As I write this, it’s 7:30 a.m. Sunday, May 18, the final day of what has been an incredible Elite Series event on Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas.
I live a short hour away from Dardanelle in Little Rock, but I don’t intend to go there until the weigh-in which will start at 3:15 p.m.
There will be tens of thousands of bass fishing fans on Bassmaster.com all day following BASSTrakk, the Live Blog, BassCams, doing everything possible to keep up with this rodeo. I will not. I don’t want to know anything until it starts unfolding. I want to be totally clueless as to who is going to win this affair.
This has been a very unusual week, with all kinds of thoughts going through my mind. I want to tell you about them, but it will be hard because they have been all over the place. When I write them, they may not make sense – might just sound like a bunch of random stories. For me, in some way, they’re all tied together and just all may bump into each other at 3 p.m.
The most important thing I have to say is how proud I am to be a part of this B.A.S.S. family. It is unique and, at times, I wish the whole world knew about it. Other times, I’m glad the whole world doesn’t know about it and we have it all to ourselves.
My story starts in 1997 in the parking lot of a Walmart in Jackson, Miss. It’s the final day of a bass tournament, an FLW event at Ross Barnett Reservoir. I’m standing in the crowd watching the weigh-in and this beautiful girl, and I do mean beautiful, walks up to me and says, “I’m Melissa Barlow and I’m here with Rick Clunn. Rick told me I should come meet you because you are an important part of bass fishing.”
I found that to be a strange moment because I was just the television producer working with ESPN to cover FLW events. Didn’t think I would be considered important.
At that time, Rick Clunn and I were good friends who had a lot of respect for each other, but we weren’t close enough to “hang out.” Six months later, Melissa and Rick would marry, eventually move to southern Missouri, about an hour from my home in northern Arkansas, and raise two incredible young boys. We do “hang out” now.
In the past 17 years, I think it’s safe to say that no one has helped shape my path more than Melissa and Rick, and that’s all I have to say about that.
Now back to Ross Barnett Reservoir, which again was 17 years ago, but has a tie to the past week. Two anglers were neck and neck for the win. One was Rick Clunn, and he just nosed out a legendary fisherman, Ricky Green.
Yes, the same wonderful man from Arkadelphia, Ark., who was such an important force for professional bass fishing and who passed away this past week. That Ricky Green.
That Ross Barnett tournament might have been, as far as I know, the last important event that Ricky would compete in.
Now I told you I would be all over the place, so now please go with me to the very special service for Ricky Green a few days ago in Hot Springs, Ark. I’m sitting in the back of the Methodist Church with Bobby Murray, George Cochran and Bobby Dennis remembering the first time I met Ricky Green. That was at the second B.A.S.S. event ever in 1968 on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
Ricky was so young, so quiet, so humble that I almost felt sorry for him. He must have been in his late teens, because I was about 25. I didn’t feel sorry for him for long though, because he kind of kicked everybody’s fanny for the next 35 years, remaining quiet and humble through it all.
There was another time in the ceremony that took me back to Lake Texoma and my first ever tournament. I was introduced to this young hotshot fisherman who probably wasn’t even old enough to drive. His name was Jimmy Houston.
I had been producing a television show for maybe a year or so, and Jimmy had been watching television for a year or so. Of course, a wonderful television career was just ahead for Jimmy.
That moment in 1966 came back to me during the church service because at one point Jimmy Houston took the microphone and gave such an inspirational talk that it made me proud I knew Ricky Green and Jimmy Houston.
Hang on now, here comes the big transition. It must the late 1990s. I’m running a camera boat and we’re following Greg Hackney on Toledo Bend for a television show. The thing I remember clearly was listening to Greg talk as he fished. As a youngster, he watched Bassmaster on television and could hardly believe he was here competing on the final day of a Bassmaster event.
Hackney didn’t win, but you could just tell that he was a tough, tough young fisherman. Now fast forward to 2004 and a big Bassmaster event on, of all places, Lake Dardanelle.
Again, Greg Hackney has made the final cut, is fishing at the back of Illinois Bayou and at an exciting moment yells out a comment that many bass fishing fans will never forget. Greg is fishing a rocky dyke and hooks a big fish late in the day. He goes a little out of character as he fights the big fish to the boat.
Truth is, he goes a little berserk.
Hackney lifts the fish, which weighs about 7 pounds, into the boat, pumps his fist, and yells to the camera, “Godzilla ain’t got nothin’ on me!”
Don’t really know what he meant by that, but we have used that video over and over in the past 10 years.
Now I’m not trying to predict who will win this Dardanelle tournament this afternoon, but …
I’m a movie freak. I go whenever I have time, and I looked at the Sunday paper early this morning to see what might be playing this week. Believe it or not, the first flick I come to at the theater I normally visit was Godzilla.
Don’t know if that has anything to do with the Dardanelle event – I’m just saying.
So it has been kind of a bittersweet week for the bass world, having lost Ricky Green. My thoughts have been with him and his family. I’ve also been able to mix in some Melissa and Rick Clunn, Greg Hackney, Jimmy Houston and the very important event at Dardanelle.
As you read this, you already know who won.
As I write it, I don’t.
I will take a seat at 3 p.m., knowing the final 12 anglers are strong. Really strong.
On top of the leaderboard when the day started is, of all people, Greg Hackney. Will Godzilla once again have nothing on him?
Thirteen ounces behind Hackney sits, of all people, Rick Clunn. He has raised that winning trophy many, many times … but not recently. In fact, the boys, Sage and River, have never seen him hoist the hardware. Maybe today?
In third place, just a couple of pounds out, is Keith Combs – the angler who barely edged Clunn out of a win last year at Falcon Lake, so we know he can do it.
Then there’s Christie, Swindle, Reese, Iaconelli … wow, no one is out of reach and all 12 final anglers have the talent.
I’m going to sit in the crowd and enjoy a weigh-in that might be remembered forever. And all I have to say is that I am blessed and proud to be a part of the B.A.S.S. family.