- Craig Lamb
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FLORENCE, Ala. -- Tim Horton carries all the credentials to make him the hands-down favorite to win this week's Bassmaster Elite Series on Pickwick Lake.
He grew up fishing the Tennessee River chain of lakes spreading across northern Alabama, including Pickwick, Wilson, and Wheeler lakes. He guided professionally year-round from 1993-99 on the famed fisheries. He attributes winning the 2000 Angler of the Year title in his rookie year to skills honed at both ends of the river.
He also failed to make the top 50 cut at last year's Alabama Charge held on Pickwick, jut minutes from his home in Muscle Shoals. Even so, one of the sport's legends is confident he'll find redemption this year while admitting there are no guarantees.
"It's not like other pro sports like baseball where there's a home-field advantage," said Horton, who once played on the baseball team at the University of North Alabama in Florence. Like other pros, Horton will go for months away from home because of coast-to-coast tournaments and sponsor commitments.
Horton knows he'll be in the spotlight on Pickwick, his Bass Pro Shops/Nitro-wrapped rig easily spotted by peers and fans alike. And he'll adjust his strategy accordingly.
"It would be very easy to fall back on community holes and popular areas even that hold good fish," he notes. "I'm challenging myself to find different water."
"You've got to do that mentally, separate yourself from the field or you'll easily lose your confidence and have a mental breakdown if the fish don't pan out."
Alabama native Gerald Swindle of nearby Warrior agrees the local lake advantage is a myth.
"Ten years ago there was a local advantage when we'd spread out visits to a given lake," he said. "Now we go to the same places year after year. When you take a Kevin VanDam to Guntersville every year he knows it better than any local because he fishes at a different level. He can avoid getting psyched out."
Swindle also points to the tiny computer chip as breaking down the local lake advantage.
"I can go on a given lake blind with Lowrance StructureScan and Navionics Charts and know it like a local after two trips," he said.
Randy Howell, another top pro from Alabama, has been in the local lake hot seat before. His myth or fact answer to the question takes the pressure off Horton this week and others beyond.
"Nobody has a local advantage during a prespawn, spawn or postspawn situation," he said. "The fish are on the move and anybody can dial into them. The fish spread out all over the lake and there's no favorite until the final cut."
Horton has one edge over his peers, local advantage or not.
"I'll sleep in my own bed, have a home cooked meal, and be with family," he said. "That's a big positive to me when I wake up to drive to the lake."
That makes getting to the launch ramp with a positive attitude an advantage, local or not.
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