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Published: July 29, 2012

Back in the Game

by Randy Coleman

Mike McClelland will be the first to tell you that a year ago he was in a funk.

There are times when all athletes – arguably all individuals – reach a stretch in their lives when nothing seems to go right. And that’s where the Arkansas B.A.S.S. pro angler was in his fishing career. His 2011 B.A.S.S. Elite Series season was a bust.

First, qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic, the initial goal for all B.A.S.S. anglers, went by the wayside. Then as the season ended, his rank had plummeted to No. 85 in the Toyota Tundra Angler-of-the-Year standings.

“Not good. Not good at all,” McClelland said.

“The whole thing about pro angling is momentum and confidence. We get asked a lot about the mental aspect, and I believe that is 80 or more percent of the game. But you have to have the right kind of confidence. It has to be the real thing. And sometimes your confidence gets down. Mine was definitely down.”

Then a funny thing happened on the road to a depressing off-season. It took place on a windy Tuesday, October 4, on Fort Gibson Lake in northeastern Oklahoma. Mike McClelland won a fishing tournament.

It was only a practice tournament, for lack of a better term; it was a three-angler derby. The occasion was a pilot run for Major League Fishing, a mock event to test how the equipment and the format were going to work and to see what tweaks needed to made in the new league’s system before the entire field was to hit Lake Amistad a month later.

The three-angler field included McClelland, Jeff Kriet and Boyd Duckett. The stakes among the competitors were nothing more than a small wager and bragging rights.

“There was nothing on the line. Just the typical ‘I kicked your butt today’ deal. But the bigger picture was that I was part of breaking new ground,” McClelland said. “And that was fun and an honor.”

Something bigger came about for McClelland, though. He caught a little more than 13 pounds during the four-hour event, which was two pounds more than Duckett or Kriet. McClelland led the pilot event wire to wire.

“Like I said, I kicked their butts,” McClelland added.

In the bigger picture, as far as McClelland’s fishing career goes, he got his mojo back. With a three-angler event victory under his belt, he performed fiercely and consistently during Major League Fishing’s Amistad event, advancing to the final round of four anglers. And the momentum carried on to his 2012 Elite Series season. He stands 35th in AOY points in the Elite Series and is on the cusp of making his eight Classic appearance in nine years.

“It was a different type of excitement that day fishing against Boyd and Kriet. It gave me a fresh new look at competition and how I was going to approach this season. When you’re put under the pressure of the time clock and you know what the other guys are doing, man that’s different,” McClelland said.

“The fact that you knew you could put pressure on the anglers you were competing against was cool. It was intense. You get an angler down a few fish and you can put something in their heads. I think I’m a good pressure performer. For the first time in a long time, it felt good. And I thought, if you put me under pressure on camera, day after day, I’ll have to perform.”

McClelland said it was good to exorcise a few demons from the 2011 season.

“The whole year was very discouraging. I understand there are more important things in life than our jobs. But fishing competitively is my job. And it’s tough when you’re not performing your job well. I tried to not let it wreck me as an individual, but it was tough,” McClelland said.

“Last year would have been my eighth consecutive Classic, and that probably weighed on me more than anything. I had one of the longest consecutive streaks going, and I missed out. So when we went to out pilot tournament, I felt like I needed to do well. The fishing wasn’t great, but I got off to a quick start, got them down early and held on.”

McClelland says confidence is the key. Last year he didn’t have it, this year on the Elite Series he has. And it all started on that windy October day in a makeshift tournament that went unreported.

“Boyd and I both had bad seasons last year, and we joked about that day being our coming-out party,” McClelland said. “It kind of was for me.”