By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

The inaugural MLF Bass Pro Tour season won't generate many fond memories for Mike McClelland. The veteran finished no better than 49th in any of the eight events despite two of those derbies being on his home water. He failed to cash a single paycheck and ended up at No. 78 on the Angler of the Year (AOY) race in an 80-angler field.

He has a pretty simple explanation for his struggles that any angler at any level can relate to most of the time, he wasn't fishing where the majority of the catchable fish were.

"I just don't feel like I made good decisions," said McClelland, who won four events on the Bassmaster Elite Series and qualified for 11 Classics. "I ended up in unproductive water for the majority of the season.

"As bad as I hate to say it, after a year like this, I'm glad that it's concluded and I can take a deep breath and refocus. For any competitive athlete who's not doing well, the harder you try, the worse it gets. That was evident for me in the last two or three tournaments when I was spending longer hours on the water and I completely wore myself out trying to make something happen."

Been There Before

This isn't the first time the 51-year-old McClelland has experienced a rough season. On the 2011 Elite Series, he squeaked out a check with a 46th-place finish in the season opener at the Harris Chain in Florida and almost did it again at the St. Johns River the following week (51st). After that, he never had a placement above 57th and ended up at No. 85 in the points.

He bounced back the next season with a string of upper-pack finishes and made his seventh Classic in 8 years.

"It's not like I wasn't catching anything (in either 2011 or '19), but what I was catching was subpar to what everybody else was catching," he said. "Not every year's going to come up peaches, but you at least like to have some successes throughout the year that offset some of the tougher events.

"This is such a trying, humbling sport and when you get beat down so much, it makes you want to come back with a vengeance. This is going to drive me to work a little harder than some of those other guys who had better years might."

Home Cooking was Awful

Most observers tabbed McClelland as one of the heavy favorites for the two events at Table Rock in May and early June (the second of which was necessitated when flooding in Oklahoma rendered Grand Lake unfishable). He's fished the lake throughout his life, he picked up his last Elite win there in 2014 and he now resides on its shoreline, having completed construction on his new home in late 2018.

He couldn't deliver, however, posting finishes of 66th and 68th. Again, his choice of locales was lacking.

"They bit so well before the off-limits they were eating the paint off a jerkbait," he said. "Then when the tournament came around they wanted nothing to do with a jerkbait on the lower end of the lake.

"The fact that I'd missed the productive section was brought to my attention at ICAST (last week) when Andy Morgan told me he was counting on me to really catch them at Table Rock because they were eating a jerkbait like crazy. I told him I threw it a bunch on the lower end and they weren't biting it. He said he'd practiced downlake some, but had ended up in the (White River) and that's where he caught them. He said he saw me one day in the White, but I told him I'd already given up on the jerkbait by the time I got there."

He plans to interact with the Table Rock fish a lot more in the coming months than he did toward the end of 2018, when his house was nearing completion. The same goes for some of the other Ozarks impoundments in the vicinity.

"I'm already looking at which tournaments I can fish this fall to stay fresh and get back on track. I'm not one to make a ton of excuses, but last year I wasn't on the water as much as I needed to be. There was a lot of landscaping stuff and other things that needed to be ironed out with the house and that took up too much of my time and attention.

"This year there there's going to be a lot more time on the water."