By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Getting back to his "fishing roots" may have helped Billy McCaghren get off to a solid start on the FLW Tour this year in the wake of a disastrous conclusion to the 2018 campaign.
"I had a pretty sour taste in my mouth, dropping from 12th in Angler of the Year points to completely out of the (Forrest Wood) Cup," the 10-year veteran pro from Arkansas said, recalling his finishes of 157th at Kentucky Lake and 112th at Lake St. Clair at the end of last season. "I felt okay about both of those tournaments, but they just didn't turn out good and it was disappointing.
"The drive home (from St. Clair) was extremely long and I drove it straight through – about 15 hours and 900 miles. One thing about being really discouraged is you can drive for a really long time."
He put almost no focus on tournament fishing during the off-season. He watched Callen, his 7-year-old son, compete in a fall youth baseball program and he worked full-time for his family's welding business, as he does whenever he's not away for tournaments.
He began the current campaign with finishes of 30th at Sam Rayburn Reservoir and 25th at Lake Toho and sits at No. 14 in the points headed into next week's derby at Lake Seminole.
Back to Basics
The only fishing McCaghren did between the end of last season and this year's opener was with his father on Lake Conway, near their home. It was out of a flat-bottom boat with a 25-hp motor and no electronics.
"That's where I learned to fish and I had a lot of fun doing that," he said. "It's one of the better lakes in Arkansas and the whole thing is like one big flat. I wouldn't want to put a fiberglass boat out there – it's full of stumps and rebar and all kinds of things.
"We never caught any giants, but we got lots of 2 1/2- to 5-pounders. Doing that kind of got me over how my season ended."
The St. Clair bomb was particularly disheartening because he'd caught some quality smallmouths in practice, although he wasn't getting a tremendous number of bites.
"What I was doing kind of went away and it left me scrambling. Looking back, I should've done some more research on the Canada side because that was the week it opened up for fishing. I never want to say fish are dumb, but those hadn't gotten any pressure in a long time and a lot of good ones were caught there.
"I finally got over there at the end of the second day and caught three 4-pounders. That made me realize that's where I should've been the whole time."
Shot at Redemption
McCaghren had a lackluster 87-place finish at Lake Seminole in his previous appearance there (a 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series event), but he's looking forward to going back.
"I know those fish have been spawning – they have to have been," he said. "I've been watching the temperatures and it was plenty warm enough on this last full moon (for a big migration toward the bank. It looks like we're going to get a good dose of cold air for practice and that may slow those Florida-strains down, but it'll be the same for everybody.
"It may be a little tough to get a lot of bites during practice, but I think the tournament's going to be good. It's a good place and they live there."
He'll leave for Georgia today with his mind in a good place as he continues his quest to qualify for his first Cup (which will be held this year at Lake Hamilton in his home state) in his fourth year on the circuit.
"I always try to keep my confidence up and put in as much work as I can, and I'm either going to find them and catch them, or I'm not. I just want to stay healthy so I can put in as much time as possible on the practice days and then hope I make good decisions when the tournament starts."
When he gets back to Arkansas, there will be more welding to be done.
"I guess I've just never been willing to take that leap of faith (to becoming a full-time angler). If I'm not there, I feel like I'm letting my family down, and I get as much time off as I need to do what I want, so I kind of owe it to them.
"That's a lot more of a guarantee. Fishing is never a guarantee."