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A Classic beginning

3/3/2007

Audio of Duckett explaining how he won the Classic

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Boyd Duckett squinted as he pulled out his multi-page itinerary and looked over his flight schedule.

It was Wednesday. Three days after he won the Bassmaster Classic, and still no room to breathe. Pulling from the two hours of sleep he got the night before, Duckett finally found his place.

"Flight's not 'til 5:40, so we're good," he said, after mumbling through about 15 different towns until he hit Little Rock, Ark., the site of this interview.

He had just finished a hurried lunch, which was preceded by a couple hours in front an ESPN television camera for the Classic highlight show that will air Saturday at 9 a.m. ET.

And now it was time to sit down for another interview. It was probably his 100th in the past 70 hours, but with the sincerity of his answers, one would have thought it was his first.

"It's been crazy," he said as he found a seat on the couch. "It'll all settle down. I've just got to try and find a way to get it all done."

Duckett spent most of Monday in front of cameras. He did photo shoots for Berkley, Abu Garcia, Bassmaster Magazine and Bass Times.

He did an interview with ESPNEWS and finished up a series of Classic stories (that had started before the tournament) with the Tuscaloosa News. Any spare moment Monday was spent with media and answering phone calls.

"I used to call into a radio show maybe twice a month," he said. "Do maybe a phone interview for an outdoor magazine or do a little radio interview. I have done an incredible amount of phone interviews over the past couple days."

With the Monday media craze behind him, Duckett planned using Tuesday to get his work life back together. He planned to be at work by 7 a.m., but the phone calls started before he could get to his car.

At noon, he finally arrived at Southern Tank Leasing, his multi-million dollar stainless steel tanker rental business in his hometown of Demopolis, Ala. There, he was greeted by 706 unread emails.

His work day included four calls into radio talk shows and another barrage of calls from reporters. It ended around 2 a.m., and he was at the airport to fly to Little Rock at 4:30 a.m.

But he was still wide-eyed as he sat on the edge of the couch in a back room adjacent to the Bassmaster television studio.

Who is Boyd Duckett?

Duckett has been tournament fishing for more than 30 years, but he didn't see any real success until the mid-1990s.

"The guys call me a veteran rookie," he said, ignoring the first of six calls he would receive throughout the hour-long interview. "I've done this a long time. I've watched all these guys come into the sport, except the old guys."

Duckett's lack of success as an angler in his early years was offset by his success in the music business. He was the co-owner of Affiliated Publishers Inc., in Nashville and played guitar and sang at bars on the weekend.

"I fished a long time and was not very successful," he said. "I couldn't win because I didn't do it right. I was nervous and my confidence level was awful."

Duckett eventually sold the music company, moved to his current home in Demopolis, and opened up his truck business, which was successful enough to allow him to continue fishing even though he was losing money on the water.

"I couldn't even win big local tournaments when I was living in Tennessee," he said. "I mean, I got a couple checks with a 15th-place finish or something, but I didn't win them."

Then it happened. Duckett said he's not sure why or when it happened, but after years of doing it wrong, he figured out the secret to winning bass tournaments.

"It's all in your head," he said. "I used to chase mechanical skills, and I realize today that mechanical skills are the least valuable in professional bass fishing. They mean the least. It took me so long to believe that."

With that mindset, Duckett started winning. He won small local tournaments. He won big ones. After finishing first in 11 events in 1999, he started to become more of a force, not only locally, but nationally as well.

"What I'm telling you is that my competitive edge is in my head," Duckett said. "I finally figured that out and started winning everything in Alabama. You can win with your head. You can be horrible and win."

Duckett, who was once a 2-handicap golfer, explained his epiphany with a golf analogy. He talked about a golfer who misses a tee shot and carries that with him to the next hole. With that negative thought in mind, his next shot oftentimes is worse, and his round continually deteriorates because of the negativity.

"That can get in your head, and buddy when it does, you are cooked," he said. "It's no different in bass fishing. People just don't understand our sport."

Part II

Audio of Duckett explaining how he won the Classic

Boyd Duckett didn't worry, stuck with his pattern and landed the winning fish late on on Day 3. James Overstreet

Duckett had to give a disclaimer for the interview as it moved more toward the mental aspect of fishing, but he made no apologies for it.

"Most people don't want to talk about it because it's weird," he said. "It's really, really weird, but it's there."

Again the analogy came from golf. Duckett described a golfer's mental state as he stands over a putt. He said you believe you're going to make the putt, your mind will help guide it into the cup — or at least guide your muscles in the right direction.

"I know we're dealing with fish, and there is one more detached string involved," Duckett said. "But I promise you that if I catch that zone, I can pull up into a pocket behind any angler on tour and I can catch 'em. It can happen."

Duckett talked a lot about getting into the "zone," and "weird" was his continued description as he slowly moved into the realm of the Zen master Rick Clunn.

"What I can't do, and what I think Rick is striving for, is to find a way to force yourself into that zone," he said. "I don't know how to initiate it."

Duckett does know that he was in the "zone" for the three days of the Classic.

"I know it's all a little weird," he said. "But having discovered that, I can tell you that my physical skills have diminished — I fish less today than I ever have — but I am at the highest level I've ever been.

"I didn't come from nowhere. There was a time that I fished 300 days a year, but every year I fish less and my technical skills get worse and my tournament fishing gets better. I have shifted my focus. It's all about the deal [points at his head]. Kevin's [VanDam] got it figured out."

More on the Classic

With putting so much emphasis on the mental side of the sport, one would think Duckett didn't stand a chance going into the Classic. In the middle of a divorce which is complicating a corporate buyout, he has enough swirling in his head to keep him up nights. And that was before adding the biggest bass tournament of his life.

"I've got a bunch of stuff going on in my life right now," he said. "One of the things I've gotten better at over the last 10 years is being able to back the boat in the water and turn on the switch.

"I'm proud to be able to say that most of the time, I can separate myself when I'm on the water. Actually, the Classic is so big, it was easier to focus on the Classic."

So, with his entire focus on the Classic, Duckett had to make sure and …… not focus on the Classic, but the fishing. The media circus and extra attention will make most first-time Classic anglers go crazy, but Duckett said he wouldn't let himself get caught up.

"I tried to pay as little attention to all that," he said. "My plan was to try and fish it like another tournament and stay real open-minded. This was an easier tournament than half my tour events I fished last year [fewer competitors]. I was never nervous."

After blowing off the week of practice before the tournament because he knew the cold weather would fade and become obsolete, he spent Wednesday's final practice day before the tournament establishing a pattern. He entered the tournament feeling good.

"I think the cold weather the week before really improved my home-town advantage," he said. "I knew it was going to take 17 pounds a day to win, and I knew I could catch that."

After a surprising — to everyone except himself — 19-pound, 14-ounce bag on Day 1, Duckett fell to 10-15 on Day 2, and people started to count him out.

"I had two big bites that got off on Saturday," he said. "I had to stay positive because my pattern was working. I felt like I had given it away but I didn't want to focus on that."

He said he learned a lot about staying positive and working through tough issues in his business. He learned to leave the past in the past.

"If you build a business and you carry it with you everywhere you go, you'll die," he said. "The sky's falling in on me at my place every day. You have to be mature about it and handle it, but you can't take it everywhere you go."

That sky was plummeting down fast for Duckett on Sunday. With less than an hour of fishing left, he we still looking for a kicker fish to get his weight where he wanted it. But he said he never got down on himself or started worrying.

It was a pattern that had held up for two days, and there was no reason to think it wouldn't hold up for one more. After he hooked the 6-9 largemouth bass, he said he knew he had won.

"I told my cameraman, Rick, 'This is the fish that won the Bassmaster Classic,'" he said. "I had an overwhelming, unexplainable feeling that I had won the Classic. I absolutely knew it. I hollered it out."

He said it was the first time he let the magnitude of what he was accomplishing seep in.

"I let it go a little and it really felt good," he said. "All the emotions and worrying about this and overthinking … it felt good for a second."

At the end of Sunday's weigh-in, he was standing beside VanDam, whom he considers the best angler the world, waiting for his weight to come up on the screen. VanDam's 12-5 gave Duckett the title, but Duckett said he still wasn't able to completely let himself go.

"Even after I won, I was pleased, but I had just treated it like another event," Duckett said. "It's hard to get out of that mindset."

Hiis life has been going non-stop since, and with the Elite Series opener on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, coming up in a week, it might not slow down any time soon.

"At moments, it has sunk in but I have been real busy since then," he said. "I don't know if I've really consumed it yet."

Moving ahead

With the confidence of Classic in his pocket, Duckett likes his chances in the 2007 Elite series. He has squared off with the best of BASS at the Classic, and he has won.

"That was my favorite part about it," he said. "If I could have had my perfect scenario [for the Super Six], I would have had Ike in Timmy's [Horton] spot. And I'll get it on the Elite Series."

While he said he was "tickled to death" to win the Classic, Duckett has his sights on what he considers to be the biggest honor in bass fishing — the Angler of the Year title. He is not going in blind, nor is he swinging for the fences. He has a plan.

"My personal goal is 9 out of 11 cuts," he said. "Three top 12s and at least one or two legitimate win opportunities."

By his calculations, that should give him a shot at Angler of Year.

"When I was smoking on tour last year, people would ask me if I was nervous about trying to qualify for the Classic," he said.

That was not his goal. Even with a Classic in hand, Duckett said he is by no means satisfied with his career. This was just a steppingstone toward a trophy that would truly mean he is the best.

"I would always tell those reporters them that I'm mostly looking forward to qualifying for the Elites and winning Angler of the Year," he said, always confident and always positive. "It means you're truly the world champion that year."
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