for the Classic and will most likely spend at least a week at Grand.

I also think I’ll alter my pre-practice approach from what I’ve been doing. I’ve done very little fishing during pre-practice in recent years, instead investing almost all my time to looking (mostly with my electronics) to better understand each lake. That has been mostly on less familiar waters, though. We’ve fished Grand several times, and I believe I have a fairly decent understanding of how it fishes. This time I plan to do more fishing, because I believe there are subtleties you can learn by dragging a jig that you simply don’t find by just looking. There’s something about keeping a lure wet that can help you get to know a lake more intimately.

I’m definitely excited about both the location and the timing of the 2016 Classic. Although Grand Lake isn’t exactly in my back yard (about seven hours drive) it has much in common with the lakes around here, with only a little grass, some wood, a lot of rock and water that can easily get stained and that can turn very muddy from a major rain system. So while it’s not that close to home, it fishes like the lakes that are very familiar to me.

Plus, this year’s Classic is in March, instead of February, and that could be a big deal. With every day that passes that time of year, more fish move out of their winter holding areas and exhibit more spring behavior. It could be very cold. Early March can bring bad weather. Even if it is, though, with the Classic dates being a couple of weeks later than last time it was held on Grand Lake, I expect the overall fishing to be notably better.

Most importantly, I’m excited to be competing. Missing last year’s Classic really fueled my competitive edge and made me appreciate qualification. The Bassmaster Classic is the premier event in bass fishing, and qualifying for it and trying to win it is what we all fish for all season long. I learned first-hand in 2008 how becoming a Bassmaster Classic champion impacts your career and changes the way people perceive you.

I’m eager to carry the momentum from the 2015 Elite Series into Tulsa and to compete for a second Classic championship.