August 15, 2014 by Mike Reeves
Editor’s Note: The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.
Few will disagree that qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup by way of the Walmart Bass Fishing League is among the most difficult challenges in competitive bass fishing. The journey to the Cup through the BFLs is one requiring immense skill and flawless execution over the course of five regular-season circuit events, a 160-boat regional and a three-day championship against the best weekend warriors on the planet.
I truly believe that the talent level within the BFL ranks is unrivaled by any other single-day formatted tournament series out there. Believe me, I know, having spent the last five seasons competing – and for the most part getting whipped – in the Buckeye Division of the BFLs. I’m all too familiar with what these guys bring to the lake day in and day out.
This year’s All-American qualifiers to the Cup are boater Marcus Sykora and co-angler Justin Sward. After day one, Sykora sits in 32nd place with 4 pounds, 6 ounces, while Sward is tied for 15th place with 1-15. Although at first blush these guys might resemble underdogs, the skills they’ve developed at the BFL level have prepared them to fish at the sport’s highest level and against the best in the business.
I spent my morning on day one tailing Sykora from a chase boat, photographing him as he slung a topwater frog around some of the gnarliest shoreline cover I’ve seen. As I observed him repeatedly skipping the frog to impossible targets with pinpoint accuracy, one thought kept running through my mind – this guy belongs here. Throughout our conversations on and off the water this week, Sykora has discussed his sentiment for the BFLs, and the mental fortitude he’s developed by competing in the Illini and Ozark divisions.
“There are so many great anglers that fish the BFLs, but most of them never get the chance to fish on the big stage due to financial, family or time restrictions,” he says. “So to have the opportunity to represent these guys and fish against the best bass anglers in the world is truly an honor.”
Sykora believes the one-day format of the BFLs has trained him to make smart decisions on the fly, as a single time management or strategy mistake in a one-day event can cost you your entire tournament.
“In the BFLs, you almost have to be perfect with your decision making, because you don’t have a second day to correct your course if things don’t go as planned,” he says. “I feel I made good decisions on day one of the Cup, and I know I was around the right fish all day, but for whatever reason they just weren’t cooperating.”
Luckily for Sykora, the single-day format of the BFLs has also taught him to fish for the win in big-tournament scenarios, a tactic he will most certainly be employing on day two.
“There’s no glory for second place, so I plan on carrying the biggest bat I own and swinging for the fences today,” he said after the day-one weigh-in.
In case you’re wondering, his Louisville Slugger is a Koppers LIVETARGET Frog.
Sward, the BFL’s co-angler representative, calls Alabama home and is the owner of popular tackle company NetBait. He won the 2014 All-American title in convincing fashion. Sward is thrilled to be at this tournament, and to be in the hunt for the co-angler title heading into day two.
“So far, this has been an incredible experience for me, and the BFLs made it possible,” Sward said after the first day’s weigh-in. “The fact that FLW lets us [co-anglers] mix it up with the biggest names in bass fishing is very cool. This is a win-big-or-go-home event, and I’m excited to get back out there.”
Both Sykora and Sward are confident they can make big moves today as they carry the flag for the 5,000-plus BFL anglers – including myself – who dream to one day be in their shoes. Given the long and winding road they’ve endured to make it here, don’t be surprised if they do.