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Q & A with Legendary Angler Gary Klein

By: Randy Coleman

Permitted use provided by: MajorLeagueFishing.com

When Gary Klein’s name comes up in stories, the phrase “legendary professional angler” almost always pops up. And why not? Klein has earned the title. His resume includes: two B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles, eight B.A.S.S. Tour wins, two FLW Tour wins, a U.S. Open Championship, and that’s just the beginning. He also has competed in an astounding 29 Bassmaster Classics.

But 2011 and 2012 weren’t as kind to Klein. In short, he struggled and it ate at him mentally. But in 2013, he appears back on track. After five Elite Series events, Klein is in 18th place in the Toyota Angler of the Year standings, and he’s fishing comfortably and confidently.

He took a few minutes this week to talk about what is different in 2013. He also talked about the state of competitive fishing today, compared to where it was a few decades ago.

MLF: So, Gary, how does it feel to be back in the hunt?

Klein: It feels good. I feel like I’m more focused. There’s no self-doubt. I can take it one day at a time, not trying to get ahead of myself. Every pro angler knows there will be peaks and valleys. Longevity-wise, you just have to deal with the valleys. Right now I feel good, and I’m focused. I want to fish; I don’t want to sit on the sidelines again.

Looking back, 2009 and 2010 were good years. I was near the top of the Angler of the Year standings, and life was good. I was trucking along. Then 2011 happened, it was a trash year. It was just bad. But last year, I had some misfortunes, and I should have been in the Classic. I was close to having a good year. But close isn’t good enough.

This year is much better. I feel like I kind of goofed up at the last event (Alabama River Elite Series event) by fishing the wrong water on the first day. And I feel like I should have had a stronger finish at Falcon and Bull Shoals. If I had corrected those two things, I probably would be in the Top-5 right now, and that’s where I’d like to be.

MLF: You’re a veteran and you’ve said you understand peaks and valleys. But how tough was it to sit and watch the past two Classics?

Klein: It was awful. I mean, if I look back over my career, in the early 80s I missed the Classic two years in a row then went to something like 16 straight. Then I missed one and went to the next nine or 10. It isn’t a good feeling, and I want to get another streak going.

You have to keep things in perspective, though. I’m not a legend; I’ve just fished a bunch of tournaments. When you look at anglers and their statistics, the thing that stands out is that I’ve fished a lot of tournaments. I’ve caught more than 10,000 pounds in more than 300 B.A.S.S. events. That’s a lot of tournaments. One of the good young anglers was asking me the other day how many tournaments I’d won, and I told him. He said, oh, my goodness, that’s a lot. But I told him to put it in perspective. As I said, to me it just means I’ve fished a lot of them.

The bottom line is that I’ve always been a competitor. If I feel in my heart that I can’t compete any more, I’ll quit.

MLF: What do you feel is the difference this year?

Klein: The most important part of the process has been my decision-making and the fact that I have no self-doubt. I was talking to Boyd (Duckett) about it, and I know he got caught up in this too, when he didn’t make it. In fact, I’ve been following his Scorecard columns (Saturday Scorecard) where he rates his performance, and I’ve been applying some of those things to my tournaments. You have to look at every part of your performance and see if you’re making the right decision.

The biggest thing is that when you drop your trolling motor, you’ve got to be focused on the fishing. Focus right where you are. You can’t be looking down the lake or over your shoulder to see who is coming. I did that sometimes during 2011 and 2012. I was not even focused on fishing the cast I just threw.

You also have to practice well. The outcome of an event usually boils down to how you practice. I hate going into an event feeling like I’m missing a piece of the puzzle, and that happened too often.

A lot of people say this, but it boils down to confidence. I didn’t make any huge changes, but I have put a lot more focus on the things that are important.

MLF: How tough is competing these days? Are the anglers better than they were 30 years ago?

Klein: There have always been great anglers. It was always tough. But the field is a lot deeper now. There are a whole lot of really, really good anglers.

To start with, you’ve got veteran anglers that are still fishing well. You’ve got people like Shaw (Grigsby) and Ricky (Clunn), guys that have been around a long time, and they keep adapting. You’ve got young guys coming along that are better than ever. Then you’ve got people like Kevin (VanDam) and Skeet (Reese) and some others that are on top of their game. We’ve got a bunch of those guys in Major League Fishing.

But you’ve also got guys who are really coming into their own. Randy Howell, for example, struggled when he started. But he’s learned every year, and now he’s a force. Cliff Pace is like that. And Ish, when he first came out he had a long way to go, and now he’s really strong. It’s tough to win against these guys.

It’s a deep field. It certainly forces guys like Shaw and me to keep adapting.

MLF: Speaking of deep fields, it doesn’t get any better than Major League Fishing.

Klein: No kidding. We’ve got a good thing going, and we’re on track. We’re going to keep growing.

When we started MLF, we wanted to have the best fields we could put together. We got 24 of the best anglers in the world every time we compete. I’m really happy with the response we’re getting. MLF is only going to get better.

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