There are six Bassmaster Classic spots and one invitation to the Bassmaster Elite Series up for grabs at this week’s B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. This is a big tournament —as big as it gets for amateur anglers. It was this tournament that started my love for competitive bass fishing. In April of 1998, my dad took my brother, Jordan, and me to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in Knoxville, Tenn.
I remember it just like it was yesterday, sitting in the stands and watching guys from all over the country and some from other countries weigh their fish. I was 11 at the time, and it was the first tournament that I ever attended. I thought it was the coolest thing ever! The legend, Ray Scott, was the emcee, and Mark Hickenbottom, a coal miner from Ohio, won the event. I remember getting their autographs after the weigh-in.
I had watched the Bassmasters on TV for several years, but never had the opportunity to attend an event. Luckily for me, back then the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship also had an Expo (it was a small version of the Classic), so we did that along with watching the weigh-ins. We bought a bunch of gear, met a lot of really great people. It was an all-day fishing extravaganza, and Jordan and I were in hog-heaven.
The best experience from the tournament happened at the Expo. I walked by a booth that had a huge trophy on display. I went over to it and started to dream about one day winning a trophy in a bass tournament. A man and lady from the booth came over and started talking. They asked if we were avid fisherman and if we wanted to be professional fisherman someday (the type of stuff that I ask now when I meet kids at events). We chatted for a while and told a few fish stories, then the lady asked us if we would like to hear the story of the trophy. We were like “Sure!” so she told us that her son won it.
With tears in her eyes, she said that her son, Bryan Kerchal, won the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in 1994 and went on to win the Bassmaster Classic that same year. With her husband by her side, and tears in both of their eyes, she told us how only five months after his Classic win that he died in a plane crash. They really loved their son, and I could tell that after four years they were still heartbroken. Looking back on it, I think Mr. and Mrs. Kerchal saw a little bit of their son in Jordan and me. They were so nice to us, and I am glad I had the opportunity to meet them and hear Bryan’s story from them. Please read more on Bryan’s story here and here.
On Saturday, six anglers will qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, but only one angler will take home the Bryan Kerchal Memorial Trophy. His legacy lives on and his story inspires many young anglers to follow in his footsteps. His story inspired me to fish the B.A.S.S. Nation, and I would not trade those years for anything. It was a great learning experience and I would encourage you to join your local B.A.S.S. Nation club. Who knows? You might do what Bryan did and win the Championship and the Classic.
Dare to fail.