Yesterday was the equivalent of a reunion for me. I was back in Birmingham, a longtime home, and had the occasion to get together with many of the people who have become friends since beginning The Outdoor Wire 20 years ago.
The occasion for the gathering is the fiftieth edition of the Bassmaster Classic. It’s a big milestone for B.A.S.S., but it’s also a milestone of sorts for me as well.
The first big outdoor event I ever attended (other than SHOT Show where the Outdoor Wire idea was conceived) was a Bassmaster Classic. Little did I know that it would become the start of a reporting beat I’ve had longer than any other in a half-century of reporting.
As I was realizing the significance of the event, I was also realizing something that wasn’t uplifting, it was sobering: while I recognized many of the writers, photographers and officials, I only recognized one of the anglers - longtime friend, pro angler and all-planet nice guy, Mark Menendez.
Everyone else was a new face to me. One of my longtime friends described the Media Day at Birmingham’s beautiful minor league baseball facility like this: “I looked to the left and I saw kids in boats…then I looked to the right and saw more kids in boats..and Mark Menendez.”
For most of us, the names we recognized, VanDam, Duckett, Reese, Iaconelli, et.al, have pretty much taken their games to MLF. B.A.S.S., the tour that gave virtually all of them their claims to fishing fame and fortune, is now busily working to create another generation of heroes.
According to one observer, the emergence of this newest crop of anglers has contributed to the sport in a couple of key ways. First, they’ve brought a new generation into fishing. And if you’ve been asleep for the past few years, you might not have realized that competition fishing has caught on at the high school and college levels. Already, several states have gotten smart and recognized high school fishing as a varsity sport. College fishing has quickly become the largest club sport, so it’s safe to say that archery and fishing have shown the possibility to reconnect with the generation old guys (like me) thought might have been the end-of-the line for outdoor sports.
The second thing they’ve apparently brought back to fishing is courtesy. I’m told this newest crop of anglers isn’t known for the NASCAR-like cutoffs of competitor’s boats, the hijacking of fishing sports or the bellicose behaviors that occasionally make fishing competitions look like NASCAR pit brawls.
Part of being a professional angler is the obligation to sit on your trailered boat, under an awning, during miserably wet and cool weather and answer (repeatedly) questions in 15-minute intervals. Jim Shepherd/OWDN photo.
If that’s the case, welcome folks, we’re more than glad to have you take over from the single-minded, self-centered, anything-to-win folks who have preceded you. The rest of us are glad you’re here.
If you’re one of the young anglers who’s reading this because you’re voraciously consuming everything possible about fishing as a sport- and potential livelihood- I have a few cautionary words.
First, fishing is a contact sport. Not in the football or wrestling sense of the word, but your body takes a pounding. Long hours pulling boats, longer hours riding boats in all sorts of weather, and the repetitive motions of cast-and-retrieve all take a toll. So, too, do long hours in wind, sun and inclement weather. Despite the fact you’re smarter about skin care and the negative effects of the sun, all the rest of this stuff takes a toll.
There are very few professional anglers who don’t know about tennis elbow, rotator cuff problems and the various maladies of the back, hips and knees. You earn your money, especially if you’re one of those pros who’s only making enough to keep chasing the dream.
And being a professional athlete brings another set of challenges. Sure, you have to know about your gear, your boat, and your sponsors. But if you lose sight of the fact you’re doing what you thought you loved, it’s tough to reconcile yourself to sitting around at seemingly endless banquets or answering the same questions hundreds of times, or even standing before fans and enduring either their big fish stories or the “secret advice” they want to give you.
But if it’s what you love and your goal is to be among the select few who fish the Bassmaster Classic, I wish you all the best.
Being among the best in the world at what you do is not a bad aspiration. Keep chasing that dream. Someone’s dream will be realized on Sunday as the Classic names another champion - and another angler realizes his dream- and sees his life change.
We’ll keep you posted.