Years ago, when I was just beginning my career as a professional angler, I won my first major event. At least it was "major" in my mind.
It was 1982, and I won the Florida Draw Trail Kissimmee Chain Invitational against a field that included many of the state's best bass fishermen — Bob Ditto, Manuel Spencer, Wayne Black, Peter Thliveros, Shaw Grigsby, Jim Bitter and a bunch of other great sticks. As the record will show, some of them went on to achieve national acclaim.
What ultimately proved more rewarding than beating those guys, though, was a fortuitous introduction to the outdoor media. That win got me noticed by a writer named Chris Christian and led to a 30-year professional relationship with Chris and the outdoor media community as a whole.
At the time, Chris was the editor of Backlash Magazine — the publication that covered all Florida Draw Trail events. Because I won that tournament, he wrote the first ever article on me as an angler.
I remember it well … hanging around after weigh-in, all smiles, taking a good ribbing from my buddies. That's when Chris approached me to ask if I had time for an interview. My reaction was, "Sure, I'll make time!" What happened after that is history — my history — and it increased my appreciation of this great sport.
Chris wrote about a young surfer-turned-angler who, through good fortune, was able to defeat some of Florida's toughest fishermen.
Not long after that win, I went on to claim the Florida Draw Trail Angler of the Year title, which obligated Chris to write about me again. By then, he was getting used to the "surfer dude." We even went fishing together a few times.
The next year I won the points race in the Gator Division of the Red Man Tournament Trail — a tour sanctioned by Operation Bass (now FLW Outdoors). Chris wrote about that, too, for Florida Sportsman, the Bible for Florida anglers back then.
As time went on, Chris' reputation grew stronger among the outdoor writing fraternity, and I was gaining some ground as an aspiring pro. Eventually I worked my way into national events. Chris kept tabs on my progress and wrote about me from time to time. Our fishing trips continued and were always successful, productive and fun. In fact, it was uncanny how I seemed to produce quality fish for his cameras. On many occasions they were trophy sized, too.
Once, after a day's fishing, Chris said something that was both funny and flattering. He said, "Schultz, you should write a book titled The Care and Feeding of Your Outdoor Writer!
As my career progressed, I began working with other Florida-based writers like Tim Tucker, Don Wilson, Dick Bowles and Horace Carter.
Tucker was a columnist for the Palm Beach Post and much of his material at that time was focused on fishing superstar Roland Martin. I recall Christian teasing Tucker, saying he should take out an insurance policy with Lloyds of London because if anything ever happened to Roland, Tim would be out of a job.
Don Wilson was the outdoor writer for the Orlando Sentinel, and because I was born and raised in nearby Sanford, he followed my career from the beginning. He wrote many stories about me, too.
Dick Bowles was the fishing columnist for the Gainesville Sun, which was the newspaper in my eventual hometown. Once the band director for the University of Florida, Dick was a multi-talented guy — a solid angler, composer and very eloquent writer. He was also one of the kindest outdoorsmen you could ever meet.
Horace Carter was an old sage who wrote for countless magazines, including Bassmaster and the "Big Three" — Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. In his days as a North Carolina newspaperman, he even won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Ku Klux Klan.
As time wore on, I became familiar with their separate writing styles. In fact, I read everything I could get my hands on. I was fascinated with fishing —the lures, the techniques, the destinations — and how these writers could capture the essence of it all.
One day, out of the blue, Christian suggested I call Florida Sportsman editor, Biff Lampton. A position for a regional columnist had opened up and Christian recommended me for the job. That's how I got my start as a writer.
Later, I blended my training as an illustrator with writing and tournament fishing.
Through an introduction by Tim Tucker, I met Dave Precht, then editor of Bassmaster Magazine and now Senior Director of B.A.S.S. Publications. Tucker had interviewed me for an article, and Dave wanted some type of sketch for his in-house artist to better visualize the concept. When he saw my rough draft, he ran it just the way it was and asked me to make regular submissions to the magazine. From there I began illustrating for several other publications, including books Tucker wrote for Roland Martin and Bill Dance.
In the early '90s, Precht gave me my own column in Bassmaster called "Techniques Illustrated." Although it was supposed to run only one year, it spanned nearly four. As the series grew in popularity, I was competing on two tours (B.A.S.S. and FLW). I struggled to meet deadlines. Eventually I asked for a hiatus to focus solely on tournaments.
Nowadays, since I'm competing in fewer events, I'm writing more and more. Besides this column, I make regular contributions to InsideLine.net, Ontario's Just Fishing and Florida Sportsman.
It's been a great ride and one that's taught me a lot.
Yes, I'd like to do a few things over again, but overall I can't complain. I've been involved in the sport I love for decades now, and it's given me the opportunity to work with some really great people … particularly those in the outdoor media.