EVANS, Ga. — When Kenyon Hill's father, University of Oklahoma professor Loren Hill, invented the Color C Lector device in the mid 1980s, the Ditto Lure Company in Florida started making plastic worms that matched the best fish-catching colors, as indicated by the device.
In the summer of 1985, Kenyon called Bobby and Judy Ditto, owners of the lure company, and asked if he could come to work for them in Florida, so he could learn tournament bass fishing. Hill, then 20, said if they didn't think he was a good worker, they could send him packing back to Oklahoma.
It was during that summer when Hill and Pete Thliveros met while fishing as partners in a buddy bass tournament; they've been friends ever since, sharing motel rooms while on the BASS tournament trail for the last 15 years.
"We're like family," Hill said. "He's part of my family. Our friendship goes well beyond fishing. He's like a brother. It's pretty cool."
Thliveros, his wife and two children live in Jacksonville, Fla. "Peter T," literally and figuratively, is one of the biggest names in professional bass fishing. He has won over $1.6 million on the BASS circuit and qualified for the Bassmaster Classic 12 times.
No one was happier to see Hill win the Pride of Georgia tournament at Clarks Hill Lake Sunday than Thliveros. He saw Hill struggle through a tough season last year on the Elite Tour, one in which he earned money in only three events.
"He was broke," Thliveros said. "I was really worried about him. He was at the bottom."
Thliveros was worried because he knows what it's like to be a broke bass tournament fisherman. He said he'd made up his mind to quit tournament fishing around 1989, when his wife and parents urged him to keep fishing. And it has worked out well.
"Sometimes when you hit rock bottom, that's when you realize what you're made of and what you can do," said Thliveros, who had noticed a turnaround in Hill even before Sunday's $100,000 victory.
By the final day of the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, Elite Series pro Alton Jones feared his bite had all but left him.
"I just hope they're still there," Jones said, hinting he knew something before the morning launch. "I think they're getting pretty conditioned to seeing baits."
Jones' premonition proved true by the time he weighed his 8-pound, 4-ounce stringer and finished the tournament in 11th place.
"I felt I maximized the fish on my spots," he said. "And it only took me a little while until I realized I was right."
The Sting of No Wind
Elite Series pro Kevin VanDam needed wind to trick his fish into striking the Red Eye Shad he tossed on Day Four. But the wind just didn't blow.
"The lack of wind was big for me," VanDam said. "The wind limits the amount of light entering the water and increases the chances of a fish striking what it perceives to be a fleeing and injured shad.
"But they're smart enough to know what's real and what's not," the dejected angler said.
VanDam finished the tournament in 4th place.
The Dave Smith Fan Club
After staying with other Elite Series pros all week at fellow-angler Jason Williamson's place, Dave Smith has generated quite the following.
Sisters Kayla and Nicole Williamson posed on either side of Smith after the Day Four weigh-in holding a sign that read: Dave Smith's Two Biggest Fans.
"My brother's still my number one fan," said Nicole, laughing. "We're just Dave's two biggest fans."
The 6-Pound 2-Pounder
After setting the hook on a fish on Day Four, Peter Thliveros got very excited. But the more he reeled the fish to the boat, the more he realized something wasn't right.
"I had pinned the fish like a banana with both hooks," he said. "I thought it was a 6-pounder and it was a 2-pounder."
"I love that helicopter. But I thought it was my wife there for a minute."
—Dave Smith, 12th , on the helicopter carrying an ESPN camera crew that accompanies the Sunday finalists at takeoff
"Last year, this lake taught me to fish among the bluebacks (blueback herring) so I could apply it to Hartwell."
—Alton Jones, 11th, on the similarities between Clarks Hill Lake and Lake Hartwell where he won the 2008 Classic
"I didn't catch a fish deeper than five feet all week."
—Todd Faircloth, seventh
"I didn't have a big bite since the first day. I was surprised by that."
—Denny Brauer, 10th
"That's torture for me — to throw a little dropshot or a little worm."
—Kevin VanDam, fourth, on why he prefers power fishing
"It's the ugliest, nastiest thing I've ever seen."
—Skeet Reese, ninth, describing the Buckey Mop Jig he used during the tournament
"Those fish would look up at you and go, 'na na na na na nahhhh.'"
—Skeet Reese, ninth
"This is humiliating."
—Jones, holding up two smallish fish at the bequest of emcee Keith Alan
"I'm going to take this one home to my dad's rest home and let him look at it for a while."
—Kenyon Hill, first place, about showing off his trophy to his sick father