UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Cumberland

How Brad Knight Plans to Win the Cup

How Brad Knight Plans to Win the Cup
Brad Knight

Brad Knight’s life changed forever in Hot Springs.

In 2015, the Tennessee pro won the FLW Cup on Lake Ouachita, earning $500,000 and thrusting himself into the pro bass fishing spotlight. To win a major tournament is always life-changing, though in some cases the impact only lasts so long. Time eventually hews away the ripples as the fishing industry marches on. 

But in Knight’s case, winning the 2015 Cup was like unleashing a tidal wave on his fishing career, his business and his family in ways that, because of his hard work to capitalize on the platform a Cup win provides, will likely flow on forever.

Now that he knows just what a Cup win can do for a tournament angler’s career, Knight is even more motivated to win the title again, which he’ll have a chance to do Aug. 9-11 on Lake Hamilton, right back in Hot Springs, Ark. 

To help his chances, the 37-year-old is leaning on his most valuable skill set: unrelenting work ethic and drive to succeed. It’s the key to how he’s preparing himself physically and mentally for the exhausting slog of a four-day Cup practice and three-day tournament during the hottest time of the year.

The Cup at Hamilton will almost certainly be a grind, and Knight hopes it is. Hot, challenging tournaments are what he loves. “I live for it,” he says. 

If he wins it, Knight will make history as the first two-time champion. It’ll be another peak in his career, which has seen some ups and downs. And it’ll validate a return-to-his-roots strategy that the pro adopted this season, during which he focused more on consistency than gambling for wins.

There won’t be anything but gambling on the win at Hamilton, however. Knight’s all-in, and he’s hoping to change his life again in Hot Springs. 

 

Brad Knight

Turning right

Prior to the 2014 season, Knight struggled to find consistency on the FLW Tour. He was finishing well out of Cup range in the standings and scraping by with a few checks here and there. 

He needed a change, and he got it in 2013 when he and his wife, Becky, decided to travel the Tour together and camp with their daughter, Tinsley. Having his family with him helped ease the pro’s mind. He didn’t feel guilty every time he left the house to go to a tournament. More importantly, he was able to be Brad Knight the bass pro and daddy all at the same time. 

The change gave him greater focus on catching bass, and it showed in Knight’s results. The 2014 season was his best ever. Knight finished 19th in the standings and made the Cup at Lake Murray, where he finished 20th. Then, in 2015, a 34th-place AOY finish set up Knight’s Cup victory at Ouachita. 

It was after he won the Cup that the industry saw just how prepared Knight was as a businessman-angler. Prior to then, Knight was careful about not signing long-term sponsorship deals or contracts that were in any way limiting. He wanted to remain a “free agent,” so that when he got his big break, he could sign on with companies he believed in and maximize his promotional potential in the long term. 

Talk about foresight. After Knight won the Cup, he inked some lucrative deals and was able to quit his job managing a local drug store. The career shift allowed him even more freedom to spend time on the water honing his skills, and it eliminated another distraction.

It seemed like his fishing career would only trend up, but interestingly, it didn’t. Knight logged AOY finishes of 63rd, 99th and 99th in the three years after he won the Cup. 

It’s not that his skills diminished or he lost his focus, nor was he resting on his laurels. Those down years were the result of a different strategy toward tournament fishing that didn’t pay off like he’d hoped.

“I wanted to kind of change my approach and focus on trying to win more events,” Knight says. “I was really close a couple times. I needed a break or two. St. Clair [where he finished third in 2018] is one that comes to mind. I was kind of right there in the midst of it. Kentucky Lake [eighth in 2016] was really close.

“If I pulled out of the boat ramp at blastoff and I knew if I turned left I’d have a chance to get maybe five bites a day and they may weigh 18 but it was hero or zero, or I could turn right and get 20 bites a day and they’ll weigh 14 and I could go get a check easy, I was turning left. Whereas, every other time in my career I turned right.” 

Knight essentially became a gambler. He wasn’t surviving on tournament paychecks anymore, and since he’d had a taste of what winning felt like, he wanted to win again. The problem is, gambling in pro bass fishing is like a beginner learning to skip docks with the brakes wide open on his baitcaster. Once in a while you place it perfectly and get a big payoff, but just as often you wind up picking out backlash. 

“I was willing to take that gamble. A few times it paid off, but sometimes it didn’t,” Knight adds.

After three seasons of underachieving, Knight decided he’d had enough. This year, fueled in part by some of the uncertainty and speculation in the fishing industry, he decided to focus on getting paid, staying at the top of the standings and making it back to Hot Springs. 

You wouldn’t have known it in January, though, when Knight bombed at the opener on Sam Rayburn and finished 148th. 

One week into the season, he’d already put his Cup chances in jeopardy. The awful start cemented his resolve to focus on making a check versus gambling for the win.

“Actually, having a terrible tournament to start the year off probably ended up saving my year and helped me make the Cup,” Knight explains. “Otherwise, I might’ve gambled somewhere else. I knew I’d already burned that mulligan. My redo was already over. I knew, you can’t have one more hour that’s bad the rest of the year. Every decision you make moving forward has to be perfect, or you’re not going to make the Cup. 

“From then on, I ‘turned right’ every time. I said I’m going to go get paid, get my 10 grand, get my points and get out of here.”

Knight didn’t wow anyone with his finishes in 2019, but he executed the plan. Though he never made a cut, Knight earned $60,000 with six consecutive checks to finish 21st in the standings and netted himself another shot at the Cup.

“I’m not ready to throw a parade for finishing 21st in the points, but I’m not disappointed I’m going to make $70,000 bass fishing this year, even if I don’t get a bite at the Cup,” he says. “At the end of the day, if I’ve paid my bills and kept a roof over my family’s head and food on the table from bass fishing this year, then that’s pretty successful I would say.”

 

Brad Knight lifts his arms in victory.

A win for business, a win for pleasure

When Knight won the Cup in 2015, his promotional value shot way up. 

“It enabled me to build a foundation around my career,” he says, “and I worked pretty hard to establish good relationships in the fishing industry.”

He worked so hard, in fact, that he barely had a chance to just enjoy being the champion. 

This year, if Knight can do it again, he’ll pursuit some deals and handle the mandatory sponsor obligations, but he’ll also take time to relish winning the title.

“Here’s the deal with winning the Cup: It’s not a magic button that instantly your phone is going to start ringing and you’re going to have checks flying into your mailbox every month,” Knight says. “But it gives you an opportunity if you’re willing to put the work in and put the effort in. It gives you that platform to promote your sponsors and make a good living. And that was what was important for me to establish before I really wanted to go out and celebrate.

“That’s what would be so cool for me now, if I could win it again, with having all of that work behind me. I could enjoy it more I think. I get asked a lot about what was the best memory about winning. I say, ‘Dude, I can’t even remember. It was such a blur. I don’t know. I was delirious.’”

 

Brad Knight

Embracing the summertime challenge

Knight wants to win the Cup in a couple weeks. So what? Doesn’t every one of the 52 pros qualified for the tournament

There are pros in the field with more experience fishing championship events. There are pros in the field with better track records in Arkansas. And there are pros in the field whose skill sets might better align with the projected patterns we’ll see in play at the Cup.

Knight’s aware, but he doesn’t care. He’s quietly been preparing himself physically, mentally and tactically to parlay his best assets as a competitor into a W on Hamilton.

“The cool, awesome, most fun part about championship events to me is there’s nothing else you prepare for like this,” he says. “It’s about winning. I don’t have to worry about paying an entry fee and worrying about what I have to do to get a check. It’s all about winning. You can train for this event. That’s what’s so cool.”

Training starts with having the right mindset. Knight knows the Cup on Hamilton will be a challenging tournament. It’ll be hot, and bites will be tough to get. 

To prepare his mind, he’s harnessing advice given by David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL and ultra-marathon runner, whom Knight has heard describe his approach to handling adversity on podcasts. Goggins preaches to his fans the importance of “being comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“The thing about August fishing, when it’s tough and there’s not a lot of bites to be had, that’s when decisions are magnified,” Knight explains. “That’s what I love about championship events that time of year. It’s not easy. I don’t care where you go in the South, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard. You’re not just going to luck into winning this tournament. It’s strategic. 

“I actually think strategy is more important this time of the year than any other because of how delicate the bites are, and how important each bite is. You talk about losing a 4-pounder; man, you can’t come back from that in a three-day tournament in August. You dump a 4-pounder in March, you can still probably win because you can catch ’em up good enough. Not in August. So there’s so much that goes into it. It’s such a fragile bite, and you really have to pay keen attention to details.”

Over the years, Knight has fished a lot of team tournaments and championships in August and September back home in east Tennessee, so he understands how to navigate a tough scenario. We saw it play out in 2015 at Ouachita, when he surprised everyone by camping in one creek for the entire tournament and catching shallow bass on a drop-shot to get the win in the mercury-busting final throes of summer. 

But Knight says winning a summertime grind is less about angling skill and more about attitude.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know I’m not a super-talented angler; a natural as a lot of these guys are,” admits Knight. “Man, I’ve been in the boat with Andy Morgan and Wesley Strader. They have a natural, God-given ability to catch bass. I don’t necessarily know that I do, but I have a God-given ability to work hard, be mentally tough, and have desire and drive to be the best. That’s the only advantage that I have. I have no talent above and beyond anyone else. I’m nothing special at all. I just work hard. I believe. And I’m driven.”

Making the right decisions with a championship on the line takes a special kind of focus. It’s what Knight has seen from top FLW pros like David Dudley and Bryan Thrift, and he equates it to the way special operations-capable soldiers operate in the field: no doubt, no distraction, perfect execution.

He’s hoping to channel that level of focus in Hot Springs. To help out, he’s also been training his body. He figures if he can eliminate any physical distractions that stem from the heat and humidity, the mental side of the game will be easier. 

“I’ve been putting sweatpants on and a hoodie on and going out when it’s 1 o’clock, at the hottest part of the day, and I go run a mile and a half, up and down hills. I heat train,” Knight says. “I’ve been trying to hydrate. I’m prepared.”

Living in east Tennessee provides an advantage over anglers from some other parts of the world. Not only can Knight sling on his hunting pack and hike in the mountains, or jog the hills in his neighborhood to harden his body, but he’s exposed to a similar climate as Hot Springs while he does it.

“I couldn’t imagine being from up north and having to come to Hot Springs in August,” he says. “What is that mindset when they get out of the truck for the first day of practice and the heat index is going to be 117?

“I remember reading an article about Rick Clunn, when he was fishing the U.S. Open out west on Lake Mead. He talked about waiting until it was the hottest part of the day and putting his winter coat on to mow the yard, and not ever running his air conditioning in his house. Everybody else is complaining about how hot it is, and it’s something I can control. You just train yourself for it. Then, when it’s hot, your decision-making isn’t as affected by it. Heat training is just something I felt like I could do to try to get a little bit of an edge on guys. If you’ve got to spend four practice days and three tournament days in the heat, it takes a toll on you.”

In addition to the physical training, Knight also plans to show up to Ouachita with a solid nutrition and hydration plan. He’ll practice hard, but never at the expense of sleep. The goal is to fend off dehydration and fatigue before they ever have a chance to set in.

“Any thought that I have going in my brain other than decisions to make from a bass fishing perspective is one thought too many,” he says. “If I’m tired or I’m hungry, if I’m not feeling good, I can’t operate at peak performance. And that’s what you’ve got to do.”

 

Brad Knight

Heading to Hot Springs

Knight didn’t pre-fish for this year’s Cup. Four days of practice is plenty to pick apart roughly 7,400 acres of water once the official practice begins Aug. 4. 

“I just want to ride the lake,” Knight says. “I want to see what looks good, make mental notes of a few things and then just kind of run with it during the tournament and see what works out. That’s what you’ve got to do in the tournament anyway – and make adjustments.”

In 2015, Knight didn’t pre-fish for the Cup (he says he felt guilty about it then; not anymore), and we know how that worked out for him. 

But he’s on a new course now. His fishing business has matured. He and his brother, Andrew, recently completed a deal to buy out the business partner of their father, Ed, and the family now outright owns a radio station in Wartburg, Tenn., that the elder Knight has been running for 50 years. Tinsley is in grade school and no longer traveling the Tour. And the pro has spent the last two years watching the FLW Cup from the sidelines. 

This year’s championship will be a different experience.

“At this point it doesn’t feel any different,” he adds. “I think the moment it will feel pretty cool and kind of be special is to be back in the arena. I was there last year, and I was working for Anglers Channel, filming some TV stuff kind of behind the scenes. I’d poke my head out and think, man, my world was changed forever right there just a couple years ago. That was pretty cool. But it wasn’t the same because I wasn’t competing. This year, when I go there and I come in, hopefully with a nice bag of fish, and I’m sitting at the bump tanks, I mean, man, I can just imagine that flood of recollection coming back to me. It starts to make your brain spin a little bit.”

Spin, yes, but pressure? Knight says no. Maybe he’s deflecting though. We all know there’s a lot at stake. 

“If I won, no matter what would happen from that point moving forward in my career, I would be totally satisfied,” Knight says. “I’m not satisfied now. I would be satisfied with a second championship for sure. 

“I kind of feel like the second one validates itself, in anything. If you win one championship or one regular-season tournament, or whatever, when you win the second one there’s no doubt. Anybody can have one good week. When you have two wins you set yourself apart.” 

 

Brad Knight

Another life-changer

The best thing that could happen for Brad Knight is that the Cup turns out exactly like everyone expects.

“At the championship, I just get excited. I hear people complain, ‘Man, we should go somewhere better.’ That just makes me smile. I like it tough. I want it hot. I want sweat coming down the back of everybody’s legs. I want it to suck. I want people to complain, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do to catch a limit.’ I don’t know either, but I know half the dudes are going to be out of it already when they back their boat in.”

With his preparation in place, the thing left motivating Knight is that he knows exactly what’s at stake. Young anglers understand that the Cup is a big deal, but they have no idea just how big it can be. 

“Every decision, every day of my life, until the day I die, will be affected in some way, shape, form or fashion by winning the Forrest Wood Cup in 2015. And my kid’s life for the rest of her life. It blows my mind when I think about it – all of the stuff that you can do from catching some bass.

“You don’t really grasp it if you haven’t won it. I live it and breathe it every day. So maybe it’s more motivation for me because I’ve tasted it, and I understand what it can do. I’ve had that needle in there before, and I want it again.”

Tags: brad-knight  -flw-cup  -hot-springs  -hamilton  -arkansas  -drop-shot  curtis-niedermier  article  2019-08-09-flw-cup-lake-hamilton 

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