By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Prior to 2017, each of the previous four FLW Tour seasons had gotten under way in the state of Florida. And Andrew Upshaw dug himself a huge hole in the Angler of the Year race with a triple-digit finish on each occasion.
This year was different, though; the circuit conducted its first two stops at non-Sunshine State venues before visiting the Harris Chain of Lakes in early March. The kick-off event was at Lake Guntersville in February, where Upshaw logged a solid finish (33rd) that laid the foundation for the best season of his 6-year career, which also included his first decent showing in Florida (39th at the Harris Chain).
"In past years, that's what ended up killing me – I'd have an absolutely terrible finish to start the year," he said. "Avoiding that this year allowed me to start out a whole lot better, and it's easier if you're not trying to play catch-up the whole time."
As a result of his 31st-place standing on the final points list, Upshaw will compete in his first Forrest Wood Cup next month at Lake Murray in South Carolina. It will be his first appearance in a top-level championship event since making the 2012 Bassmaster Classic as the initial collegiate champion to get an invite (he attended Stephen F. Austin State in his native Texas).
"Your whole goal is always to make another championship and obviously you want to make as many of them as you can. I'd gotten close a couple of times over the last few years, and I'm glad that it actually happened this time.
"There's no guarantee that you're going to make it every year, or even that you're ever going to make another one."
Not All Gravy
Upshaw finished among the top 40 in four of the seven Tour events this year, but needed a good showing in the regular-season finale at the Potomac River to nail down his berth in the Cup. A top-20 was his goal, and he ended up 17th.
"This year was all about decision-making for me – just trusting my decisions," he said. "There were times when I ran 30 miles to fish one spot and it paid off every single time. I had that kind of trust in myself for the first time ever. Anything I thought I should do, I just went with it."
He finished 83rd at the Mississippi River in May, but that placement could have been considerably worse if not for a fortuitous move on the second day. He was 119th after day 1 and had zero fish in his livewell at 10 o'clock on day 2 when he opted to run a considerable distance to lock into Pool 9, and then run another far piece to where he wanted to fish.
He knew he wouldn't have much time to get his work done, and the possibility that he might not make it back through the lock in time for check-in was very real.
"I caught almost 13 pounds there in an hour and a half and then locked back through. It was such a risky thing, but it saved my year.
"I'd caught some there in practice, but I hadn't realized how good it was. I feel like if I'd gone there to begin with, I could've roped them big-time."
Big Confidence Boost
Upshaw's worst finish of the season was a 118th at Lake Travis, where he lost a bite in the 7-pound class and another one between 3 and 4 pounds.
"I thought that was going to cost me the whole year," he said. "Just one or two lost fish can end up costing you 100 points."
However, he bounced back nicely the following week at a Southwestern FLW Series tournament at Sam Rayburn Reservoir. He caught a 27-pound stringer on day 1 to grab the early lead and eventually ended up 8th.
"That was a big confidence boost right there," he said.
He picked up some more good mojo at another lower-level event in May, as he weighed a bag that was just an ounce shy of 31 pounds to win a BFL at Toledo Bend Reservoir.
"I hadn't been on that lake in over a year and I just showed up and went fishing. I fished a couple areas that had been good to me in the past, but I didn't start on the place where I caught quite a few of the best fish because I was waiting for the exact time for them to be biting. That was kind of a guessing game.
"The only bad thing about it was I had all that weight by 9:30 or 10. I was pretty sure I'd won, but I didn't really catch anything the rest of the day."
If the late-summer bite at Murray next month is stingy – as it's expected to be – that'll suit him just fine.
"I usually do my best whenever we have a real tough event; the lower the weights that people are catching, the better I tend to do. I like the idea of going out and trying to get five bites instead of catching 50 2 1/2-pounders trying to get one that's 2 3/4.
"In that situation, I've got confidence in myself that I can get five bites and put them in the boat."