By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Consistency was one of Dean Rojas' trademarks during his long tenure with B.A.S.S. He finished in the money in 153 of his 223 events with that organization and qualified for the Bassmaster Classic 16 times.
That type of steadiness was nowhere to be found on his ledger from the inaugural MLF Bass Pro Tour, however. Yeah, he won the event at Smith Lake, but he finished 60th or lower in the 80-man field in five of the other seven derbies, missing out on the first Redcrest Championship and all three 2019 MLF Cup events. He was 69th on the final points list.
Obviously and admittedly, he didn't adjust to the BPT format as well as some of his peers did. He certainly wasn't alone in that distinction, as Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and other former Elite Series standouts also landed in the bottom half of the field.
That victory at Smith at least made it a good year from a financial perspective, even though he missed the paycheck cutoff in six of eight outings.
"I feel like a lot of what happened this year was due to the unknown," he said. "My overall performance wasn't where I expected it to be, but I know myself and I know what I'm capable of doing and I think next year is going to be a different story.
"I learned a lot about how this new format needs to be approached and how to excel at it."
Full of Wonder to Start
The BPT's inaugural event was held at a venue that's near and dear to Rojas' heart – Florida's Lake Toho, where he caught his B.A.S.S. record 45-02 five-fish stringer in 2001. There were no such heroics this time, though, as he finished an unsightly 74th.
"I was really curious to see how this whole thing (with the new format) was going to play out," he said. "That was probably (dominating his thought process) even more than competing because I had no baseline for comparison. I made a couple of bad decisions and they ended up biting me."
He bounced back with a 17th at Conroe and logged a 9th at the Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River, but then struggled badly in the three-lake affair in North Carolina. The next stop was Lake Chickamauga, which resulted in his most disheartening outcome of the campaign even though it was his third-highest BPT finish.
"I had a great practice and I led my group in the first round," he said. "I had a lot of fish and I felt like I had it rolling, so I backed off, which is what you normally do (in five-fish limit tournaments).
"I ended up falling back in the next round and I couldn't regroup. I lost a couple of fish, and then after a while I was just barely hanging on, and then I ended up missing the cut by 2 or 3 pounds. That wouldn't have happened if I'd kept consistently catching them. It was a big learning experience for me, but I was so disappointed in myself."
He vows that he won't allow a similar situation to unfold in 2020.
"You can't have a lapse at this level; this group of anglers, they're the best. If you have a period where you only catch one or two bass, you fall like a rock. You have to keep catching them and catching them."
Looking Down the Road
The 48-year-old Rojas said he hasn't lost his affinity for the five-fish-limit tournaments that he grew up with. Nonetheless, he's a firm believer that MLF's catch-weigh-release style will be the standard for the next generation and is better for the sport both from conservation and fan-interest perspectives.
"It's a whole different level of fishing in terms of how you prepare," he said. "There's more pressure, more intensity and more adrenaline (pumping). For at least a half a dozen guys, it's already totally revitalized their careers.
"It's exciting on television – fans like the drama (provided by the constantly updated ScoreTracker), the penalties and the other things that are encompassed. There are still some parts of it that I have to get a better handle on, but I know this is the future and I'm gearing toward that.
"Holding up big fish in front of a (weigh-in) crowd is fun – I'm the world record-holder, so I know about that," he concluded. "I still love that, but this is another step forward."