JAMIE HORTON’S CLASSIC HOPES
Story and photos by Matt Pangrac - tackle photo courtesy of Jamie Horton
Cicero, NY - On a balmy Sunday evening in Cicero, New York, Alabama rookie, Jamie Horton, sat on the front deck of his Triton in the Comfort Suites parking lot and made final preparations before embarking Monday morning on what will be the most important official practice of his Elite Series career.
Currently sitting in 36th in the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year standings, Horton’s finish this week in the final Elite Series tournament of the 2012 regular season on Oneida Lake will dictate whether or not he will earn an invitation to fish in the 2013 Classic on Grand Lake next February.
It has been an interesting season for Horton, who has cashed just three checks in seven Elite Series tournaments, but has recorded impressive finishes in those events with a 26th place on the St. Johns River, 12th place on Douglas Lake, and career high 4th place on the Mississippi River.
“A missed fish here or there can really make the difference in the season,” explained Horton. “If I can come up here to Oneida and make the Classic this week, then I can go home and I’ll be three days away from some good (Alabama) football. Everything would just be perfect for a while,” he said with a big smile.
After competing in Bassmaster Invitational and Open tournaments for nearly a decade and a half, Horton said that he never expected to find himself in the position to make the Classic through the Elite Series. “It would be a totally different accomplishment,” explained Horton, who fished in the 2012 Classic as the Federation Nation National Champion. “For me, making the Classic through the Elite Series would be just like making the Classic for the first time. It’s a way that I thought I’d never make it because I never thought that I would be fishing professionally.
“It would be a real accomplishment to make it through both the Federation and the Elite Series,” he continued. “I’m really proud to represent the Federation. I still feel like that’s who I really am, and I know that even next year, I’ll still feel like more of a Federation guy than a professional angler.”
Horton said that Oneida marks the only lake where he took the time to pre-practice. “I actually flew up here and practiced for three days. For the last month, I’ve been able to think about what Oneida looks like. That’s something that I haven’t been able to do before this year, going to lakes that were brand new to me. I’ve had my rods rigged up, and I had a long drive to think about my game plan.
“One of the things that you learn on the Elite Series is that there are techniques that you really are weak at,” Horton explained. “I really don’t blame myself for being weak at caching smallmouth, because I’ve really never had the opportunity to do that before.”
If everything unfolds in an expected manner, Horton will cross the stage this week with both largemouth and smallmouth. “I guess the perfect scenario this week for me would be to weigh-in a mixed bag,” he said. “I think that it’s going to be really tough to weigh in either all largemouth or all smallmouth this week. It just depends on how hard it is to get a bite. My plan right now is to fish for both species, rather than lay everything on one species.
“I don’t want to fish this tournament any differently than I normally would, but if this was the first tournament of the year, I’d fish it totally differently. Back home, I’m the guy who will weigh-in five largemouth when the other 60 fish brought the scales are all spotted bass. It seems like this might be that type of lake with the smallmouth, but right now I’d be scared to do it (target largemouth exclusively),” admitted Horton.
Throughout the year, Horton said that he has kept a list of things that he needs to work on during the offseason. “It’s not just stuff on the water,” he explained. “A lot of it is mental and physical stuff to be able to perform better next season."
One of the things on the list is increasing his endurance on the water – something that he never thought would be an issue until he made the final day cut on the Mississippi River and then had to start practice the following day on Lake Michigan.
“I made a mistake or two at Lake Michigan,” he admitted. “I was totally lost at Green Bay, and couldn’t find a way to use something that I knew how to do. Looking back, there was a way that I knew how to catch them but I just missed it. I blame some of that on my physical condition. After fishing seven days on the Mississippi in La Crosse with no rest, I was pretty worn out that following week. With a day or two of rest, I feel like I might have made some better decisions on Lake Michigan. Next year, I’ll know what to expect and I’ll be prepared for it.”
Despite the grueling schedule, Horton said that he has discovered a new enthusiasm for the sport during his first year on the Elite Series.
“Right now, I feel like I did 10 years ago - I’m learning all the time. Prior to this year, I really felt like I’d quit learning and that took some of fun, enjoyment, and drive out of it for me. I’m not doing different things or getting away from my style of fishing, but it’s the little stuff like finding the Wal-Mart in a new town or making sure you’re staying at the right hotel that’s keeping me on my toes.
“You just never realize that there are so many things that you have to be aware of out here on tour when you’re used to just fishing on Saturday,” Horton continued. “I was really afraid that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I have this year.”
This is a great article. I had the privilege to ride with Jamie at the Red River Classic. He's a great guy and fisherman. I have followed him all year and believe he has shown he can compete at the Elite level.