Matt Sphar didn't expect to do anything too spectacular in his first year on the Bassmaster Elite Series, and he has just one Top-10 finish through 10 events. Consistency has always been his calling card, and in that department, he's acquitted himself nicely.
"That's the way I've always fished," said the 28-year-old from western New York. "I'll have my day now and then, but sometimes consistency gets you where you want to go.
"And when you get toward the end of the year, consistency starts to look better and better."
He opened the season with a 24th-place finish at Amistad and has cashed seven checks (for 50th place or higher).
He's 33rd in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race heading into this week's season finale at Lake Toho and will qualify for his first Bassmaster Classic if he's in that immediate vicinity come Sunday night.
"If you think about a single tournament in pro fishing, that's the one that comes to mind," he noted. "If this was the only year I got to fish the Elite Series and I made the Classic, I could die happy knowing that I accomplished that."
Are You In or Out?
Sphar gained his spot in the Elite Series only because a few others passed on it. He finished 8th in the 2006 Bassmaster Northern Tour standings, but only the Top 5 were guaranteed Elite berths.
Three anglers who finished higher than him declined the invitation. When his number came up, he was given 24 hours to make the first installment on the $55,000 entry-fee total for the season.
"I didn't have a primary sponsor at the time, so that was kind of spooky," he said. "But it was definitely something I wanted to do."
With the aid of some friends, he eventually hooked up with the producer of Alphabet Killer, who wanted to publicize his psychological thriller that'll hit the theatres in November. That filled the primary-sponsor void.
He said his solid start to the season (after Amistad, he cashed another check with a 44th-place finish at the California Delta) has been a key component in his success. It gave him confidence that he could hold his own against some of the best anglers in the world.
"Having a decent tournament right off was a pretty awesome feeling. I haven't really had a bang-out tournament yet, but I made the one Top 12 (at Smith Mountain) and I've been able to stay pretty consistent all the way through."
He said he hasn't encountered anything yet that's really surprised him.
"I knew pretty much how this game is played coming in – it's a pretty cutthroat deal at this level. I've done what I could to get as much information as possible ahead of time, and I've got a lot of respect for the guys I'm fishing against.
"I've just been trying to pay my dues and learn as much as I can along the way."
Ready for Toho
Sphar has never competed at Toho, but he flew down there prior to the off-limits period for a few days of pre-practice. He wasn't discouraged by what he found.
"I caught some fish," he said. "I'm sure things have changed during the course of a month, but I don't think the bite's going to be any harder than when I was there. I'll just have to scramble around and keep pounding at them, and hopefully I can catch them.
"I'd like to say I'm not nervous, but there are a few butterflies because I know what's at stake going in there. It's going to be tough."
If he can cash his eighth check of the year, it would likely seal his spot in the Classic.
"That would be a big help for my career and it'd be great to get my sponsors some extra advertising out of it.
"And there's nothing to say that I couldn't go to the Classic and whack 'em."
> Sphar cites the 2004 BASS Federation New York State Championship at the Mohawk River as his biggest victory to date. "I'd never fished (the river) before, but my dad went there with me the weekend before and we figured out the pattern, then I came back the next weekend and won it. I also won the Anger of the Year that year, and that's what gave me the confidence to fish the Northern Tour."
> His only major bomb this year was a 105th-place finish at Guntersville. "I had no prior knowledge of the lake and nobody to talk to before it went off-limits. It wasn't that tough of a place to fish, but I think the guys who'd been there so many times before had it figured out. I did find some fish – I caught 17 pounds the first day of practice – but I just didn't put things together in the tournament."