Like many of his fellow bass pros, Alabama's Gerald Swindle has spent much of the off-season in pursuit of whitetail deer. Hunting "helps me to prepare in a mental way," he said. "I can sit at peace and think. Even about things like how to pack your vehicle. It's really good for me.
"This is the first off-season I've had in a long time. It gives me a chance to catch up on my composure, catch up on time with my family and try to be normal again. Lately, I've been like a kid on Christmas break and I'm dreading going back to school."
Big Buck Fever
He's had a very successful season of hunting so far. "I got ten with my bow," he said. "One 130-class in Illinois and a 120-class in Alabama. I've seen a lot of big bucks, but lately I've spent a lot of time hunting a particular deer and I haven't gotten him yet."
He issued a challenge to one of his fellow Lucky Craft pros. "Tell Kelly Jordon that if you're in a pen, you're not hunting, you're playing. In Texas, if you can't find 'em, you pen 'em. In Alabama, we hunt. He couldn't hunt down a hamburger stand in town."
During much of his time in a tree stand, he prepared mentally for the upcoming Bassmaster Classic. "I spent a lot of time visualizing the lake, the areas that I'll probably fish and the way that the different winds might affect them," he said. "You run all of that through your mind.
"Going in, it's hard to say what's going to work," he added. "I haven't fished (Toho) this late in the year. I'm sure there will be some bites in the mats and some could be caught on a lipless crankbait."
But he believes BassFans will be disappointed if they expect to see record-breaking catches. "I don't think you'll see any Rojas catches," he said. "That was a special day in the world. But it's possible we could find them in the spawn. There could be some 20-pound bags, and there will be a dramatic weight difference from last year's tournament in Pittsburgh."
He believes that all Classic pros are aware that many early season Florida tournaments are won on heavily weighted soft plastics under the mats, but that won't be the first pattern he attempts to establish. "I'll be looking for other ways--something offshore or on the outside edge of the grass. You'd get it all to yourself. In the mats, it'll be community water. Swindle is looking offshore."
He has mixed feelings about BASS's decision to move the practice period closer to the actual tournament. "It's more a pain of a butt than anything, but based on our practice the fish will be more predictable--they're not subject to change as much," he said. "Also, it'll be a long and busy week and some guys will fizzle out."
But he's definitely excited about the decision to move the tournament to February. "I like the Classic as a kickoff," he said. "It starts getting you in a groove. As a professional, it takes a long time to get mentally prepared and this will get it started."
He's also pumped up about the rest of the Bassmaster Elite Series schedule. Like many others, he expects both Amistad and Rayburn to be toadfests, but he's "also pretty excited about that little lake in Oklahoma, Grand.
"This is the best fishing schedule we've ever had. It's so good that if I had to, I'd duct tape my boat up and call it a wrap. I mean Santee, you might have to wear boxing gloves for that one."
And he expects that "it'll be a great year for some of the smaller Lucky Craft lures like the BDS1 and BDS2. "I sit and fantasize about pulling the BDS by a cypress tree on Santee in March and watching an 8-pounder nail it."
Swindle has always used the off-season as a time to improve his physical conditioning, but this year he changed his approach. "I did it differently," he said. "I lost some weight. I had gained a little bit around the waistline so I lost 10 pounds.
"I've been walking a lot, and pretty soon I'll start some light training." He intends to focus more heavily on additional sets of reps rather than lifting heavier weights.