By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

David Dudley had a pretty good debut season on the MLF Bass Pro Tour, finishing 21st in the points race and never ending up outside the Top 40 in any of the five events. His offseason, though, was extremely rough.

The four-time FLW Tour Angler of the Year and former No. 1-ranked competitor in the BassFan World Rankings went through a difficult battle with COVID-19 in the fall and, during that process, was diagnosed with severe type 2 diabetes. The 45-year-old now calls the whole ordeal "a forced wake-up call that I've taken very seriously."

He'll be about 30 pounds lighter than he was during the 2020 season when he arrives at Lake Palestine in Texas next month for the Redcrest Championship.

"I say that COVID saved my life because when I went into the hospital, my diabetes was at what they call 'coma stage' – on a scale of 1 to 10, I was a 12," he said. "That stage can mean kidney failure, loss of limbs, going blind ... a lot of really bad stuff. I was in desperate need of help.

"When I read up on how bad it was, it forced me to be like, 'oh, crap.' But I've taken that negative energy and turned it into a positive. I've changed my lifestyle; I'm exercising and eating right."

A Whole New Routine

Dudley said his new daily regimen includes weightlifting and up to two hours of racquetball for cardiovascular. His diet is a self-modified Keto program that emphasizes "good calories" while eliminating sugar and carbohydrates.

His weight is down to 180 pounds from 210.

"I'm in better shape right now than any time since I graduated from high school," he said. "The biggest thing was just learning how to eat right and disciplining myself. Just being in a lot better shape doesn't mean that I'm going to (excel) this year, but I just know that physically I'll be where I need to be.

"I was pretty stagnant at 185 for a while, but the last two weeks I've pushed harder and now I'd say I'm a toned 180. I'm still losing fat and the muscle mass is getting bigger."

He's a bit nervous about taking his new eating habits on the road, where fast-food joints are staples for a lot of anglers, but thinks his newfound reliance on protein shakes will carry him through.

"They shut the hungry voice up; it's like putting gas in your truck so you can get down the road a little farther. I have them with me all the time – in the house, in the truck and in the boat.

"It used to be that if I had to go to Lowe's to get something for the house or the farm and it happened to be around lunchtime, I'd stop by KFC for a quick meal or grab a couple hot dogs from the gas station. Now these shakes are always at my fingertips just so I don't eat bad."

New Challenge Awaits

Dudley opted not to add the MLF Pro Circuit to his schedule this year and will instead devote time to serving as the color commentator for the fledgling National Professional Fishing League. He'll team with bass fishing media veteran and former Pro Circuit competitor Luke Dunkin and funnyman FatCat Newton for the online broadcasts.

The NPFL has a six-event regular season schedule (tournaments are three-day affairs) that gets under way in March and culminates with a championship derby in the fall. The published roster includes a few anglers with tour-level experience.

"I did (guest commentary on) FLW Live probably four times and I really enjoyed it, so this is something I'm jacked about," he said. "I'm not trying to come off like I'm 'the man,' but with 24 (championship qualifications) in 26 years, I think I understand the game and I can talk about what's going on.

"I'm a 'live' fanatic because I learn so much by watching. Being able to sit in a studio with 10 cameras running all the time will allow me to become even more of a student of the game."