Owners and rookies

I'm just getting back from a Skeeter owners' tournament on Lake Fork here in Texas, and I have to tell you that I love those things. First of all, Skeeter is a first-class company, and they do a great job with their owners' tournaments. The events are on great fisheries, you can win big prizes (including boats), they feed you well, and you're treated like a king. What's not to like?

One of my favorite things about the tournaments is that they're like family reunions. I only get to see most of these people once a year, so it's an opportunity to catch up and do a little fishing.

You might think gatherings like this don't mean a lot, but that just tells me you've never been to one. At the Skeeter owners' events, there's a real camaraderie that runs deeper than you could ever guess. It starts like all things in our industry — with a love of fishing. Past that, though, there's the appreciation of the boats and motors that pulls us all together.

Whether you agree with me that Skeeter makes the best boat on the market or not, you probably understand the bond that Skeeter owners feel. It's probably something like the connection NASCAR fans feel if they're passionate about Ford or Chevy or another make of car.

When you put a group like ours all in one place, we're bound to have fun. We talk about fishing, we talk about boats and engines, we talk about the latest developments in equipment. It goes on and on until late into the night, then it cranks up again early the next morning.

Then we go out on the water and fish! That's the best part of all because it carries those conversations out on the water and puts them into practice. It's where you can really get to know someone, and it's where you build friendships. At the end of a couple of days of fun, I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Last week I talked a little about the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. This week I want to talk about a race that I'm not even a part of, but that I always find very interesting — the Rookie of the Year battle.

Now, I've been fishing professionally for a long time, and I'm a couple of decades past my rookie season, but that doesn't mean I don't have an eye on the new guys in the Elite Series. I think every veteran is watching them, if only to see who's taking our money!

This year's crop of rookies is pretty special, and you could tell that it was going to be special even before the season started. Guys like Jason Christie, Clifford Pirch and Kevin Hawk all had big success on other circuits before joining the Elites. Yes, they're Elite "rookies," but it's hard to think of them as anything other than proven veterans.

One angler who has really impressed me is the ROY leader after five events, Hank Cherry. I'm just getting to know Hank, but I'm already impressed with him as a fisherman and as a person.

If you watched the Bassmaster Classic, you saw Hank lose a couple of fish in the final round that could have won it all for him. It's not unusual for a rookie to have a good Classic then turn around and struggle. Not Hank. He hasn't missed a beat and is proving that he belongs at fishing's highest level. I can assure you that the veterans on the trail know who he is even if they haven't met him yet.

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