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Published: May 12, 2014

Davis: From Irritated to a 42-Point Lead

by Randy Coleman

Three months ago, Jack Link’s Major League Fishing angler Mark Davis was going through a typical media grind, answering reporters’ generic questions about his strategy, his baits and his overall thoughts on the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, which would start in a couple days on Guntersville Lake in northern Alabama.

After several interviews, coupled with some comments he heard from folks outside the media, Davis started to notice a theme – a theme he didn’t particularly care for.

It wasn’t any particular question or any specific reporter that got under his skin. But the subject matter aggravated him in a way that he hasn’t been aggravated in years.

“It was just some comments I heard and the way some questions were being asked. And it came from several people,” Davis said. “There was no doubt that what they were saying was, ‘Isn’t it time that you and some other guys got out of the way and let the young guns have the sport?’” Davis said.

“What they were saying was that the vets should just get out the way.”

Davis thought about those questions. He never actually considered “getting out of the way,” but he thought hard about how he’d respond to the message behind the questions.

At 50, Davis’s almost three decades of competition include a Bassmaster Classic championship and three Angler-of-the-Year titles. The Mount Ida, Arkansas, angler – generally acknowledged as one of the most accomplished competitors the sport has ever known – offers a resume that few, if any, young anglers will ever come close to matching.

And Davis knows he's into, perhaps well into, the second half of his career. And the view is different than it was 20 years ago.

“When you get a bunch of years in, there’s more and more that gets in the way. You’ve got to do this deal or that deal. You’re tired. It’s a grind,” Davis said.

But on the other hand, 50 is far from old. So Davis decided he would respond in the only way that would make the questions go away.

He decided he’d try to beat the young guns.

To do so, Davis settled on a difficult but often tried-and-true, two-phased approach: refocus and work harder.

“I recommitted myself to the sport,” he explained. “It wasn’t anything new. It was just more preparation. More homework. More focus. It was all those kinds of things. I just decided I had to show people I’ve still got it in me.”

And show people is exactly what he’s done.

After four events on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, Davis has put up the following numbers:

• Event 1, Lake Seminole (Georgia) – 3rd place
• Event 2, St. John’s River (Florida) – 3rd place
• Event 3, Table Rock Lake (Missouri) – 2nd place
• Event 4, Toledo Bend Lake (Louisiana/Texas) – 4th place

At the halfway point of the Elite Series season, Davis owns 392 points in the Toyota Angler-of-the-Year race, which is 42 ahead of second-place angler Jared Lintner, and 52 points in front of Major League Fishing Selects angler Todd Faircloth, who sits in third.

“Buddy, he’s smoking them,” said Davis’s friend and fellow Major League Fishing angler Gary Klein.

“There is no doubt that Mark has recommitted himself to fishing. And when an angler that’s as good as Mark recommits himself, that means something.”

Klein said Davis has always possessed an “uncanny ability to locate fish.”

“In my opinion, Mark is the best on our tour at being able to sense schools of fish. I kind of hate to say that’s a gift, but it is. You can just tell he’s back on his game,” Klein said.

Klein and Boyd Duckett, another veteran and Major League Fishing angler, both acknowledged that a different set of distractions hits anglers as they move into the second and third decades of their careers.

“When you’ve been around awhile and you’ve got the credentials and you’ve got the recognition, but you’re still competing, you can get caught up in other things. We all should know better, but it’s easy to get distracted. We lead ourselves to believe that sponsor obligations and appearances and the other side things are maybe a bigger priority than competing. Well, the sponsor obligations are certainly important, but are they more important fishing well?” Klein said.

“So now Mark is doing something we all need to do. He’s refocused on fishing. He’s blocking out the distractions. And when you’re that good and you’re focused, well … look at the result.”

Duckett echoed Klein’s assessment of both how distractions hurt performance and how Davis responded to his non-fishing obligations.

“Mark took a lead role for a while in the PAA (Professional Anglers Association) and got tugged in a lot of directions there. He also had some concerns a few years ago that led him to move from B.A.S.S. to FLW and then back. He’s a good guy, and he takes every role to heart,” Duckett said.

“And when you get involved in a lot of things that take away your time, it wears on you.”

Duckett knows first-hand about distractions, because he owns and operates successful businesses in addition to competing. Regarding Davis, however, Duckett said he never lost the ability to catch fish. His distractions just slowed him down a little.

“You see, there’s a reason he’s won a bunch of titles. It’s because he can catch them anywhere,” Duckett said.

“Mark’s got the whole game. He really has a keen understanding of what the fish are going to do, and he has the natural ability to make changes. On the same day, he might catch two off a boat dock, and then he’ll go get two in a creek bed nearby, then he’ll move somewhere else and catch them there. And he’ll do all that in the same cove. He’s that good. He just finds an area and cleans it out.

“I mean, Mark will never run out of fish. If he caught 20 yesterday, he’ll catch 18 to 20 again today,” Duckett said.

“And so now he’s ‘recommitted’ to fishing better. Yes, well, good luck catching him now.”

Davis says that, despite the incredible results this year, there has been nothing magical about the change. The bottom line is that he’s just worked harder than he has in the past several years.

“I’ll give you an example of what’s different. When we came back from Florida, I did something I wouldn’t have done the past few years. I’d been going strong for eight straight days, and just got home. But we had one day we could practice at Toledo Bend (before the mandated cutoff),” Davis said.

“Like I said, most years I would’ve blown that off because I was tired, and I had other commitments. But I went to Toledo Bend and spent that day – all day – on the water. And it made a huge difference for me in that tournament.”

As well as he has fished, Davis said his run probably has been nothing like a basketball player on a hot shooting streak or a baseball player on a hitting tear.

“I haven’t felt like that, because there’s such a fine line between doing really well and falling out of contention,” he said. “There have been several times where it didn’t look too good early, and I would get reminded how tough it is. But, in those times, you just have to keep moving forward.“

So with a 42-point lead in the AOY race, conventional wisdom is that Davis is in position to fish more cautiously than he did in the first half of the season – that it would be silly to take high risks while owning a huge lead.

But Davis’s new approach doesn’t line up with conventional wisdom.

“I’ve got a big lead. I know that. And I’d sure rather be 42 ahead than 42 behind. But big leads can disappear,” he said. “The worst thing I could do is fish conservatively.”

Davis added that fishing the Major League Fishing format has helped shape his thinking.

“It makes you a better angler because you’re relying on your instincts,” Davis said.

“That last (B.A.S.S.) tournament at Toledo Bend was tough. I was talking to myself, because it was not going well. But I had to keep moving, keep listening to my instincts and just keep fishing. I had to go find them. And pretty soon I started catching them, and I moved up a little bit, and then I moved up some more. And, in the end, I had a good finish.”