More than a month later, the disappointment in Todd Faircloth's voice is still palpable. The 33-year-old Texan badly wanted to win the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year (AOY) award, but he turned in by far his worst performance of the season when the title was within his grasp.
He isn't the type of person to dwell on the lone negative point in a season full of highlights, however. He's determined to view those 2 miserable days at New York's Lake Oneida as a learning experience. If he gets another opportunity to win the points championship – and considering the consistency he's displayed over the last couple of years, that's quite likely – he'll be better prepared to close the deal.
"Overall it was easily the best year I've ever had, and I'm real happy about that," he said. "Other than that last tournament, I couldn't ask for a better year, really. But I was definitely feeling the pressure down the stretch there, and it really started at Old Hickory. Like I talked about before, the last event was the most stressed-out week I've ever had in my life – I went to bed thinking about (the AOY) and I woke up thinking about it.
"I feel like if I'm ever in that situation again, I'll handle it a littler better than I did. Something of that magnitude would've been a big boost for my career and it was definitely a letdown, but that doesn't change the fact that all in all, it was a really good year."
Lured by Deep-Dwellers
Faircloth's 93rd at Oneida was his worst finish of the year by a whopping 52 places. He carried a 21-point lead over Kevin VanDam into the event after having just outdueled the Michigan ace at Lake Erie.
He thought everything was fine going into day 1. He'd located some quality smallmouths in practice and figured they might be sufficient to carry him to his 7th Top 10 of the year.
Those fish went away, though, and figuratively left him high and dry. In hindsight, he wishes he hadn't put so much faith in them, but after the season he'd had, there was no tangible reason to think that things might turn sour in the last tournament.
"I didn't find anything in practice other than those deep fish, and I think I was a little too comfortable with them," he said. "I got a little narrow-minded and maybe didn't search hard enough for other patterns.
"I can look back and say I should've done this and I should've done that, but all you can really do with something like that is learn from the experience. I've been doing this for quite awhile, but I've still got a lot to learn, no doubt."
Narrower Focus Helped
That last event notwithstanding, Faircloth credited the way he practiced throughout the season as one of the main keys to his string of strong finishes. It was a simple matter of focusing on less geographic territory than he had in previous years.
"In the past, I was the type of fisherman who wanted to know what was going on from one end of the lake to the other," he said. "I now feel like that's just about impossible to figure out in 2 1/2 days of practice, so I started kind of narrowing my searches down.
"I'd try to commit to two or three areas or sections of the lake, and then try to find several smaller areas within them. That way I wasn't worried about what was happening in some other part of the lake, and I feel that really helped me."
Another factor was that he fished with some increased intensity on day 2.
"It seemed that last year I focused a lot on getting a check (being among the Top 50 after 2 days), and I realized that sometimes I'd kind of relax a little bit after I was pretty sure I'd gotten it. It wasn't that I'd stop fishing, but I just don't think the same type of intensity was there.
"I made it a point this year to try to be more intense after I'd made the Top 50. I felt like I made good decisions because of it and it helped everything come together."
Faircloth gained a big shot of momentum from his victory at Amistad.
Goals Still the Same
Faircloth is excited about 2009. The Bassmaster Classic will take place on Louisiana's Red River, where he's fished frequently and successfully (he placed 3rd in the last tour event there in 2001), and the regular season will open at Amistad in his home state (he won there this year and was 4th in 2007).
He'll go into the campaign with the same objectives he had for this year.
"My goal every year is to make the Classic and if I have a chance at Angler of the Year again, that'd be great. Winning the Angler of the Year and the Classic are the two main goals that just about every pro fisherman sets, and they're definitely goals of mine.
"I'm not going to say I'm going to achieve them next year or the year after that, but I'd like to get them both sometime during my career."
> Faircloth has spent most of his life within a 3-hour drive of the Red River. "I've fished over there quite a bit and I have some knowledge of that body of water," he said. "It's definitely a power-fisherman's dream and at that time of year it'll be a shallow bite – a spinnerbait/jig type of deal. If we don't get a whole lot of high water, it should be real good."
> His Amistad victory was the fourth event of the season. "That was definitely a momentum-builder for me. It freed me up financially and allowed me to fish more relaxed the rest of the way."
> He concluded the season 2nd behind VanDam in both the AOY race and the BassFan World Rankings. He began 2008 at No. 27 in the Rankings.