UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Santee Cooper

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

How to be the Forrest Wood Cup Champion

How to be the Forrest Wood Cup Champion
Justin Atkins

Talk about acceleration. Justin Atkins entered his rookie season as an FLW Tour pro in 2017 with plenty of confidence, but it’s a safe bet that winning the Forrest Wood Cup in the same year was a pleasant surprise. Most certainly, it was one that rewrote the script for his life.

“For some of the guys who won it in previous years, they were pretty established, so my situation was a little different because no one knew who I was,” the pro from Florence, Ala., says. “I was just a kid who showed up and fished the Tour, and that’s all I focused on. I didn’t have any sponsor obligations.

“Winning the Cup was a tremendous blessing, but it made me have to mature in my fishing career really quickly. A lot of people have learned how to take care of sponsor obligations and how to keep a schedule gradually, but I went from zero to 100 in a matter of moments. I had to learn how to balance all of this and grow up in my fishing career overnight.”

In fairness, Atkins was hardly green when he stepped up to the Tour. He brought with him a respectable resume of T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League and Costa FLW Series competition that included a handful of top 10s dating back to 2008.

Nevertheless, he likens his post-Cup experience to a college graduate who steps directly into a CEO role – a lot to learn, and not a lot of time in which to learn it.

 

Helpful input

No doubt, after Atkins won the Cup, many people expressed well wishes and offered him advice, but relevant insight comes only through similar experience. That’s why Atkins sought short-term and long-term career advice from fellow Alabama pro Jordan Lee, who had won the first of his two Bassmaster Classic titles about five months earlier, and fellow Tour pro Brad Knight, who won the 2015 Cup on Lake Ouachita.

“Jordan is one of my best friends, so he was somebody I really reached out to on how I should approach things, what to hope for and what to expect on things to come,” Atkins says. “He was pretty spot-on with things he wished he’d done differently, which gave me good insight on how to capitalize on the moment as a whole.

“The first thing Brad told me was, ‘You better go get a planner because your life’s about to get crazy.’ Literally, as soon as I left Columbia, I went and got one because the phone calls were coming in from people wanting to do radio interviews and that sort of thing. For the first two or three months, I was practicing for tournaments and having to sit down and check my calendar to see when my next interview was coming up.”

Knight impressed upon Atkins the importance of remaining on top of media commitments and sponsor conversations. Everyone’s allowed a slip-up now and then – unless you’re the reigning champ. Then, there’s no room for error.

“Taking care of all of these obligations becomes your No. 1 priority. Fishing isn’t No. 1 anymore,” Atkins says. “Promoting yourself and being a business-minded professional becomes most important. You have to take care of all of these people wanting to give you support and exposure.”

Atkins gives props to his wife, Tessa, who came to the 2017 Cup well accustomed to the tournament lifestyle. Obviously, much has changed, but her steady support and encouragement have helped her husband manage the growth.

“Once I started fishing the Tour, she was prepared for what she was getting into,” Justin says. “Then, when I won the Cup, it was an easy transition. She’s been around this sport so long, and she knows how much I’ve wanted it.”

 

Clarity and comfort

While the intense flood of demands has proven challenging since winning the Cup, Atkins notes that the economic factor of a huge payday and the ensuing surge in sponsorship opportunities has balanced the burden with a solid upside that benefits the mind, as well as the wallet.

“It did make me a little more comfortable; not that I worked any less hard at it. It just helps you understand that you can do it,” Atkins says. “When you first get started in this deal, there are a lot of good fishermen that don’t make it, and it’s not because they lack the ability to catch ’em. So, in the back of my mind, I always wondered, ‘Are you going to be able to capitalize on this opportunity? Are you going to make it work?’

“It’s not that I ever doubted it, but there are a lot of guys who’ve taken my money at the house and then tried to fish the Tour and didn’t make it. At this point, I’m not comfortable, but winning the Cup solidified that I can do it. It gives me a place in the sport that I feel like I can ride for a couple of years and focus on developing my game as a whole.”

Atkins knows the work ethic must continue, as complacency paves the path to the valley of one-hit-wonders. He’s in this for the long haul, so he’s leveraging his position to advance his career without the nagging pressure of worrying about the check cut.

“I’m still a rookie, and I still make rookie mistakes every day, but I got them all right that week,” he says. “Winning the Cup was not a statement that I’m the best and that I’ve got it all figured out. That’s the last thing on my mind.

“But winning gives me a little bit of a cushion to learn and grow in the sport without having to be stressed out about making house payments, getting sponsors and things like that. It lightened that load enough to give me a longer window for that learning curve.”

 

Ready for a title defense

Atkins’ last victory came a month and a half after his Cup win when he won the BFL event on Ross Barnett Reservoir. Suffice it to say, he’s hungry for another trophy.

Entering this year’s Cup at Lake Ouachita, he’s counting on the confidence and clarity of last year’s experience to help him deal with what will likely be a very different scenario than the 2017 slugfest he enjoyed over Lake Murray’s cane piles.

“My pattern last year was based on getting a lot of bites. I just had to get a good lineup, throw out there over the cane piles and then get him in the boat,” he says. “Having the pressure of a cameraman in my boat and having a lot of follow boats was easy because I was getting a lot of bites and I was really dialed in. Whereas, on Ouachita, it doesn’t matter how dialed you are, you’re going to get five to six bites a day.

“That place can be really tough, and the guy that wins could have four one day. It will be a lot easier for me now to deal with all that pressure and deal with the media boats if I were to find myself in the situation to win again. Lake Murray was a great learning experience for me. So for a tough event, I’ve kind of trained myself on how to operate under those conditions and focus more on the fishing aspect.”

Then again, if he does find himself in contention on the final day, Atkins will have to fight the pressure of a possible historic event. No one has ever won the Cup twice. To do it would be significant, but to do it in consecutive years would pair Atkins with rare company. Only three people have ever won consecutive major championships: Rick Clunn, Kevin VanDam and Atkins’ buddy and confidant Jordan Lee. Atkins followed Lee’s first Classic victory with a Cup win. To do it again would extend an improbable start to an already impressive career.

Tags: david-a-brown  pre-tournament  2018-08-10-forrest-wood-cup- 

FLW Live Schedule for Cherokee Lake

FLW Live Schedule for Cherokee Lake

FLW Live is back for 2019 FLW Tour stop No. 5 at beautiful Cherokee Lake. The event, which is presented by Lowrance and hosted by the Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance, runs Thursday, April 11 through Sunday, April 14. READ MORE »

Get to Know Cherokee Lake

Get to Know Cherokee Lake

The fifth stop of the FLW Tour is presented by Lowrance and sure to be fun if you like east Tennessee, smallmouths and good fishing (who doesn’t?). Cherokee Lake plays host and promises to both challenge and delight anglers. READ MORE »

Beavers Breaks Down Cherokee

Beavers Breaks Down Cherokee

Beavers started the year off about as badly as he could, finishing 121st at Rayburn, but he’s been on a tear ever since, finishing 54th at Toho before banking back-to-back top 10s at Seminole and Grand. READ MORE »

Top 10 Patterns from Kentucky Lake

Top 10 Patterns from Kentucky Lake

Power-fishing tactics with spinnerbaits, jigs, Texas rigs and ChatterBaits on prespawn cover and structure dominated the top 10 at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in April. READ MORE »

Scouting Cherokee with LeBrun

Scouting Cherokee with LeBrun

Now in the second half of the Tour season, LeBrun is up against another new lake, and sort of a new species. He says he’s never seen a smallmouth on a bed in his life, and has spent just two days on Cherokee in pre-practice. READ MORE »

Top 10 Baits from Kentucky Lake

Top 10 Baits from Kentucky Lake

April is transition time in the Tennessee Valley, when bass make their push from prespawn staging areas toward spawning grounds. They set up on rocky banks, shallow points and any kind of wood cover near shore in areas adjacent to spawning pockets. As we saw at the Costa FLW Series Central Division opener presented by Lowrance on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, some of the best baits for catching bass this time of year are old-school springtime classics: spinnerbaits, jigs, shallow-running crankbaits and Texas rigs. Add in vibrating jigs and wobble-head jigs, and you have about all you need. READ MORE »

Co-angler Bickers Wins by Ounces

Co-angler Bickers Wins by Ounces

One fish is unlikely to win a three-day tournament, but the right one can help an angler dig out of a hole. Just ask co-angler Troy Bickers, who rebounded from the dreaded day-one goose egg to go worst-to-first in the Costa FLW Series Central Division opener presented by Lowrance on Kentucky Lake with a winning weight of 20 pounds, 14 ounces. READ MORE »

Morris Closes it Out on Barkley

Morris Closes it Out on Barkley

With just two fish in the bag, Jake Morris was noticeably nervous at the final weigh-in of the Costa FLW Series Central Division event presented by Lowrance on Kentucky Lake. Fortunately for him, he didn’t need either one of them, as Morris caught enough the first two days to top the next closest finisher. Catching 5-12 today punctuated the wire-to-wire victory for Morris, who brought in 44-2 in three days. He caught almost every fish on a spinnerbait from one key stretch on Lake Barkley. READ MORE »

Kentucky Lake Midday Update – Day 3

Kentucky Lake Midday Update – Day 3

Question marks are about the only certainty for day three of the Costa FLW Series Central Division event presented by Lowrance on Kentucky Lake, as the top 10 pros scattered and left us lean on details on a day where changing weather could see changing fortunes. After two dreary days of cloudy, dim conditions, the final round brought lots of the bright, sunny stuff that pushes fish tighter to cover and makes them easier to target. Also, considerably more warmth may very well put the giddy-up on seasonal progression. No one’s getting too crazy with visions of heavy bed-fishing, but accelerated prespawn movement is certainly possible. READ MORE »

Top 5 Patterns from Kentucky Lake – Day 2

Top 5 Patterns from Kentucky Lake – Day 2

Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and vibrating jigs fished on rocky staging areas has been the primary pattern for catching big prespawn largemouth bass on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley at the Costa FLW Series Central Division event presented by Lawrence. READ MORE »

Morris Still the Man on Top

Morris Still the Man on Top

Jake Morris of McKee, Ky., didn’t have the outing he wanted today. The tournament leader at the Costa FLW Series Central Division event presented by Lowrance on Kentucky Lake weighed in just three fish for 13 pounds, 12 ounces. Thankfully, his impressive 24-plus-pound day-one performance helped him hold off local ace Cole Floyd, who moved up a few spots to second. Morris leads Floyd by 7-6 going into the final round.  READ MORE »

Kentucky Lake Midday Update – Day 2

Kentucky Lake Midday Update – Day 2

Day two of the Costa FLW Series Central Division event presented by Lowrance on Kentucky Lake has seen more cloudy skies and a slight rise in temperature. However, the lack of wind presents enough of a difference to fiddle with the power-fishing patterns that produced on day one. After weighing 24 pounds, 10 ounces on day one, pro leader Jake Morris carried a lead of 4-9 into today’s competition. He might end up cherishing that big opening round, as the second morning was not as generous. Mostly throwing a spinnerbait, he boated a 5-pounder early, but a lost fish hurt him, and a lack of bites suggests his go-to area might be drying up. READ MORE »

2019 Cherokee Lake Preview

2019 Cherokee Lake Preview

Nestled in the hills of east Tennessee, Cherokee Lake is a TVA impoundment on the Holston River, and it sits roughly between Norris Lake (to the northwest) and Douglas Lake (to the southeast). READ MORE »

Kentucky Lake Midday Update - Day 1

Kentucky Lake Midday Update - Day 1

It looks like the prediction of slim pickings with occasional pots of gold is holding true for day one of the Costa FLW Series Central Division opener on Kentucky Lake. We covered a lot of water and snooped around the usual haunts, as well as some tucked-away spots; but bent rods were rare. READ MORE »

Top 5 Patterns from Kentucky Lake – Day 1

Top 5 Patterns from Kentucky Lake – Day 1

Most of the top pros found their best action using moving baits such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs to fish shallow water where prespawn bass are starting to slide up and stage for the spawn. READ MORE »

Morris Bags 24-10 on Kentucky

Morris Bags 24-10 on Kentucky

Jake Morris of McKee, Ky., caught 24 pounds, 10 ounces of bass on Kentucky Lake to take the day-one lead at the Costa FLW Series Central Division season opener. He has a 4-9 lead over Jimmy Washam. READ MORE »

Prespawn Throwdown on Tap at KY Lake

Prespawn Throwdown on Tap at KY Lake

The Costa FLW Series Central Division hosts its season opener at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley April 4-6. Instead of a postspawn ledge showdown, like is typical of major multi-day bass-fishing tournaments in the region, this derby should be a prespawn or spawn slugfest, with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, ChatterBaits, umbrella rigs, swimbait and jigs all playing a major role in the outcome. READ MORE »

Get to Know Grand Lake

Get to Know Grand Lake

The fourth stop of the 2019 FLW Tour is presented by Mercury at Grand Lake. Though the Tour last hit the big Oklahoma lake in 2013, Grand sees plenty of tournament action, especially in the spring, and it never fails to deliver drama. READ MORE »

Poking Around Grand with Cortiana

Poking Around Grand with Cortiana

Since starting to fish Costa FLW Series events in 2016, Kyle Cortiana has banked over $100,000 with FLW and finished in the top 10 of the Southwestern Division three times. On the FLW Tour, he’s been a bit less successful, with no top 10s and no FLW Cup qualifications … yet. This year, he’s sitting 35th in the points, with a good chance to go to the Cup, and the FLW Tour presented by Mercury on Grand Lake finally gives him a shot at a Tour event with home field advantage. READ MORE »

Day 1 Practice on Grand with Warren

Day 1 Practice on Grand with Warren

There’s a good crew of Oklahoma anglers on the FLW Tour, but of them, Chad Warren is definitely one of the favorites at Grand Lake. Stop No. 4 of the 2019 FLW Tour, which is presented by Mercury, heads to Grand in the early spring for a prespawn tournament that might feature really good fishing. READ MORE »