What does an Elite Series rookie do during the break between tournaments?
In the case of Kevin Hawk, he fishes, and then he fishes some more. His vacation from work – and if you don’t believe being a bass pro is work, then I highly recommend you leave the recliner and try it yourself – was more work. He pulled money out of his own pocket and went to the Anglers Inn resort on Mexico’s Lake El Salto. Not quite a hardship tour, but I’m sure that others among the field chose to spend their days off catching up on sleep, family obligations and other aspects of life.
I had spearheaded this trip for a group of five, among whom Hawk was the only pro bass angler. The rest of us were once-a-week or twice-a-month fishermen, or in the case of my wife, fisherwomen. Having been around many other pros, but not Kevin, I worried about whether he would be able to ratchet down the intensity level, put away the all-competition-all-the-time blinders, and actually enjoy his time at El Salto. Some of them can, some can’t. In fact, some of them don’t seem to truly enjoy fishing, except when competing or as a way to make a living.
I shouldn’t have worried. The 34-year-old fished every minute he could, but he shared the front of the boat with us civilians. He never played the “pro card,” never had an “I’m Keith Hernandez” moment, never tried to tell the guides how to do their jobs. I’m sure there were people at Anglers Inn who recognized him, but except when I asked him to don his tournament jersey for some pictures he never indicated to any other guests what he did for a living.
If you’ve never been to Anglers Inn, and you like to fish, I highly recommend that you start saving your pennies. Sell your blood, your coin collection or your first born. Move into a smaller house. Marry for money instead of love. Do anything you can to get there, because in addition to catching the meanest big bass on the planet, you will be treated like a king.
Your guide will unhook every fish if you so desire. He’ll tie your knots if you’re feeling particularly lazy. You need only think about what sort of drink you covet, and it magically appears in your hand, mixed to perfection at the ideal temperature. By the time you get back for a mid-day siesta, your dirty clothes have been laundered and folded. I’d been there before, but Kevin had not, and I wondered how an Elite Series pro, used to doing everything himself, would handle the attention. For the record, he tied his own knots and unhooked (many of) his own fish, but he was humble the entire time. There was no “we need to be fishing somewhere or something else.” There was no bitching about the lack of electronics. Instead, there was the attitude of someone who was not only happy to visit, but grateful that life has given him the opportunity to do so.
Now, you could probably say that this outward lack of intensity is what has Hawk in 7th place in the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race (Editor's Note: Hawk finished the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series race in 5th place), but if you talk to him over dinner, or on the front deck of a boat while flipping a jig to deep hardwood trees or while cranking a rocky point, he’d quietly but forcefully make clear that it’s eating him up. He’s trying to find a way to right his ship amongst the best of the best, and it’s not coming easily to him. He’s had trouble putting together back-to-back good tournament days through five events. I suppose if you didn’t know him you could chalk that up to rookie jitters or relative inexperience, but any fan of the sport knows that he’s no typical rookie. Like others before him, he came to the Elite Series after several years on the FLW Tour, first as a co-angler, then fishing from the front of the boat. Unlike those others, though, Hawk won the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup and the $600,000 first place prize.