Welcome to my new column here on Bassmaster.com. I am very excited about this blog. I've been blessed to have fished 21 years on tour and qualify for 12 Bassmaster Classics. During that time, I have made a lot of friends around the country through the sport of fishing and for that I am very thankful.
I love watching how our sport is growing through high school and college fishing. I really believe fishing is at an all-time high right now. And, as the reigning Bassmaster Classic champion, I have the duty or calling to continue spreading the love of bass fishing to others. I think this blog is a great way for me to do that by sharing stories from the road and fishing tips with all the fine readers on Bassmaster.com
Fishing is something I've loved since I was a young boy. I started fishing with my dad at a very early age. I remember my first tournament with my dad; I was 10 years old. He caught the big bass of the tournament and I can remember getting a trophy and a little bit of money. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a professional angler.
Soon after that tournament, my mom and dad bought a fish camp/marina on Lake Gaston, N.C. This was the step toward where I am now.
At the age of 12, I started guiding on Lake Gaston. I still can't believe people paid me to take them fishing. I learned so much during my teenage years from guiding and working in the tackle store at the marina; those were the training years that fueled my passion for the sport. My mom and dad gave me the opportunity to learn on my own at a very young age, and that was key in my early development.
I remember going to my first Bassmaster Classic in 1989 with a teacher/coach of mine, Larry Todd. I watched Hank Parker win that event and I told Mr. Todd that I was going to be on that stage one day and I would win the Classic. Later, when I qualified for my first Classic in 1997, Mr. Todd made the trip to see me compete in it.
I wish I could say it’s been easy but we've worked very hard at making it in this sport. I started the Bassmaster tour at 19, and it took me four years to qualify for my first Classic. And I competed in 12 Classics before I won one. The same can be said for regular tour level events, I didn't win events right away; in fact, it took quite a while but all along I kept the faith that God had called me to be a pro bass fisherman. I knew that if I believed in His plan, believed in myself and worked hard, it would work out. This year, His plan for me came to fruition. My victory not only allows me to spread the love of fishing, but it has also given me a great platform to spread my faith in Him with the rest of the world.
Winning the Bassmaster Classic was truly a dream come true. Since I was 15 years old, I've wanted to win the Classic and I've been in attendance at every Classic since 1989.
My wife, Robin, has been with me on this journey since that Classic in 1989. In fact, she and I drove to Maryland for the 1991 Classic when we were 17 years old. I took her on that four-hour trip to Baltimore to show her my dream in person, and that's when it became hers as well. That's what makes it even sweeter – to achieve our dream together after all these years of hard work.
It's been very humbling to read all of the great notes from everyone on Facebook, Twitter and my website, as well as the kind comments from my peers on tour. It really means a lot!
The media has also been incredible to work with. As a sport, we have some of the most positive and informative media outlets in any industry. It's amazing how our sport continues to educate each other and impact our environment and fisheries for the better. I can't think of another sport where all the participants work so hard at helping make others better. That's just one of the many things that makes bass fishing the greatest sport in the world!
I just want to say thank you to everyone and the industry as a whole; your acceptance of me as the Classic champion is greatly appreciated. I hope I can make you all proud by doing my best to represent our sport with the class it deserves. In the meantime, I have some fishing to do. Seminole was tough on me (finishing 106th), but I plan on taking it out on the fish down here at the St. John's River this week.