It’s not easy.
The Jasper angler is in the field for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic starting Friday at Lake Guntersville. It’s his first time in the Super Bowl of bass fishing.
“I’m trying to keep it low key,” Kilgore said. “I know if I get too excited, I’ve already lost. I’m really fired up about it and everything that goes with it. I’m pretty good about separating the excitement when it’s time to focus.”
That time comes this week when Kilgore goes up against 55 of the top anglers in the world.
The Classic starts Friday and wraps up Sunday with weigh-ins being held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex. The doors open at 3 p.m. each day. The anglers will launch from City Harbor in Guntersville starting at 7:15 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
Kilgore, 39, qualified for the Classic by winning the 2013 Bass Pro Shops’ Southern Open on Logan Martin Lake in May.
After coming within two spots of qualifying for the Classic on three separate occasions, Kilgore left no doubt in May, winning the event by more than six pounds.
“I was up by seven pounds going into that last day,” Kilgore said. “It rained about eight inches that night and I was thinking, ‘What’s going to happen to the lake?’”
Kilgore came up with the top weight on Day 3 to maintain his lead and earn the victory.
He won the tournament with a total of more than 46 pounds. Kilgore is expecting larger totals this week — much larger. “I think it will probably be a slug-fest — a huge weight tournament. There are 55 of us and there are going to be 20 to 30 who are really catching them. With the weather they are forecasting, records should be broken. The heart-breaking thing is that you could have a good day with 18 or 19 pounds and have a feeling in your gut, that you know that isn’t enough.
“We may have a tournament where it takes around 23 or 24 pounds a day to win. You could come in with 69 pounds and get beat by six points and say, ‘How did that happen?’ You sit there and cry because you didn’t win — that’s Guntersville. It will be a blast,” Kilgore said.
He’s no stranger to the lake.
“I’ve done well at Guntersville. I know the lake, and it’s not far from home. There are so many places I want to go, but memory lane (places he’s fished before on the lake) will really get you. You will go through a practice day and when it’s over, you didn’t hit those place you wanted to hit.”
For the third time in his career, Kilgore qualified to compete in the Bassmaster Elite Series. For the third time he passed on the opportunity.
Kilgore competes in the Bass Pro Shops’ Bassmaster Open Series, which includes only a few tournaments a year. Competing in the Open Series would be a full-time endeavor.
“It’s always been the burning question. I’ve done so well in the Opens, how could I do if I fished all the time? In 2009, I seriously considered it. In 2010, I seriously considered it. This year, I thought a little bit about it, but I’m married now and have a 28-month old and a two-month old. I also have an 8-to-5 job, so ...,” said Kilgore, who works at Don H. Kilgore Realtors. “Maybe down the road, in about five or six years, I would consider doing that.”
Right now his focus is squarely on Guntersville where he will go head-to-head with top anglers like four-time Classic winner Kevin VanDam and recent Classic winners Chris Lane and Skeet Reese.
“The intimidation factor doesn’t bother me at all. I’m going to try to win it. Nobody remembers who finishes second. I think a lot of people will be awestruck. They are thinking, ‘Wow! I’m in the Classic.’ Being in the Classic isn’t enough for me. I want to win.”