He almost let it get away, but Bradley Roy has the 2010 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year trophy firmly in his grasp.
Going into the season finale last week in Oklahoma, Roy trailed fellow rookie Cliff Crochet by 51 points.
"I knew I had a lot of ground to make up," Roy said after he won top rookie honors. "I knew I had to finish ahead of him by at least 25 or 26 spots. I knew that would be hard to do. I was worried about it."
But Roy pulled it off by taking 34th place at the AutoZone Sooner Run to Crochet's 90th place, ultimately topping Crochet by 61 points in the rookie race, which is based on the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Roy is the 19-year-old from Lancaster, Ky., who gained fame as the youngest Elite angler ever when he qualified last fall at age 18. His rookie year was all he could have realistically hoped for: he attracted several solid sponsors, won some Elite prize money, and built his fan base through a video blog on Bassmaster.com.
He ended up in the overall Elite points standings in 40th place. It's a very respectable finish for a rookie, but it was just shy of qualifying for his first Bassmaster Classic in 2011. Still, Roy has an outside shot of making the Classic if three anglers can double qualify, earning Classic berths from the Opens and Elite Series – an unlikely scenario.
"I am a little disappointed about the Classic," he said. "I look back over the season and can pick any one of several mistakes that could have been the one that cost me. That's how tight the competition is in the Elite Series."
No Classic berth, and no wins, but his rookie season was peppered with triumphs. One of the first was the validation of his decision to play at the top level. That confirmation came when he finished 8th at Clear Lake in the second event of the season.
"That was my turning point," he said. "It gave me the courage and confidence to keep on."
Also memorable was the Pickwick Lake event, where he finished 34th. It almost wasn't so: His first-day catch left him floundering in the 60s in the daily standings.
"I did a one-eighty and brought in almost 16 pounds the next day that put me into the cut. I turned what could have been a bad tournament into a good one," Roy said.
His least favorite rookie experience was at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. He said he made a bad call when he decided to conserve his fish for Day Two, thinking 12 pounds was enough to get him going. It wasn't, and he ended in 78th place.
He said he could benefit from doing more research on Elite fisheries. He said next season he will go all-out to pre-fish unfamiliar lakes as well as hit the books and Internet to learn all he can before game time.
That's one type of homework he'll be doing over the coming months. His other homework will be more traditional: he plans to take a few more courses toward a college degree; major undecided, he's earned enough credits to be a sophomore.
Exactly like his Elite career.
Guy Eaker — at 70 the oldest pro in Bassmaster Elite Series history — ended his 35-year career at the finale event of the regular 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series last week in Oklahoma.
Eaker had announced late last year that he'd retire after the 2010 season. Actually, Eaker says now, he wasn't absolutely sure he'd really quit until the eve of the AutoZone Sooner Run.
"I hadn't really made a decision until this past Wednesday at registration," Eaker said. "I just sat down in a chair, and the answer came to me: I needed to go ahead and say it would be my last tournament."
His career ended with a bang-up season. It was one of his best and, perhaps, the one that garnered more publicity than he'd ever enjoyed. The story of the 70-year-old competing at the top level of his sport captured the continuous attention of fans and media. He was the subject of a New York Times article published in May. He caught the largest bass of his life, a 14-1. (Unfortunately, he is quick to point out, he boated the behemoth during practice, not during competition.)
If he could change one thing about his final season, it would be "to catch them a little bit better" and qualify for one more Bassmaster Classic, which would have been his 11th appearance at the big show.
Early on, his chances looked good for the 2011 Classic: He was 3rd in the points standings after two events, and he was still within the 37-place Classic cutline after five events. Over the final three tournaments, he slid down to end at 67th.
"But I wouldn't change many things. I've been lucky. Mercury, Triton, Pure Fishing and Bojangles' are my four major sponsors and they stuck by me for years and years and never said one thing about me not making the Classic. The CEO of Bojangles' told me that my truck and boat wrap was some of the best money they've ever spent in advertising."
Eaker said his wife's fragile health and his reluctance to travel far from her guided his decision to retire. Although he's in good condition — he's slim, he eats right, he exercises regularly — he said his body complained about being outside on the water for up to 12 hours in the summer heat.
He plans to remain in Cherryville, N.C., the town where he grew up, married, raised two children, and entertains his grandchildren. He said he will continue with appearances and seminars.
Eaker said he enjoys that type of "work," but for pure fun he will play more golf and he will go fishing on nearby Lakes Wylie and Norman, where he got his start fishing competitively in the early 1970s. He plans to continue putting in hours at his local tackle shop, where his pay is the enjoyment of talking with people who love the outdoors (plus a small discount on tackle).
Future plans were among his thoughts last weekend as he towed his boat 900 miles from Oklahoma home to North Carolina. Most of the road hours, though, were spent on memories.
"Probably 10,000 things went through my mind — things I've done over the past 35 years, people I've met, the friendships I made all over the United States and other countries, too. It's been a good 35 years."
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., was one of three men who set out last September on a 30-day, 2,300-mile journey on the Mississippi River.
The men used canoes, kayaks, a jet boat and a pontoon craft to navigate the river from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. They fought weather, crazy current, rising flood waters, huge barges, and the waves the river bullies created.
Their adventures are chronicled in three hours of Mississippi River Quest scheduled to premiere Saturday, July 3, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel. The show was produced by the same company that produces The Bassmasters, seen Sundays on ESPN2.
Browning, who last week qualified for his seventh Bassmaster Classic, is no stranger to TV. Besides the coverage he's received on the Elite Series trail, he was a contestant on another ESPN2 show, Wild Rules, an outdoor survivor show that aired in 2003.
"I would have been ill if I didn't make it happen." — Tommy Biffle on taking his third Bassmaster Elite Series win last weekend on his home water, Oklahoma's Fort Gibson Lake.