GREENSBORO, N.C. — Were he alive today, former world champion angler Bryan Victor Kerchal would be a mere 36-years-old, still young compared to the average pro competing in this week's Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts on High Rock Lake.
The impact Kerchal would have had on professional bass fishing, and the sport in general, will never be known. Just four months after winning the 1994 Bassmaster Classic on this same North Carolina fishery, the sport's most promising young superstar was killed in a commuter airplane crash near the lake.
Even so, Kerchal's legacy lives on this weekend in the first of three Bassmaster Majors, including this first 2007 event, held in his honor.
The poignant irony of the Bassmaster American is that some of the very pros that Kerchal beat in that fateful event on High Rock Lake are here fishing the Major. And as a tribute to the victor, all of them had high praise for a young man they believe would have left an indelible mark on the face of the sport:
Tommy Biffle, the second-place finisher in the 1994 Classic, 4 ounces back: "There is no doubt in my mind that he would have made a huge impact on youth involvement in the sport. But I also believe that his underdog win would have been an ongoing inspiration to other guys who dreamed of doing this."
Gary Klein, 27th in that Classic: "He was an inspiration to everybody. Look at how he came from behind and finished at the top. That speaks volumes about where he'd be today."
Shaw Grigsby, 29th in that event: "His untapped talents were never given the chance to be exploited and proven. He was not a fluke by any means. We all knew that. And as young as he was when he won it, there's no doubt in my mind that we'd seen a huge swelling of participation by young anglers aspiring to follow in his footsteps."
Michael Iaconelli, the 2006 Bassmaster Angler of the Year: "He came from the Eastern Division (of the Federation Nation) and so did I. It was just awesome to see what he did in such a short time. It actually made my Classic win in 2003 all the sweeter knowing we both achieved the greatest victory that you can in bass fishing. And knowing that we claimed the title coming from the Federation Nation."
Don Corkran, the BASS Federation Nation director: "Bryan Kerchal was an amazing young man. I remember it well. He had a very special heart for kids and he really embraced the Bassmaster CastingKids program. He always went out of his way to mentor the kids, wherever he met them."