It was a brutally hot morning on Lake Eufaula, but Davy Hite hardly seemed to notice. The 2001-02 CITGO BASSMASTER Tour was winding down, and the personable South Carolina pro was putting the finishing touches on perhaps his most satisfying career achievement.As luck would have it, Hite had been Carolina rigging an underwater ledge adjacent to an island when he glanced toward the Lakepoint State Park resort and spotted his wife, Natalie, lounging at the pool with his two young sons. His family, he hoped, was about to witness an important moment.
"I had actually seen Natalie, and I could hear my boys," Hite says. "I had four fish in the livewell, and I'm thinking, 'If I catch one more, this thing's over.' A few minutes later, I caught my fifth keeper, put it on my Cul-Em-Rite scales and saw that I had 12 pounds. At that point, I screamed. I basically felt like I had it won right then."
The "it" he had won is one of the most coveted awards in professional fishing — the B.A.S.S. Angler-of-the-Year title. In sharing the moment with his family, Hite was also celebrating both an incredible season and his official return to prominence"It's just been an awesome year," Hite admits. "I wish I could just freeze time in the moment."
Indeed. Hite had just wrapped up a rare wire-to-wire Angler-of-the-Year campaign with one of the most memorable seasons in B.A.S.S. history. He started the six event Tour with back-to-back victories, followed by 10th and 23rd place showings. After a bump in the road at Lake Guntersville (which he used as his "drop" tournament), Hite made a mockery of one of the closest Angler-of-the-Year races in history by finishing third (and nearly winning) the season finale at Lake Eufaula.
In leaving a Who's Who list of former Angler-of-the-Year winners — Kevin VanDam, Tim Horton, Larry Nixon and Mark Davis — in his wake, Hite reclaimed a spot among the sport's elite.Early promiseFrom the beginning, Davy Hite's career was on a fast track.As a kid, Hite averaged about 300 days a year fishing Lake Murray. With that extraordinary early fishing education, he developed the tournament bug early in life, fishing his first buddy tournament at the age of 12. Hite competed in his first draw tournament at 13 and finished second.
Later, while working for the South Carolina National Guard, Hite participated as an amateur in a BASSMASTER Top 100 during the first year of the pro-am formats. Entering the event to measure his skills against the more seasoned pros, he placed second.
In 1993, Hite got off to an impressive start by qualifying for the highly competitive BASS Masters Classic in his rookie season on the Eastern Invitational circuit. A year later, he further announced his presence by winning an Eastern Invitational tournament (on Lake Eufaula) with a whopping three day catch weighing 67 pounds.
That was just the launching pad. In the next six seasons, Hite went on to qualify for five Classics, win another BASSMASTER event, post five runner-up finishes among his 17 Top 10 showings, place second in the '96 Classic and win the '97 Angler-of-the-Year title at the age of 32.His was a career ascension that rivaled that of VanDam.
In 1999, Hite captured the only tournament jewel missing from his collection — the Classic. On a broiling hot summer week on the Louisiana Delta, he caught an impressive 55-plus-pounds to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
While Hite looks back on his Classic triumph with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment, he acknowledges that his biggest career moment also led to the most frustrating stretch of his career — a pair of perplexing seasons that had even led to a lingering bout of self-doubt.
"After winning the Classic, I made the decision to try to do all the seminars I could to promote my sponsors and myself, to make my name a household name," Hite recalls. "I felt like it was my obligation to do that and to continue to fish.
"Whether I like to admit it or not, I couldn't do both very well. My fishing suffered. You know, I hate that, but I don't really regret what I did. I had an automatic bye back in the next year's Classic."Last year, I had an awful season. I probably lost some confidence in my decisions and my ability. I got really burned out trying to fish and to do all of the public appearances the year after I won the Classic. In 2001, during the official practice sessions for tournaments, I sometimes didn't want to be there. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be with my wife and kids. I wanted to be somewhere else. You can't be competitive that way. There are too many people out here that want it too badly."
That lack of commitment resulted in Hite's failing to make the 2001 Classic, which returned to the Louisiana Delta — the scene of his greatest accomplishment."My heart just wasn't in it last year. But when I had to go back to New Orleans to work the Outdoor Show, I had to face the people from the New Orleans area and explain to them that I hadn't fished well enough to qualify. It was humbling. Being just a spectator at the Classic last year made me want to be there again (as a contestant). That's what turned things around. I told myself, 'Dadgum it, I've proved that I can compete with the best of them. I need to trust my decisions and go for it.' It made me hungry again," he says.Back in the game
A re-energized Davy Hite, now 36, approached the 2001-02 season with reckless abandon. He embraced the start of the CITGO BASSMASTER Tour season with the tireless work habits that had been his trademark.
"Starting the year at Lake St. Clair, I was on the water every morning at practice, waiting for daylight," he says. "I was just hungry for it again. It had been a long time since I had done that.Tournament fishing was fun again. I wanted to be out there. That doesn't mean that I'm always going to catch them, but it means I was looking forward to it. That's the way I felt all through the season."
Armed with this renewed vigor and attitude, Hite made a statement right away — winning the season opener in Michigan. He hammered home the point that he was back by winning the next Tour event on Louisiana's Red River. Two months later, Hite made the Top 10 finals on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga. And his fellow competitors took notice.Along with the restoration of his confidence came the return of an inner peace.I was thinking that I was back, but I try very hard never to act arrogant or cocky in fishing, because it's the most humbling sport God ever created," Hite relates. "It will make you eat your words, buddy. I don't care who you are. It might take a little longer for some than others, but you will eat those words.
"Inside I felt really good. The thing that I was most concerned about was that so many people at that point were saying that I was going to win Angler of the Year. They thought I had it blown away after I made the Top 10 at Toho. It was a long way from done in my mind. I knew that Shaw (Grigsby) and (Dean) Rojas in recent years had won two events in one year without winning Angler of the Year."
After finishing a respectable 23rd at Lake Seminole, Hite knew he was in a good position to win a second Angler-of-the-Year crown. In the points race, an angler's worst performance is dropped. With two tournaments remaining, Hite only had to do well in one event. "Larry (Nixon) and a few others were right behind me, but they had to have two good tournaments. I could slip once."
Surprisingly, Hite did just that at Lake Guntersville, the next-to-last event on the CITGO BASSMASTER Tour schedule. He finished 118th, while his closest competitors all turned in solid performances. As a result, the race was practically a dead heat entering the finale on Lake Eufaula in May.At that point, Nixon — a two time Angler of the Year qualifying for his 23rd Classic appearance — remarked, "This race is about as tight as I've ever seen it. I can't remember four guys within 15 points. And all four are former Angler-of-the-Year winners.""That the race is so close is kind of neat," added Hite. "In all honesty, that's the way it should be — really exciting at the end. It's going to be a good finish to the race."Sprint to the finishFor all practical purposes, the closest Angler-of-the-Year race that most veteran observers could recall ended on the first day of the Lake Eufaula tournament, when Hite brought a 19-plus-pound limit to the scales to secure a share of first place.When he won the same title in 1997, Hite had blown the lead and needed a hefty dose of final round heroics to pull it off. That sack of bass told the bass world that history was not going to repeat itself this time around.We all pride ourselves on being mentally strong, but when a guy brings in a 19-pound string the first day, it can't help but affect you psychologically," VanDam admits. "It has an impact. You do your best to put it out of your mind, but the thought that you're fishing for second place still creeps in."
"Once I put 19 pounds in the boat the first day, I thought my chances were awesome," Hite says. "But you can't count out a Larry Nixon or a Kevin VanDam. The same goes for Tim Horton and Mark Davis."Hite ended any trace of suspense on the third competition day, when he qualified for the tournament finals while his closest competitors floundered. Although he would finish third and come within 4 ounces of winning the tournament, that was secondary to what he had accomplished a day earlier.The significance of his second Angler-of-the-Year title — and the frustration that preceded his triumphant return — were not lost on Davy Hite.
"I'm just tickled to death to win it again," says Hite, who won more than $300,000 this season. "Winning the first Angler of the Year is great, but the second one says even more about you as a fisherman. It says that the first one wasn't a fluke, and that you are a consistent fisherman at this level.
"Because of what I went through in the years after winning the Classic, I think I appreciate this Angler of the Year more. I was younger when I won it the first time, and I really hadn't been through any real adversity. My career had gone even better than I had ever dreamed it would at that point. So I really treasure this Angler of the Year."Now I'm setting my sights on winning another Classic."Considering the phenomenal year Hite has enjoyed, that would seem within reason. After all, the 2002 Classic is returning to Birmingham and Lay Lake, where he finished second to George Cochran (by a pound) in the 1996 Classic.
Tim Tucker's Pro Angling Insider: Your Guide to the Business Side of Fishing is a new bimonthly newsletter with an annual subscription rate of $39.95. It can be ordered by calling 800-252-FISH. A sample issue can by seen on his Bass Sessions 2002 Web site at www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.