It seems like the Elite Series and Central Opens just started and now I’m down to two more tournaments, one on each circuit. In both cases I’m close to being the bubble boy for Classic qualification. That’s not good. I’d like to have something wrapped up by now and be able to rest a little bit easier. It seems that never happens for me.

I apologize for not writing since just after Clarks Hill but I’ve been a little busy – first fishing the Open on the Red River and then jetting straight over to Kentucky Lake for the next-to-last Elite Series tournament.

I’ll admit that I went into the Red River somewhat cocky. I know where the fish live there and where most tournaments are likely to be won. There was no sense in hammering on those areas during practice so I used my time to build some new stuff. I dropped a bunch of brushpiles in the river but they didn’t pay off. Making it worse, the places where tournaments are usually won fell apart so I was left without much to rely on.

In hindsight it seems that most of the top finishers either went after released fish or else focused on places I’d totally written off. Leading the second group was Chad Brauer, who won by 16 pounds. It was probably the most dominating win this year on any of the major circuits. He did it in an area I had totally written off (I had only been in there one time when the water was much higher) and he had it all to himself.

The 34th place finish made me a whopping $529 richer (which, after entry fees and expenses counts as a big LOSS) and left me in 3rd place in the Centrals with one tournament to go. Outwardly, that doesn’t seem so bad – the top two make the Classic so if I can just pass Craig Schuff or Keith Combs I’m in. The reality is that Schuff has been so good that he has an all but insurmountable 98 point lead on me. Combs is 43 points ahead and he’s had a lot of success on Texoma in the past. I’m assuming both of them will catch fish there. That’s the problem – not only do I have to do well, but I have to hope that one of them is going to stumble, and looking at it realistically I don’t think that combination of factors is all that likely. As a result, I think my chances are better on the Elite side. Sounds funny doesn’t it? After all, shouldn’t the competition be tougher there? But the truth is that it’s entirely up to me to determine my fate over there and I like that much better. I’m in 35th right now and at least 37 will qualify for the Classic through the Elites. I’m over 40 points ahead of the 38th place man, Cliff Crochet, so it’s a matter of putting my head down and getting the job done.

That would be easier if I hadn’t stumbled to a 51st place finish at Kentucky Lake. I had the fish on to do better and blew my chances. One four-pounder made a beeline for the only wooden pole around and broke my line. I lost another five-pounder when it just rolled off at the bite. I suppose part of that was my fault. When you’re getting a bite on every cast you start to take them for granted and maybe don’t exercise the care you would when you’re only getting 5 or 10 a day. On one spot I got a bite on every cast for a solid two hours, but only every eighth or ninth fish was a keeper so maybe I got a little lax.

On the whole, I’m pretty pleased with my season. I’ve only missed the money twice, once by four places and once by seven places. My worst finish is probably better than the worst finish of all but a few guys on tour. But the bottom line is that without those top twelves it’s tough to make a run at the post-season.  Anyway, it definitely will have an impact as to how I fish in this last Elite Series event.

Someday I hope to be in position to go for broke without considering the need for money, but I’m not there yet. If I get a check, not only will it be at least $10,000, but I’ll also get a chunk of the AOY payout and at least $10,000 for fishing the Classic. That $30,000 would go a long way right now. I have my first child on the way and I’m trying to buy a house – I’m ready to “start my life” – and the first down payment on the 2011 season isn’t that far away. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to live without that $30,000, but it would make the offseason a whole lot less stressful.

I implied in this article that it has all boiled down to the last event of the season (on two different circuits) but I remind myself all the time that we’ve already fished seven Elites this year and they’re all worth the same amount of points. On Day Two at the Delta, I had a dead cranking battery that caused me to be late. That probably cost me about 20 points. I jumped one off on a trap at Clear Lake. At Guntersville, I lost one on a frog and one on a Chatterbait on Day 3 that would have helped me. Certainly those two lost fish at Kentucky Lake stick out in my mind. Without any of those errors or miscues, I’d be in better shape right now. That’s the thing about this sport – you can’t blame it on anyone else but yourself. The sweet thing is that when things go right and you get the check, and hopefully make the Classic, it’s a reflection of how much effort you’ve put into it.