The angler on the verge of bass fishing history took the time to answer a few questions before the biggest tournament of the year, and possibly of his life.
Jordan Lee has no business calling in to answer some interview questions days before a monumental bass fishing tournament that could, for the third time in a row, change the guy's life.
"Yeah man, I got time for sure," he told me Monday evening. "Go ahead."
Well, if you've got the time...
I still didn't want to waste any of it, knowing that Lee is in preparation for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic this weekend, March 15 through 17 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Tennessee River and two of its lakes (Fort Loudoun and Tellico), a water body Lee has never competed on, will be the site of his run for a third straight Classic Championship after winning in 2017 and 2018.
That's a feat that's never been done before.
Jordan Lee in his Element.Mossy Oak Elements | #itsanobsession
Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam are the only other anglers to be named Bassmaster Classic Champion two years in a row, and each have four total. It's an obvious benchmark for Lee, who's already halfway there with only 60 career tournaments under his belt.
Yet, you'd think after talking to him that it's just another tournament, just another chance for the guy from Alabama to do what he loves to do: catch big fish.
"There is a little bit of pressure, but at the same time I don't try to put a lot on myself," he said. "I do all I can do, and however it turns out, that's just the way it's supposed to be."
His levelheadedness carried through as he spoke, without much worry or stress over what amounts to the Super Bowl of the competitive bass fishing season. He's approaching it like he knows how, the same as he has for years.
"Last year, going into it, and obviously winning in 2017, really a lot of the pressure came off of me on that first day," he said. "Getting through the first day of the tournament is really important. As a fisherman, I lean a lot on momentum, and I felt like I had some. That gave me extra confidence."
That day-one focus can be vital, and Lee made the prediction that it will be a slight gamble that might turn the tables. The lake holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass, which can vary in their responses to lures and patterns. A smallmouth must be 18 inches to qualify as part of a Bassmaster Classic angler's bag, and there's a 14-inch limit on largemouth.
There are practical reasons to spend time looking for new water and avoiding places that look like obvious fish hot spots. Lee hinted at his intentions to run a long ways and try to escape some of the pressure common on a river like the Tennessee.
"My game plan has been looking for the largemouth where they're pulling up shallow," he said. "It is springtime, but the fish just aren't quite there yet, just because the water is still a little bit low. So I'm just looking for wherever those fish are pulling up shallow. It's been challenging, and there's a lot to that."
"When it all comes down to it, we're chasing green fish that we can't see," Lee said.
I asked how practice was going, and if the current conditions were favorable for a big tournament.
"Fort Loudoun and Tellico, they're probably two of the tougher lakes on the Tennessee River," he said. "The conditions we've had leading up to practice have been cold, which is normal for a tournament. [It was] real cold, for four or five days there, and that doesn't ever help the fishing as far as that goes."
He said a small warming trend might help improve things leading up to the weekend, but also noted the water level fluctuations as another big factor.
"It's going to be a challenging tournament, I would say, as far as staying on the fish consistently," the two-time defending champion said. "You might see a guy catch them one day and then really struggle to figure them out the next two days. That's normal in every event, but I think in this one more so than other tournaments, you're really going to have to move around. It's not going to be a spot tournament, where you pull up to one spot and really just wear them out. I think you're going to really have to adjust, and try and change throughout the week."
He knows he's got his work cut out for him, as do the other 51 competitors.
"I feel like the guy who wins the tournament is really gonna figure them out in the tournament. At least that's how I hope it is, because it's been a tough last couple of days," Lee said.
No matter what happens this weekend, Lee is just getting started, as his pro fishing tour season ramps up. He's eager to hit the water and help out his sponsors, especially Mossy Oak Fishing, one of his more notable recent partnerships.
He mentioned how proud he was to be connected to a legacy brand like Mossy Oak, and that everyone in the company shares the same passion for the outdoors as him. He's even looking forward to trying his hand at hunting, seeing as his younger years were engulfed with little other than fishing.
That is, if he has the time.
As the days move on, he's anticipating the spring like millions of other hardcore fishermen and women across the country.
"A little nice weather would be nice. A little dry weather!" he said, longing for opportunities to fish. "It's all fun, I just love what I do."
Even considering his even-keeled attitude, he didn't downplay the importance of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, for himself and for bass fishing history.
"Obviously, it's a huge event, a life-changing event," he said. "I've been fortunate enough the last couple of years, things have clicked for me. But it's one of the hardest events to win. There's so much other stuff, the media, everything that it brings as far as the crowds. There's definitely a lot on your plate when you come to this event. So it's really important to go in with a clear mind, and really just focus on the fishing. That's what I've done the last few years, and hopefully what I can do going forward."
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