When the Elites kick off the this year at the Sabine River, Denny Brauer will also likely be in Texas, but at his new home in Del Rio rather than in the town of Orange. For the first time in over three decades, his Ranger will not be lined up with the other competitors’ boats on opening day. For the first time in that same time span, if there’s a solid flipping bite going on we can safely assume that there will be one more spot available in the final cut.
The tournament world will go on without Denny Brauer, just as it went on when Ken Cook left last year, just as it will go on when Rick Clunn finally decides that the travel is no longer for him. As every great athlete eventually learns, no one is bigger than the sport. Just when we thought no one would top Dr. J’s exploits, we were introduced to a tongue-wagging dunker named Jordan. No sooner was the ink dry on Jordan’s “greatest ever” plaque than along came LeBron. Indeed, we are all witnesses to the fact that “greatest ever” really means “greatest so far.”
Brauer’s not being forced out. The day did not come when Denny couldn’t “rise above the rim.” He won an Elite Series event as recently as 2011, and while he wasn’t necessarily the same world-beater he was in the 80s and 90s, and while he failed to make a top twelve cut in 2012, he’d still made it to Sunday in Elite Series competition eight times in the prior four years.
The Bassmaster Classic appearances may have been bunched more tightly together in the early days, too, but he’d been to two of the last three.
A lifetime ago, Denny Brauer left a solid career as a Nebraska brick mason to guide on newly-opened Truman Reservoir and pursue an uncertain career as a pro angler. He competed in 317 B.A.S.S. events, including 21 Classics. He won 17 times with B.A.S.S., including the 1998 Classic. He was also a dominant force on other trails, including FLW. Spread between those two circuits, his 1998 campaign may just be the best season a bass pro has ever put together. Prior to winning the Classic that year, he won back to back Top 100 events, first on Lake Russell in Georgia, then on the Neuse and Trent Rivers in North Carolina. Three weeks after the Classic, he won the season opener on the Potomac. He was also the FLW AOY that year, finishing in the money in 5 of 7 tournaments on the way to one of four FLW Cup appearances. The title put him on the front of the Wheaties Box and got him onto Late Night With David Letterman, where he taught a semi-coherent Ozzy Osbourne how to flip a jig. When Letterman reminded him of his bricklaying past, Brauer was quick to quip that his host had laid a few bricks over the years, too.
What I remember most about that season, though, is a little anecdote from his Potomac win. His main competition that week came from Indiana’s Ken McIntosh, a solid angler, but one whose career was almost the opposite of Brauer’s. Only 58 career B.A.S.S. events, only two top tens (both runner-up finishes on the Potomac) and zero Classic appearances. He’s been gone from B.A.S.S. competition for a decade.