By Todd Ceisner
It didn’t take Todd Castledine long during the past FLW Tour season to reach a pretty significant determination about whether his choice to join the Tour on the pro side was a good decision.
Despite dealing with the pain and discomfort of a herniated disc in his back at the season opener at Lake Okeechobee back in January – “I was throwing up from the pain,” he said – Castledine reached the conclusion that he could survive – in a fishing sense – outside of the friendly confines of southeast Texas, where he’d been a force for years in the FLW Series and team trails.
“I called my wife and said, ‘I’m going to be alright,’” Castledine recalled. “I realized I can just go fishing. I didn’t think the Tour would be that much different, but that said, it’s a lot different.”
After a miserable practice, he finished a solid 36th at Okeechobee and tacked on a 39th at the Harris Chain of Lakes four weeks later to set a solid foundation for a rookie year that culminated with a Forrest Wood Cup berth and a renewed confidence and optimism with the 2019 season on the horizon.
Castledine finished 44th in points as a rookie, a respectable outcome to be sure. With 18 anglers who finished ahead of him in points this year opting to compete on other circuits in 2019, his path is cleared for a sophomore surge. That’s to say nothing of the 2019 Tour schedule, which has the potential to be the best big-fish schedule FLW has produced in years, including the season opener in his backyard at Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
Add it all up and he’s counting down the days until blast off on Jan. 10.
“Going into 2019, my confidence is 10 times higher,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I don’t feel that way anymore. I’ve seen a lot of things so far and I’ll be able to adjust a lot quicker now. The familiarity with how everything plays out will be 10 times easier.”
The differences that stood out to Castledine also served as touchstone moments. After posting consecutive triple-digit finishes at lakes Lanier and Cumberland, he applied the clear-water reservoir lessons learned at Smith Lake, where he notched a 32nd to turn his season around.
“Lanier is what changed everything,” he said. “I learned the most from my worst event and that will change the entire way I look at fishing the Tour. I hope to find one of those every year.”
He said practice at Lanier was consistently good, but by tournament time he was left scratching his head.
“I had 30 to 40 bites a day in practice fishing the way I wanted to fish,” he said. “I have to be careful about that because I got hardly any of those bites in the tournament. I wasn’t hard-headed, but I didn’t realize how different a shaky-head or something different would’ve caught ‘em.
“At Smith, I caught ‘em in practice the same way I caught ‘em at Lanier. Finding fish and catching them are different things. On day 3 of practice, I went back through those areas with a shaky-head and I ended up catching every one in the tournament on it.”
Downsizing presentations in an effort to generate consistent bites was a big adjustment for him.
“It might sound simple to some, but after 20 years, it’s hard to get away from how I typically fish because that’ll never work in a tournament in Texas where I’m from,” he said. “It goes against everything we do.”
Another “a-ha” moment occurred at Kentucky Lake, where shad-imitating swimbaits were among the top producers. Castledine isn’t a fan of said baits, but he saw how productive they were at Lanier and Cumberland and rather than go the stubborn route, he tried his hand at it.
“I almost despise all soft plastic swimbaits out there because they don’t work at Rayburn, but I saw them work at Lanier and Cumberland,” he said. “We go to Kentucky Lake and we threw swimbaits. (Travel partner) Russell (Cecil) was throwing a Rage Swimmer, but I tried to go for big ones.”
The end result was a 71st-place finish, but he came away with a better understanding of the need to adjust. While the target species changed to smallmouth at the season finale at Lake St. Clair in June – his first trip to the venue – Castledine stuck with the swimbait mindset and it paid off with a season-best 6th-place finish.
He recalled taking nearly 30 minutes on day 2 to rig up a rod with 8-pound line to fish a small swimbait even though he hadn’t caught one on it yet. Still, he felt like he had to make a change.
“On my second cast, I catch a 6-pounder,” he said. “That’s the kind of confidence you need to have. I’m getting better at figuring that stuff out. I caught my first fish on it and every tournament fish on it. Those sorts of things I realized how I had to adjust for the Tour. I started to figure out things that would work. I had to change the Texas mentality. I knew things like that would happen – I just didn’t know what they’d be.”
Expectations, Not Goals
At Okeechobee, Harris Chain and Lake St. Clair, Castledine caught the bulk of his weigh-in fish employing techniques he’d never used before in a tournament. He proved to be a quick learner and that could prove to be trouble for the rest of the Tour field in the coming years.
“I’m a quick learner in fishing and I can adjust pretty well,” he said. “Learning on the fly is easy. I hate It, though, because there’s always a better way to do it in my mind. You might go 8-for-10 landing fish getting bites on the fly, but I’ll feel like you can be 10-for-10.”
He said he’ll go into the 2019 season with no specific goals in mind, but rather expectations of himself.
“This year, I had no goals, but next year is different,” he said. “I have expectations. I wouldn’t call them goals. I expected to contend for a win each time out and for the Angler of the Year. I’m hoping all of my success in the Costas is going to show up in the Tour.”
He pointed to cashing a check in five of the six FLW Series tournaments he fished this year and said he wants to finish in the money at all seven Tour stops next year.
“I have no expectations to do that, but I fully believe I can,” he said. “I shouldn’t be fishing if I didn’t think I can do that.”