By Todd Ceisner
Darrel Robertson left the Washington, D.C., area, bound for Oklahoma, thinking his chances were shot. Aaron Britt was staring at a cross-country drive with nothing but time to reflect on his missed opportunities. Neither situation sounded all that appealing.
Both were down, defeated and dejected after day 2 of the Potomac River FLW Tour last month. Each had entered the tournament inside the cutoff to qualify (top 40 in points unofficially) for this year’s Forrest Wood Cup – Britt was 33rd in points; Robertson was 39th – and neither did much to help their own cause as Robertson placed 74th at the season finale and Britt finished 108th, the worst showing of his rookie year.
When the dust settled, though, they found themselves tied for 39th with 981 points. Officially, Britt finished 39th and Robertson 40th, but more importantly both did just enough to lock up the final two spots in the Cup at Lake Murray next month.
Had Alex Davis finished one place higher at the Potomac, it would’ve created a three-way tie for 39th in points between himself, Britt and Robertson, and FLW would’ve employed its tiebreaker criteria to settle which two anglers would advance to the Cup. Since total weight caught during the season is the first criteria, Davis and Britt would’ve advanced and Robertson would’ve been the first man out.
“I was a defeated man, but I’m not now,” the 67-year-old Robertson joked. “All I wanted was a chance. Somebody needs to be the first to win two of these (Cups) and I don’t think there’s a better-looking guy to do it than me.”
Indeed, Robertson will get that chance at Lake Murray next month when the Cup visits Columbia, S.C., Aug. 11-13.
For Britt, a 30-year-old Tour rookie from California, qualifying for the Cup serves as validation for all the years of his trying to reach the highest level of competition.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I set my expectations very high. Am I blessed or fortunate to be here? Yes. Am I surprised? No. I’m not cocky about it because I’ve been doing this for a long time and haven’t been able to jump up to the Tour. Financially, I put all my eggs in this basket this year so this means a lot. In order to be successful, you have to have confidence or you’ll get your butt kicked.”
One 4-Pounder Enough
Two years ago, Robertson went into the FLW Tour season finale at the Potomac River in 57th place in points. His hopes of qualifying for the 2015 Cup were on life support. Realistically, he needed a top-5 and others to struggle to have a chance.
He wound up finishing 4th and was the first man below the cutoff, three points shy of the last Cup berth. A victory would’ve put him in.
This year, he entered the final tournament at the Potomac in 39th place in points, smack dab on the cutoff. He figured he needed a finish of 60th or better to stay above the cut line. When he finished 74th, he started his drive back home to the heartland bummed out, thinking he’d not made it.
When he got word that he had made it, he did a U-turn and headed to Murray for a couple days of scouting.
“I didn’t think I had a prayer,” Robertson said, recalling his thought process as he left the Potomac. “I was heading down the road pouting. I thought I was done.”
Robertson qualified for this year’s Cup by only finishing in the top 50 once – in the season opener at Lake Guntersville, where he was 12th. The rest of his results ranged between 55th and 88th, but enough to earn him a spot at Murray, where he will be one of six past Cup winners in this year’s field.
While Guntersville represented his best showing, he went into each tournament feeling like he had a chance to earn at least a paycheck and maybe a trophy.
“Every tournament, I did a decent job practicing,” he said. “You have to catch ‘em pretty consistently to get just one check and make the championship. I felt like I was right there every time.”
He said lost key fish at inopportune times were often the difference.
“At Travis, I lost a big one on day 2 – a 6-pounder that would’ve put me in the top 20 instead of 88th,” he said.
On day 2 at the Potomac, when the stakes were at their highest, he landed a 4-pounder with two hours to go, then lost another similar fish in the last half hour.
“I knew I needed 16 or 17 to have a chance,” he said. “I figured I needed two 4s.”
As it happened, that first 4-pounder was all it took.
“A lot of the fish I lost were my fault,” he said. “I just didn’t set the hook on ‘em. I’d be thinking about where I should go or what I should be doing when the fish bit and I didn’t do a good job.”
He gets the ultimate second chance now with an opportunity to win $300,000 and become the first two-time Cup winner.
Among the highlights of Aaron Britt's rookie year was catching a 9 1/2-pounder at the Harris Chain in March.
“Being that it’s in August, there are going to be fish deep and some shallow,” he said. “That in-between bite probably won’t be there much. I think I know how to catch some fish down there. We’ll find out come the first day of practice.”
Cumberland Call Big for Britt
For several years, Britt had wanted to make the jump to the FLW Tour. He competed in the Western FLW Series for six years, including the last four as a pro, posting a win at Clear Lake in 2014. Each time the Tour came calling, financial considerations prevented him from making the commitment.
This year, the Yuba City, Calif., native took the plunge and he’s had the full roller coaster experience that most rookies encounter.
Never did he think a 108th-place finish, his worst of the season, would be enough to secure a spot in the Forrest Wood Cup and give him a shot at a massive payday.
“It came down to the last day of the last tournament,” he said. “It was up and down all year. There was the excitement of being there and then not having the great start and then cashing checks in the middle to get up to 19th (in points).”
Which is why the way his season ended (he was 87th at the the Mississippi prior to the Potomac) was particularly troubling. He was in 133rd place after day 1 at the Potomac.
“Why I was so down was I’d gone there for 3 days of practice before off-limits,” he said. “The tide is way different there than in California. I had some stuff figured out and places where I could catch decent fish. On day 1, I just caught 11 pounds. I didn’t miss any. I just didn’t catch ‘em.”
That night, the reality of his Cup situation came to light.
“Back at the house that night, I was real down and in a funk and felt like I was throwing away the whole season,” he added. “On day 2 I stayed as positive as I could. Usually when I do that, I catch ‘em. It was enough to finish 108th. I still thought there was no shot. I figured I needed to be 90th or better.
“Once we did the math, I was a little more animated as far as being happy. Once the numbers came out, it made my drive home so much easier. If I’d have missed it, I don’t know what I’d have done.”
While the Potomac was where everything came to a head, Britt pointed to a decision he made at Lake Cumberland in April that factored into his qualifying for the Cup.
He’d caught 16-plus pounds on day 1 and on day 2 he targeted smallmouth, which had to be at least 18 inches to be kept. He headed for the ramp with a limit made up of two spotted bass, one largemouth and two smallies, one of which was barely 18 inches. He went through the scenarios in his head if it didn’t measure at the bump tank and where he’d drop to after taking a penalty.
Ultimately, he decided it wasn’t worth the risk and released the fish before heading onshore. Despite having four fish on day 2, he finished 30th.
“If I’d have gotten caught with that fish, I would’ve missed the cut,” he said. “That was absolutely the best decision I made.”