By Todd Ceisner
Ever read about those diehard sports fans who set out to visit all the Major League Baseball stadiums or NHL arenas in one season? Sounds like an experience of a lifetime, right?
John Cox is about to embark on his own version of such a trip as a dual-tour competitor during the 2020 bass fishing tournament season. One glance at the venues on Cox’s itinerary reveals the next eight months is going to be like a bucket list-worthy bass fishing odyssey even the most astute travel agent would struggle to put together.
Here’s a little taste of where Cox will be competing and when:
> Sam Rayburn Reservoir in late January;
> Lake Chickamauga in mid-February;
> Lake Guntersville in early March;
> Santee Cooper Lakes in mid-April;
> Lake Fork in early June;
> Two St. Lawrence River stops sandwiched around Lake Champlain in late July/early August;
> Lake St. Clair in mid-August.
Talk about some big-fish (and big payday) potential. Cox is the only angler set to compete on both the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Pro Circuit in 2020 and it’ll mark the first time he’s competed on two national circuits simultaneously. He couldn’t be more excited. When he gazes at his upcoming calendar, he doesn’t see a daunting proposition. He sees opportunities – to win, to learn and to show BassFans yet again that he can apply his shallow-water mindset just about anywhere at any time.
He’s preparing two boats for the 2020 season – a Crestliner PT-20 for FLW events and a deep-v Crestliner Bass Hawk 1850 for the Elite Series – and that endeavor alone, along with preparing rods and tackle for each boat, has occupied a lot of his time this offseason.
“That’s all I’ve been thinking about – just trying to get prepared with both boats and all the equipment,” he said. “It’s going to be so fast-paced I’m not going to have any down time to get things together.”
Indeed, he will have very few windows of time in between tournaments. After the FLW Pro Circuit season opener at Sam Rayburn Reservoir later this month, he’ll have a week before the Elite Series season kicks off at the St. Johns River in Florida. That will start a month-long bass binge that will culminate with the Bassmaster Classic at Guntersville on March 6-8. After that, he’ll have a few lulls, but nothing longer than three weeks.
“It’s hard to go out and practice a tournament scenario,” he said. “It’s so much easier to be in an event and just go.”
Only Three New Stops
There are 18 tournaments on Cox’s schedule and only one instance where two events conflict with each other. The Lake Eufaula Elite Series and Cherokee Lake FLW Pro Circuits are both scheduled for April 2-5, but he’s yet to decide which one he’ll compete in. Other than that, the schedules align in such a manner that the travel demands, for the most part, won’t be problematic.
“The travel will line up pretty good so I don’t have to fly other than maybe once,” he said. “I can drive the rest. What wears me out the most is the in-between travels. That’s what wears you down.”
The most exciting part for Cox is knowing he’s been to all but three of the venues (Lake Martin, Sabine River and Lake Fork).
“Just look at some of the places we’re going,” he said. “When preparing for some of these places, I already have an idea of where they’ll be and what patterns will be dominant.”
Cox is coming off a year that saw him finish second to David Dudley in the FLW Tour points race and post two victories at Lake Chickamauga (once on the FLW Tour and once in a Bassmaster Eastern Open).
It’s been a few years since anglers have been able to compete on two circuits at the same time and if more coordination among organizations was done regarding scheduling, Cox thinks others would jump at the chance to fill their calendars up with tournaments.
“I’m thrilled that everybody is allowing me to do both,” he said. “It’ll help me and my family tremendously. There are quite a few of us that would do this if we could.”
Cox said he didn’t receive any pushback from officials at either B.A.S.S. or MLFLW (the new parent company of FLW) about his pursuing both trails this season.
“It went so smoothly, I almost didn’t believe it,” he said. “Everybody was super nice. They realized it was going to help me out tremendously and help me grow. It’s a win-win for everybody. I didn’t’ want to leave FLW at all. I’ve been there so long. It wouldn’t feel right not fishing those.”
Prepping Two Rigs
While FLW Pro Circuit rules don’t require Cox to use the same boat for the entire season, Elite Series rules are a little stricter about utilizing the same boat throughout the season. For that reason, Cox opted for the Bass Hawk for the Elite Series. The deep-v hull will offer him peace of mind later in the year.
“I would love to use the PT 20 through the beginning of the season, but the problem is the last three Elites are all on big water with the St. Lawrence, Champlain and St. Clair,” Cox said. “I want to finish strong and I don’t want to get up there and have the water get big and then not be able to move around.”
Cox said he and friend John Kremer have invested upwards of 100 hours this winter rigging and testing everything on both boats that will be used in competition. A fun-fishing outing last week revealed the need to made a modification to the livewell of the Bass Hawk.
“We caught some big ones and had like three 6-pounders in the livewell,” Cox said. “I opened the lid and one of them jumped completely out and landed in the lake.”
That night, he and Kremer fabricated some plexiglass to act as a secondary livewell cover to prevent a similar mishap during the season.
Cox has made his name feasting on shallow-water opportunities that others overlooked or weren’t willing to commit to and he thinks the early part of the schedule will play to his strengths.
“I’m looking forward to the start of the season,” he said. “The meat of it that will be the best will be Rayburn up until we finish on Hartwell at the end of April. I’m excited about the three up north and the Detroit River. I’m going to have some serious time with the smallmouth, which is great because I’ve been learning so much.”
He was introduced to the St. Lawrence River for the first time last fall when he competed for Team USA in the Pan-American Bass Championship. He’ll competed there twice in the span of three weeks this summer.
“I learned so much about the different techniques,” he said. “I’d never thrown a Ned rig before that week and I think that’s what caught every fish in the river.”