By now, most hardcore fishing fans know the story of Clent Davis and the roller-coaster ride that became his career. A solid FLW performer early on, Davis chased a hunch and shifted to the Elite Series, only to fall apart, sell all his gear and vow to quit fishing. Less than a year later, however, Davis would streak to the highest rank, hoisting the Forrest Wood Cup trophy and its $300,000 first prize, making us all wonder: What just happened?
Davis’ story can likely only be understood by those on the competitive inside of fishing. After dozens of interviews with the best in the world, he’s the first to shed light on what we’ve all been thinking:
“Tournament fishing is just like an addiction to drugs, from what I hear,” Davis said. “You try it and then you get hooked on it – addicted to it. Then you can’t stop, even though you don’t enjoy it anymore.”
Davis recognized in early 2017 that he no longer enjoyed tournament fishing, despite competing on the Elite tour, where everything was supposed to be big and bright for competitors, carrying them to household-name status.
“You hear all these stories and everything; well, it didn’t happen the way it was supposed to,” Davis said.
Despite seeing an immediate bump in sponsor income when he switched from FLW to B.A.S.S., Davis hadn’t planned on the increase in expenses that came as well. Entry fees were higher and travel costs were significantly more, as the Bassmaster tour criss-crossed much of the country. Despite the high-profile status, Davis didn’t find what he was looking for.
“You learn the grass isn’t always greener. Other than a select few guys, they’re grinding away over there, too."
By the beginning of the 2017 season, Davis already wanted to quit. He no longer pre-practiced for events, worked little on his gear or approach and just kind of rolled along. Not surprisingly, he rarely finished in the money.
“Man, I didn’t even want to fish. I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I was miserable and had enough of it,” he insisted.
Davis and his wife had recently become parents to a little girl, still obviously the highlight of his existence. He reasoned that he could do something else and enjoy life a whole lot more. “I figured I’ve got a wife and a kid, and I’ve got bills; I could work a job ’til 5 o’clock every day and be a whole lot happier. There’s much easier ways to make a living than fishing, I promise you.”
Friends and family suggested that maybe all Davis needed was a temporary break from fishing. But, rather than rest, Davis faced the addiction head-on, immediately selling nearly all of his equipment following the 2017 season. Boat, rods, reels, line, tackle; all of it. An extreme case of going cold turkey; one way or the other, Davis would sober up.
After a few weeks removed, the phone rang. It was FLW Tournament Director Bill Taylor.
Fans should note that a call from Taylor isn’t all that unusual for FLW’s veteran competitors, regardless of their place in life. “Yeah, he’s called a few different times,” Davis confirmed. “He checks on us. He truly cares about all of us.”
This time, Taylor was there to offer Davis an option. Noting that, perhaps, Davis was happier fishing FLW, Taylor offered a spot for Davis in 2018 by helping to align a needed sponsor exemption. Davis considered, barely.
“I was so burned out, FLW didn’t even seem like a good idea. I (had) tournament-fished since I was like 12 or 13. All through high school and college, I tournament-fished, I guided, I just fished non-stop and never took a break,” Davis reflected. The break felt good.
Further considering his options, Davis garnered the advice of Cody Meyer, one of FLW’s original young star performers, now a bass fishing millionaire. “He told me 'You might as well get it over with," Davis said. Meyer had recognized the competitive flame rekindling in Davis, as it does in nearly all tournament anglers once they get a taste of success.
After further consideration, Davis signed up to fish the Tour, but with a plan to leave obsession and addiction out of the equation. He would fish, do his best and leave it at that. There’d be no off-season guiding, no tournaments, no fishing-related obligations.
Davis replenished his equipment through the help of sponsors and got back with it. Excited again after his absence, the 2018 season was decent for him in terms of finishes, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, he enjoyed himself.
Davis took his light mood into the Cup where, as luck would have it, he barely squeaked into the final-day cut. Armed with a bag of his favorite worms and nothing to lose, his plan was to fire up his outboard one more time, let the chips fall where they may and then turn his attention toward deer season.
But, as fate would have it, deer season would have to wait.
Now $300,000 richer and with a growing list of champion’s obligations, Davis still focuses on his new mindset and plan. Following a few more weeks of PR, Davis plans to focus on the important things in life throughout the fall and winter off-season.
“I’m going to hunt and watch Alabama football, that’s it,” he said. “Oh, and get caught up on the honey-do list. There will be no competitive bass fishing of any kind.”
Such complete separation would likely concern many tournament anglers, determined to always focus on becoming better at their trade. Not so with the new champ.
“I’ve learned what I’m going to learn (about bass fishing techniques). I’m best if I just go do what I do; that’s what I have the most confidence in,” Davis concluded.
“I may go out and finish 90th in the points, but I guarantee I’ll be excited every day to go fishing, there’s no doubt about that.”
After all, that’s what it’s all about.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)