SYRACUSE, N.Y. — One year ago, Gerald Swindle was riding an emotional low. His brother had just died, his fishing suffered and he ended the year in 53rd place, his worst Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year finish in the Elite Series.
Swindle has seemed to regain his form, cashing a check in six of seven Elite events this season, and he has a shot at making the Toyota Trucks Championship Week, sitting in 17th in the standings.
To what does he owe the transformation?
"Last year, it was a constant struggle after losing my brother — I never could get it all together," Swindle said. "I got a mind coach and we decided to go old school. Since then, I've had great tournaments, fishing clean and making good decisions. I just haven't been in a position to win."
His new mindset coupled with added mental focus gained from the discipline of working out has given Swindle the opportunity for a resurgence. It has paid off.
Swindle took to the water for the second day of practice for the Ramada Champion's Choice on Oneida Lake looking for the quality fish to score a top-12 finish this week. That would give him a chance to make the postseason and lock up a Classic berth on Lay Lake, the site of his disqualification in 2007.
"Every good competitor wants that second shot," Swindle said. "Lay has changed a lot since the last time we were there, but regardless, I'm going to be looking for a little redemption for the fans. I had great fan support there and it's always great to come home for a Classic."
The road to the Classic and the postseason goes through Syracuse for Swindle and his days of practice have been balanced between scouting shallow for largemouth and deep for the wolf packs of big smallmouth.
"I'm going to fish for largemouth more this year," Swindle said. "Normally, I try finding the smallmouth. I love chasing them around, but I normally get my butt beat. There are some big schools of smallmouth suspended out deep, but man will they burn you."
The morning started with Swindle looking for those smallmouth, but after a short time without a bite, he moved shallow. Swindle predicted that it would take a mixed bag to win this year, noting that last year, Dean Rojas only just barely got the bites it took to win.
The important thing for Swindle in practice so far has been to stay away from a jerkbait.
"G has thrown a jerkbait for three years now, I'm not going to let that happen again," Swindle said. "You get so many bites on it that it becomes a trap, just drawing you in. Next thing you know, you are standing in the no-check line."
Also joining him for the Ramada Champion's Choice is a film crew looking to begin shooting a reality show that focuses on a side of bass fishing that most people never see. For Swindle, that means the business side of the sport and the daily grind of the tournament trail, mixed in with his signature tongue-twisting humor.
"When a camera crew goes to bed and wakes up with you, that's different," Swindle said. "Most people don't know what goes on behind the scenes — staying in motels with no running water, guys losing everything they've got."
Sounds serious, but the G-Man also knows how to keep it light. Take the prank he pulled on the film crew for example. When they left on Friday to head to Syracuse, Swindle told everyone they would need to drive all night to get up north in time.
"I pulled over at a gas station and started telling them about all the different energy drinks I recommend they take to stay awake for the drive," Swindle said. "Then we shot a segment showing the crew chugging their energy drinks — they were all tweaked up like they were drunk. I got in my car and got back on the road, went 20 miles and then stopped and got a hotel room."
Swindle only laughed when he thought of the one crew member trying to get to bed after drinking both a 5-hour energy and a NOS.
Not so funny was the reason that Swindle needed to make the late-night drive in the first place. On Thursday, Dell Swindle, his mother, was taken to the hospital for a triple-bypass surgery.
"I wasn't going to leave Friday until I got that feeling," Swindle said. "I waited until I could see her and she was conscious. I knew where she wanted me to be. I think she was excited to see me leave to come here and fish."
Despite the frequent distractions, Swindle is ready to fight his way to September.
"I've been knocked out enough to come out swinging," he said.