A quarter of the way through his third season as a Bassmaster Elite Series angler, Cliff Crochet is, in some ways, still finding his way around professional bass fishing. The Pierre Part, La., native will tell you as much in his thick Cajun brogue.
He’ll also tell you he’s ready to get the non-Florida portion of the 2012 schedule underway as he has plenty to prove — mostly to himself — after last year when he fell out of contention for a Classic berth following a promising start in the Sunshine State.
He came into this season with a fresh mindset and a willingness to scrap a plan that’s not working even if it means putting down his beloved flipping stick.
His to-do list is pretty long, but the items on it are within reach if he can execute his new approach. It’s all part of the constant learning process of being an Elite Series pro and the former deputy sheriff is trying to soak up all he can because, as he says, “the next big moment is never far away, but if you’re not careful, the next stumble is not far away either.”
Crochet’s results from the Elite Series’ season-opening Florida swing from 2011 and 2012 are almost mirror images of each other. Last year, he netted a 12th-place finish at the Harris Chain and a 21st at the St. Johns River, good for 10th in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year (AOY) chase. He left the Sunshine State last month after pulling down a 7th at the St. Johns and a 31st at Lake Okeechobee, which has him in 11th place in the AOY standings. That’s four tournaments, four checks and two Top-12s.
“I like fishing in Florida,” he said. “It’s shallow. It’s got grass. What I’ve learned works in Florida — but in other places not so well — is you can put your head down on the first day of practice and if you use a little bit of common sense and some fishing sense, you can outwork those fish. If you work hard enough and drop the trolling motor and fish and fish and fish, you can find them. Once you find them, you can learn them and understand them and you can work on them.
“I get pumped up to fish shallow grass and the terrain around Florida lakes is real similar to by my house. It’s just real simple stuff. You can leave your Navionics chip at home and just fish old school. That’s what I like about it.”
What he didn’t like was what transpired between those trips to Florida. His average finish in the other six Elite Series events last year was 75th and that weighed heavily on his mind throughout the winter. After last year’s St. Johns River tournament, he cashed just one check the rest of the way and wound up 75th in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings.
This year, he’s bent on doing whatever it takes to maintain his current momentum.
“Of course, I feel good about the good start,” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing to have this conversation. Last year, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was almost amazed. This year is different. Of course, I’m grateful I’ve had a good tournament and a decent tournament. That’s what you want and expect. My mindset is different this year after the good start. Now that I’m off to a good start, I want to capitalize on it.”
Avoid The Bombs
It’s no secret that Crochet loves tournaments where a shallow bite is at least an option. He thrives in situations that call for a flipping rod, heavy braid and a big weight to punch through heavy cover or a frog rod to work around pads and other vegetation. He admits that last year, he got locked in on shallow patterns even when other patterns could have produced better quality bites.
“It was a stubborn streak,” he said. “It was almost a pride issue because I wanted to catch them shallow. That really hurt. A lot of people did well last year fishing big and when you get a chance to do it, you do it and you can catch them, but when that’s not going, you have to find a way to still have a good tournament. It can be spinnerbaiting or throwing a little square-bill (crankbait) or a drop-shot. You have to do something to avoid the bomb and I totally did not do that. I plan on trying to avoid the bombs this year. I’ll pick the pride up this year, no doubt.”
While reviewing his results from last year, he said he forced the issue at several tournaments, including Toledo Bend, West Point Lake and Lake Wheeler.
“What really happened to me last year was when I had one bad day, I tried to double up the second day to fix the first day,” he added. “You can’t do that. The thing that is always exciting about fishing, especially tournament fishing, is experience is key. Experience is the bulk of what makes the great ones great. Sometimes gaining that experience is painful. I definitely didn’t enjoy it, but I took a lot from it.
“I’ve probably come out a better person. I’m a lot more humble. I’ve learned humility. In the past year, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge — fishing knowledge. Sure, I fish the Elite Series and I’ve traveled some, but I’m not well-traveled just yet.”
His game plan for the balance of the Elite Series this year is take a more measured approach and making adjustments along the way. He’ll put it into motion at the upcoming Bull Shoals Lake and Douglas Lake stops on the schedule, both fisheries he has limited knowledge and experience.
“My approach for the rest of the season is slow and steady,” he said. “More Top-12s would be great. Winning is the name of the game. I need to avoid the bombs and use common sense. The back of my truck and boat are loaded just like everybody else’s. I’ve got everything from wake baits to DD-22s to 1-ounce jigs. We’ve all got the same stuff. The problem I run into is I don’t use it all. I can probably fish a tournament on four rods. You can do that at home, but you can’t do that on the Elite Series. You just can’t. I need to open up a little bit, but use some common sense. I need to quit being hard-headed. Slow and steady is the deal.”
While being able to live out his dream of fishing at the professional level is of prime importance to Crochet, he also knows it’s crucial to have a solid support system in place for when things don’t go his way. He feels he has that in longtime girlfriend, Sara, and his father, Barry Crochet.
“She’s real supportive and stays positive,” he said of Sara, whom he started dating while fishing the Opens in 2007. “She’s really supportive of my career and there’s never been any talk about me not fishing. She’s a really important part of this whole fishing deal, but the person I really take their word as being 100 percent true is my daddy. I’ve had some bad tournaments and called home and he’s told me, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll be all right. Calm down.’ That’s a big deal to me. The funny part about it is I don’t know if my daddy could catch a bass if he had to. He used to fish in the ‘70s, but what he tells me is nothing about fishing. His message is clear and if I have his approval, it goes a long way.”
Knowing those around him have his back allows Crochet to strive for the kind of consistency that’s needed to sustain a career on Tour. He’s still chasing that elusive first tour-level win (he was runner-up at the Clarks Hill Elite Series as a rookie in 2010), but he also wants to be a consistent force because of where it can take him.
“To do well week in and week out is the ultimate goal,” he added. “Consistency gets you to the Classic. The Classic makes your career. I just saw Gerald Swindle at the boat yard. How far am I from being Gerald Swindle? Shoot, I’m not sure. The deal that kills me is the bombs.
“When you’re not on winning fish or Top-12 fish, it’s not time to hit the panic button. It’s time to settle down and figure out how do I put all of these last 12 hours on the water to the side and take something out of it and put together a good plan. That’s what I’m missing. How far am I from that? I don’t think it’s too far away. Some of the stuff people have done well in past tournaments, I’ve seen it and thought that could be the deal, but I pulled myself out of it or I would do it, but not enough. I think I’m getting better by the day. I have a lot of room for improvement, but I’m not a horrible fishermen by any stretch. I’ve got some shine, but I’ve got to polish it up a little bit.”