By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Grae Buck didn't advance to the final day in any of the six MLF Pro Circuit regular-season events last year. Nonetheless, he ended up 3rd on the final points list, trailing only Angler of the Year Ron Nelson and runner-up Spencer Shuffield.
Consistency was the 31-year-old former aquatic biologist's trademark in 2020. He started the campaign with a 19th-place finish, added a couple in the 20s and was 12th in the finale at Lake Erie. His worst placements were 57th and 73rd, both in the massive-field Super Tournaments in which the Pro Circuit competitors were joined by about three dozen Bass Pro Tour anglers.
It was by far the best of his four pro seasons to date – he hadn't previously fared better than 53rd on the season-ending AOY list.
"The biggest thing was I had zero experience down south when I came out," the Pennsylvanian said. "I went to college at Penn State and the farthest south we ever fished was in Virginia. The Southern lakes have creek arms that are bigger than just about any lake I'd fished.
"It was intimidating at first and it took a while to learn how to break down bodies of water that size."
Contender for the TITLE
Buck's strong season earned him his first championship-event berth and he was in contention on the final day of the TITLE at Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin before eventually ending up 7th. That tournament was conducted under Major League Fishing rules (all bass weighing 2 pounds or more count toward an angler's total weight) and he said he enjoyed the format, but it likely hindered him in the final standings.
"On that last day, it would've been better for me if it'd been a five-fish-limit tournament because I had four (smallmouth) for almost 20 pounds in the morning," he said. "I could've stayed out there and made real long drifts and come in with a giant bag.
"Still, I had a legitimate shot that day and I'd have had a chance of pulling it off if the wind hadn't blown so hard. That was worst day for that we'd had; my stuff was all current-based and I was five or six miles offshore and I just couldn't hold the boat on it – I was taking it right in the face. There's not many days out there I can't handle, but that was almost unfishable."
Hunger to Win
Buck's primary goals for 2021 are to qualify for the TITLE again and post another high AOY finish. Another single-digit showing in the points should gain him a berth on the 2022 Bass Pro Tour.
"It looks like a great schedule," he said. "The one I'm most nervous about is Okeechobee (the season opener that gets under way next week) because my track record's not the best in Florida, but I'm ready to get started. At the end of the year we got to the Potomac and the St. Lawrence (rivers) and both of those I know very well. If I can get through the first four with a pretty strong foothold, I'll have a good chance of ending up where I want to be."
He'd also like to find out what it feels like to win at the tour level. He has one runner-up finish on his ledger from 2019 at Cherokee Lake.
"I feel like at some point I'm going to be due for one, but I haven't had that complete tournament come together yet; I'll have one good day, then I'll stumble a little bit on the second or third day. I feel like I'm getting better with the more experience I'm gaining around the country and getting that first win would push my career to the next level."
> Buck said he likes the new rule that will limit Pro Circuit competitors to two days of practice instead of three. "Putting in the extra effort to prepare will go a long way and it's going to be more important than ever. Also, I think the fishing will be better with the off day (just prior to the start of competition). With only two days of guys hammering on the fish, the weights should go up."
> As one of the Top 4 finishers in the 2020 AOY race, he'll compete in the BPT opener at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in March. He caught a 9 1/2-pounder – his personal best – during last year's Pro Circuit derby at that venue.