True Sportsmanship

The other day I was thinking about years past and something that happened to me when I was just a young buck. It demonstrates true sportsmanship and, in my mind, tells everyone what we’re really all about.

I was fishing a MegaBucks event down on Old Hickory in Tennessee. There was one in 1998 and another in 1999. For the life of me I can’t remember which one it was, and it really doesn’t make a difference. If you disagree, pick one. You’ll have a 50-50 chance of being right so I won’t argue with you.

Things were going pretty well. I can’t remember if they made a cut in those days after the second or the third day of fishing. Regardless, whenever it was I made it into the Top 30. Was I ever excited, especially considering that I was only allowed to fish it because of a sponsor exemption.

In those days if you made the next cut you ended up fishing fresh water that hadn’t been fished during the tournament. That was what I really wanted to do. In my mind then, and now for that matter, that’s the truest form of competitive bass fishing — launch and try to find a keeper.

Half my night was spent working on tackle. I must have sharpened every hook in my boat and triple-checked every reel and rod I owned. Everything was organized perfect for the next day. I was ready for anything, or so I thought.

As soon as we launched I raced to my favorite spot. Pedal to the metal as they say. Problem was, when I arrived I saw another competitor’s boat sitting right where I wanted to fish. Stunned — that might have been the first time that had ever happened to me in a big tournament — I pulled back on the throttle and slumped down into my seat. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do. But the other competitor knew what to do.

He waived — said he didn’t mean to take my spot — he was just looking for fresh water — jerked his trolling motor up — and moved on carefully so as not to disturb the fish. He was there first and by rights could have claimed the spot. But he didn’t. He left it for me because I had been fishing it in the tournament. I’ve never forgotten what he did or how I felt when he did it. It was a moment of true, selfless sportsmanship.

More important than what he did for me, however, was what he did for the sport. He showed a young man, by his example, what it means to be a professional bass angler. I’ve never forgotten that lesson even though I have forgotten a lot of other things about that tournament. I’ve often wondered how many other guys he’s positively influenced over the intervening years.

The angler’s name is Mark Menendez. He competes in the Elite Series, lives in Kentucky and is a true professional. I’m proud to fish with him, and I’m proud to call him my friend.

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