Canadian Cooper Gallant finds himself in an enviable position heading into the home stretch of the '22 Bassmaster Open schedule.
Gallant, 24, of Bowmanville, Ont., leads the overall standings through six-of-nine events. A top-three finish following the season-ending tournament Oct. 20-22 on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Jasper, Texas, would secure Gallant a spot next year on the Bassmaster Elite Series -- the top pro bass circuit in the U.S.
"My head's still down, there's still a lot of work to do," Gallant said. "I'll start looking at the light at the end of the tunnel come the last tournament on Sam Rayburn, but right now I'm still focusing one at a time and just making sure I get good points.
"I figure if I can get three more top-40 finishes I'll make the Elite Series but it's not easy, especially on these tough fisheries. Just catching five a day is super tough. I survived Upper Chesapeake Bay, now we're going to the Red River, which will be another tough one."
Gallant finished 26th among 179 competitors last week at the Northern Open event on Upper Chesapeake Bay in Cecil County, Md. He's atop the overall standings with 983 points, 13 ahead of American Keith Poche with John Soukup of the U.S. just 27 points behind in third.
The top-three finishers at season's end will qualify for the 2023 Elite Series season.
Considering he managed a combined six bites over the five practice sessions, Gallant was more than happy to finish where he did in Maryland.
"Those were 12-hour days fishing my butt off and I got six," Gallant said. "It's 100-per-cent fun, I won't lie, but there are times when it's very stressful knowing I need to have a good finish and get good points because it's so easy to bomb in these tournaments.
"You can go out and not catch a fish on the first or second day and your whole season is over. But that's something you can't think about, you just grind out five bites a day."
Up next for Gallant is the Central Open event Sept. 22-24 on Louisiana's Red River, a fishery Gallant admits he knows little about. Then again, that's been a constant challenge this season as Gallant has learned firsthand to always head out on the water with an open mind.
"I just like backing the boat in, figuring it out as I go and fish the conditions," Gallant said. "I'll do research on what it takes as far as weights, what I'm going to need for a top-40 but as far as figuring out where it will be won, I don't do that much because I know everyone else does.
"Chances are come the tournament guys are going to be just loaded in certain areas . . . and just a couple of guys will catch them."
Gallant said the open-minded approach has made him a more knowledgeable and complete competitor. But it's also taught him the importance of always staying on an even keel mentally.
"That's why I love fishing so much, you're constantly learning," Gallant said. "Going to these different fisheries has helped me learn different techniques and become more mentally prepared and able to stay more mentally in the game throughout the tournament.
"The more grinder tournaments I do, the more confidence I get in staying mentally focused throughout the whole day. For those tournaments, I feel that's what you must do because it's so easy to spin out when noon or 1 p.m. roll around and you don't have a bite."
It's an approach that's been put to the test this season.
Gallant has four top-30 finishes, including a win at Tennessee's Cherokee Lake in early April and third-place effort at New York's Oneida Lake in July. But he also was No. 123 in the Northern Open on Virginia's James River in mid-April.
"Staying mentally in it has been the biggest challenge," Gallant said. "What helps me is just focusing on one event at a time and if I do have a bad event, just get rid of it and focus on the next one.
"I'm looking forward to fishing Lake Hartwell (Oct. 6-8 in South Carolina) and Sam Rayburn but I'm never thinking about it until the time comes. This week we're on the Red River and that's literally all I'm thinking about."
All the while remaining focused on the big prize that lies ahead.
"I think about the Elites every day, to be honest with you," Gallant said. "Every time I get a good keeper, I just think to myself, 'You never know, that could be the fish that helps get me to the Elites.'
"With these grinder tournaments like last week, I had three fish in the boat and I caught my fourth it was only a 13-incher but I knew how important it was. That 13-incher in these tough tournaments moves you up 15-to-20 spots and by the end of the year that can make all of the difference."
Chasing his dream has also required a huge commitment from Gallant. All nine tournaments are being held in the U.S, which means plenty of driving alone and paying for expenses in American currency.
"It's crazy but I enjoy it," he said. "It gets lonely at times but once I get out on the water and start fishing, I just get back into the zone and feel like I'm in my happy place.
"Whether I make the Elites or not it's been a great year . . . it we don't make it, we'll do it all over again. I'm going to work my butt off because there's nothing I want more than to make the Elite Series."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept, 13, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press