In the winter of 2016, Casey Scanlon was at a crossroads. The young Ozark pro had just completed his fifth full season on the Bassmaster Elite Series and, frankly, he didn’t have much to show for it. Only once had he crested the top 10 in an event, he’d missed the Classic more times than he’d made it, and the bills were piling up.

“The travel was the big thing” Scanlon recalled. “It was just so expensive at the time. If you didn’t have a bunch of big sponsorship dollars coming in, B.A.S.S. was tough.”

As Scanlon considered his options for the following season, his mind went back to 2015, when Elite competitors began the season in Texas, went to Alabama, then swung through California and Arizona, all before a trip up north to New York, Maryland and Michigan. In the end, fuel bills were more than most mortgages.

Besides, Scanlon admits his performance wasn’t exactly knocking ‘em dead. “I was definitely on the chopping block,” Scanlon reflected of his position. "Every time I’d get a little momentum, something catastrophic would happen.”

Lacking security, Scanlon picked up the phone and called FLW. “I didn’t know anything about FLW at the time” he said. “But I looked at the schedule and it had less travel and paid better. I wanted to spend more time at home; I just really needed to push the reset button.” With nothing to lose, Scanlon sent in his deposits.

Right now, Scanlon’s move seems genius. Coming off his first FLW Tour victory at Lake Champlain, the world is his oyster. Scanlon gambled and won, and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup as a result.

I had to wonder, what changed? Was Casey Scanlon now just a better fisherman?

“Yes,” Scanlon answered to that exact question. “Really, the Elite Series was a great training ground. It wasn’t fun – don’t get me wrong – but it absolutely made me a better fisherman.”

Scanlon went on to emphasize that the Elites' baptism-by-fire mentality, dragging their anglers all across the continent to diverse fisheries unlike anything they’ve seen back home, set the stage for him to grow and mature as an angler.

“I realized that the only thing that held me back was myself,” Scanlon reflected. The 35-year-old now feels he fishes smarter, slowing down and staying with the groups of fish he found in practice, even if they move on him.

“In the past, I didn’t evaluate (fish) well in tournaments. But at Champlain, the fish moved every day on me. I stayed with them and it resulted in my first win.”

With his feet now solidly planted, I wanted to ask Scanlon the tough question. What about B.A.S.S., or the new BPT, and the higher payouts they now offer? Would he entertain a move back, or over?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with any other organization, but I look forward to fishing FLW next year,” he answered, almost rehearsed.

I get it – don’t bite the hand that feeds you. And FLW is feeding him quite well. But I wondered if it was that cut-and-dry.

“You have to treat it like a business,” Scanlon explained of his direction. “The bass fishing world is exciting at this time. All of it’s so new, it’s scary. But it’s exciting.”

I wondered if he’d been called by the BPT prior to this season, as the group’s 80-man roster was being drawn up. After all, Scanlon was once a Major League Fishing select angler.

“My phone never rang,” Scanlon confided, admitting he would have liked the “opportunity to weigh my options.”

In any case, the FLW format fits Scanlon’s style. Immediately, he offered the greatest perk: “The off day (Wednesday prior to each tournament) is awesome. On the Elite Series, we had a short practice, then a meeting, then went right to the tournament.” Scanlon didn’t like the rat race.

I often make note when interviewing pros how each one shares this same viewpoint – loving the off-day. Then I wonder how long it will be before other trails adopt this standard.

In any case, Scanlon sees no reason to fret over his career path. “I look at tournaments as they come to me and keep on fishing. I know there’s going to be something to fish.”

Scanlon’s sponsor base is secure. “All have been with me through my entire career. That was another thing about fishing the Elites – it allowed me to grow business relationships with the sponsors I have currently, which has been huge for my career."

Scanlon’s still single, with no dependents, and his guide business fills in the holes in his schedule and checkbook.

What else is there in life? Twenty, 30 more years of the same, and ride off into the sunset, right?

“Do you ever retire as a bass fisherman?” Scanlon joked. “All of us would like to do that at some point.

“But it’s a tough life. Financial security hasn’t always been there. When good fortune comes your way, you need to make the most of it, be smart about it and put some money in the piggy bank.”

Pretty sound advice from a guy born in the '80s. Perhaps the Elite Series matured more than just Casey’s fishing.

(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.)