SALEM, VA – After four consecutive Bassmaster Classic appearances from 2005 through 2008, Virginia pro John Crews didn’t take a berth in the world championship for granted, but he certainly wanted to “see how long (he) could keep the streak going” and was thoroughly disappointed when he missed qualifying for the 2009 and 2010 events.

He didn’t just fall out of Classic contention for two seasons, he plummeted to unfamiliar territory, the bottom half of the AOY standings, with a 71st place finish in 2008. Then things got worse in 2009 and he finished 74th. He said that the problems weren’t a matter of declining skills but rather a poor mental approach to the game.

“I got in a rut where I was probably 80 percent positive,” he said. “Usually I’m the guy who’s 100 or 110 percent positive all the time. For example, if I crash my truck, I just say ‘Well, I needed a new one anyway.’ Ish and I were in the same rut. We’re both normally pretty positive guys and we realized (the problem) at the beginning of last year. It took a half year before it turned around.”

The result for Crews was a stellar 2010 Elite Series season, which included a win at the California Delta and a place in the twelve-man post-season. By extension, he’ll be going back to the Classic.

“It may sound silly, but I just got back to having a lot of fun,” he explained.

Started With a Bang, Kept it Going While Crews won the 2010 season-opening Elite Series event, he said that the positivity started to pay dividends earlier, in the latter half of 2009. “Toward the end of last year I was fishing really well,” he recalled. “I tied for 12th in the last tournament, at Oneida and felt that I was fishing the way I’m supposed to fish.” Rather than allowing that momentum to dissipate over the winter months, he constantly reminded himself that he’d gotten some of his mojo back. “It’s really a mind game to keep yourself in it.”

Obviously, the victory in California demonstrated that he’d kept his mind in tiptop shape and it paid off handsomely, both in terms of the $100,000 winner’s purse and the load of AOY points that accompanied it. He went on to earn five checks in the remaining seven events, including a 3rd place finish at Guntersville and a 6th place finish at Kentucky Lake. By comparison, he’d made zero top twelves in 2009.

“The years I made the Classics, it seemed like I always made two or three top twelves,” he said. “This year I just tried to put myself in position to make the top twelve and then I’d try to win the tournament on the last day. I did a good job of that. At Guntersville on the last day all of my fish were four to four and a quarter pounds. I couldn’t get a big bite. At Kentucky Lake I had over 20 pounds the last day with one big bite. On the final day I was putting it all together.”

One factor that he believes has helped him on final days is his focus on physical fitness. He said that working out and eating right become a factor in multi-day events. He’s also started doing more agility work, which he asserted “benefits (him) more than you’d think when you have to stand on one leg all day.” If nothing else, the further an angler competes into an event, the more that physical and mental fatigue are likely to catch up with you.

A Sense of Self in the Post-Season Crews entered the two-event BASS post-season in 8th place, and while two lackluster finishes dropped him to 12th overall, he said that the experience will pay future dividends. He already senses a mental shift. “I felt like I belonged there,” he said. “I learned a ton about those bodies of water and about competing with just 12 guys. Also, spending a week and a half with just those guys, I learned a lot about the mental approach and how different guys have different approaches. I took away some things you can do when you get down to the nitty gritty and figure out what you need to do to win Angler of the Year.”

Prior to taking another shot at the AOY crown, he’ll confront his fifth Classic and it’s an opportunity he doesn’t take lightly. “Those are the two wallhangers, the AOY and the Classic,” he said. “Every legend has won at least one of them and the true legends have won both…Iaconelli, Hank Parker, VanDam, Skeet. You only have one shot a year to win the Classic.” He’s never finished better than 16th in the big event but he’s ready to change that in February.

“The last time we went to a Delta I won,” he said. “There’s no reason I can’t do the same thing.” He’s never fished the Louisiana Delta, but knows that its labyrynthine canals can be a tough nut to crack. “You could spend three months down there and not see it all. I’m just planning to go for four or five days (before it goes off limits). I’ll try to find a few key areas and learn to run.” Despite his extensive tidal water experience in Virginia, which came into play at the California Delta, he doesn’t necessarily believe that gives him a meaningful advantage over the rest of the field. “Ninety five percent of the guys have a legitimate shot,” he said. “They’re as comfortable on the Delta as anywhere else.

Growing up (around tidal water) doesn’t help me tremendously except maybe in a weird situation, like a flood tide.” Crews believes that while he might not when the Classic – “I’m a true believer that when it’s your time, it’s your time,” he said – he’s done everything necessary to put himself in position to win, and “getting your mind right is one of those things.”

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