By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
There's no doubt that the aftereffects of the two shoulder operations that Paul Elias underwent during the fall and winter of 2018 had a big impact on his performance on the 2019 MLF Bass Pro Tour. However, he admits there were other factors that played into his last-place finish in the final points standings.
"I'm not making the excuse that my shoulder was the 100-percent cause of my bad year," said Elias, who at age 68 is the oldest competitor on the circuit. "Some of it was physical, but I think most of it was mental. I learned a lot and I think I understand how to compete on that tour now and I think I can do a lot better.
"It's been really interesting watching the shows and seeing how close I came to the right patterns, but I just didn't stick with it. It's kind of funny when you do something for this long to find out you're not as educated as you thought were (in regard to) the modern age of bass fishing."
Something Went Wrong
Elias, who'd suffered pain in his left (non-casting) shoulder for several years, had his initial rotator-cuff surgery 13 months ago. Things didn't go quite right, though, necessitating another operation just before Christmas – just a few weeks before the BPT's inugural event at the Kissimmee Chain in Florida.
"When I had to have that second surgery, it made me feel like I was beat before I even started," the 1982 Bassmaster Classic champion said. "I got off to a really bad start and a lot of it was mental.
"In practice I wouldn't fish certain ways because it just hurt too much. Casting wasn't that bad, but it was just setting the hook and holding on. I don't know how many fish I lost in Florida because I couldn't get them out of the reeds or the hay. One day at another tournament my boat official told me I'd caught 17 fish, and then he asked me if I wanted to know how many I'd lost. When he told me it was 17, I just said 'Man, that's not good.'''
He said he never considered asking officials of the fledgling circuit for any type of medical exemption that would allow him time to recover.
"I kind of figured that if I was going to do it, I'd better just do it," he said. "They were locking us in for three years and if I can't stay in the top 70 out of 80 in that much time, then I don't need to be out there."
He finished 62nd at Kissimmee, which turned out to be his high-water mark for the campaign. His only other placement above the 70s was a 67th at Lake Chickamauga.
He spent a lot of time utilizing spinning gear just because it was much easier to tangle with hooked up fish with his right side bearing all of the weight burden.
"A lot of fish were caught that way all year – Michael Neal almost won the Angler of the Year and he probably threw a spinning rod 80 percent of the time, but that's what he's used to. I had some decent days doing it, but it's just not me.
"In a lot of the tournaments you needed to be covering water and making a lot of casts; really the whole tour was that way. I was fishing a lot slower than I needed to be. I didn't look near enough in the day and a half of practice and I dang sure didn't cover enough water as the tournament was going on."
Golf Swings Help
Elias' sessions with a physical therapist ended in May, but he's continued with exercises to increase the range of motion in his shoulder. He says it's far beyond where it was when the 2019 season started, but he's fairly certain that he'll never get it all back.
The exercise that's been most helpful is swinging two golf clubs with the grips placed side by side in his hands.
"I've always played a lot of golf, but I can't play near as well as I used to," he said. "I just can't get enough backswing."
His new boat will be ready for him in a couple of weeks and he plans to spend a lot of time on the water once he gets it. He'll make a few pre-practice trips to venues on the 2020 schedule and make frequent excursions on the 750-acre lake he resides on and a 1,200-acre state-owned impoundment nearby.
"I'll fish as much as I can and teach myself to cover ground," he said. "I'm really excited about next year because I think it's just an awesome schedule – I'm not worried about any (of the tournaments) on there.
"I'm just really glad I got to experience this format before I retired because as far as I'm concerned, it's the ultimate in competition. I've never been a numbers guy, but I've to step up and start catching numbers."