A bass pro looks at 50

This past Saturday, July 13, was my 50th birthday.

I can hardly believe I'm saying that — not because I don't like the idea of getting older, but because there's a part of me (my mind) that still thinks I'm 25 years old.

Turning 50 is a landmark of sorts, though, and it's given me a reason to contemplate what it means for me as a professional angler to reach that age. It probably won't surprise you to learn that some things are changing with me and that a lot of things remain the same.

Even though my head wants me to believe that I'm still 25 years young and in the peak of physical health and strength, I'm getting more than a few reminders of my true age.

I went up to the St. Lawrence River before the cutoff period to do a little practicing before the next Elite event (it's going to be a whale of a tournament, by the way) and on my way home I started to feel some unusual pain. Instead of flying home to Texas, I wound up spending a day in a Syracuse hospital being treated for kidney stones.

That certainly wasn't an issue when I was 25.

I'm also dealing with some tendonitis in my left elbow. It mostly affects me on hook-sets, and I have to wear a brace, but in the big picture of things, it's not a big deal. I'm healthy and happy to be doing what I love.

I'm also lucky to be in a sport and career where 50 is not over the hill. At 50, I can still be very competitive on the Bassmaster Elite Series. At the same age, athletes in other sports are long retired. Players in the NFL are lucky to make it to 30. In our sport, you're really just getting started at that age.

I'm also very aware of the great success that anglers like Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn and Guy Eaker have had in their 50s, 60s and beyond. They've been more than just competitive, and they give me something to shoot for as I get older. I'd like to be just as competitive as they've been and just as much of a threat to win in the later stages of my career.

One of the best things about turning 50 is being able to look back on the wealth of knowledge I've been able to accumulate. I certainly can't say I've seen or done everything there is to do in the sport of professional bass fishing, but I've seen and done a lot, experienced a lot of different weather and water conditions and fished a lot of different bass waters.

That kind of experience comes with a price, of course — things like tendonitis — but it's invaluable to a professional angler. Time on the water may be the biggest thing that separates the top pros from average anglers, and that experience is a big part of my angling arsenal.

Of course, the asset of experience comes at the expense of physical capabilities, and I'm constantly learning how to balance the two so I can compete to the best of my ability. One place where that plays out in a big way is practice. I still stay on the water from dawn to dark, but I try to do things smarter than I did 25 or even 10 years ago.

Instead of making long runs, I'll trailer to a remote spot. And I now avoid truly rough water if I can. I remember 25 years ago when I treated rough water on lakes like Erie like it was a trip to Six Flags. It was fun back then.

Now it hurts.

Another area where things are changing for me — and an area where I'm changing to meet my new needs — is nutrition. When I was younger, I could eat and drink just about any kind of junk food and be ready to go at a moment's notice. It was great!

Now I work closely with Ken Hoover of Athletes Outdoors. He's had tremendous success with athletes at Baylor University and at high schools all around Texas. He also works with several other Elite pros.

With Ken's expert advice, I'm fueling my body better, maintaining my energy level throughout the long days on the water and keeping my focus.

I'm also exercising more and differently. Instead of trying to get stronger, most of my workouts are geared toward staying flexible and balanced while maintaining my strength. Standing on the front deck of a bass boat with one foot on the trolling motor foot control hasn't changed a lot over the years, but at 50 it's not as easy as it was at 25.

One thing that hasn't changed over the years is my passion for bass fishing. Now that I'm a little bit older, a lot of fans are asking me, "Do you ever get burned out on fishing?"

I can't even tell you where that question is coming from! Not only do I never get burned out on fishing, but fishing is what I like to do when I'm not competing in tournaments. If anything, my passion for the sport is growing. There are still nights when I have trouble falling asleep because I'm too keyed up about the next tournament day or trying a new bait or fishing new water. I guess in that way, I'm a lot closer to five years old than I am to 50.

All in all, as I reach 50, it seems like the perfect time to say that I'm extraordinarily grateful for the years I've had in the sport and the thrills and joy it's given me. It's been an honor and privilege to compete and to meet so many of you great fans.

And if you imagine that I'll be thinking of retirement anytime soon, guess again.

To borrow a line from Guy Eaker, one of the great gentlemen of our sport, "What would I do when I retire ... go fishing?"

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