Deb Johnson: BASS Reporter's Notebook

Just who is Ryan McMurtury?; Catching up with the youngest 2011 Classic qualifier; Mississippi youth champ repeats; Hall of Fame adds two Bassmaster anglers; and … Screams of joy

Deb Johnson

Just who is Ryan McMurtury?

His kids call him Forrest Gump. Nothing much to do with a box of chocolates; it's that Ryan McMurtury has tried his hand at many different careers, including — like Gump — football. Also like Forrest Gump, McMurtury of Abbeville, S.C., was wildly successful in one of his many ventures.

Last Saturday, McMurtury beat out 199 other anglers to win the only Bassmaster Classic entry awarded through the 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series Operated by American Bass Anglers. Competing Nov. 3-6 on Alabama's Lake Guntersville in the circuit's championship, McMurtury also won more than $100,000 in prizes and bonuses.

With the addition of McMurtury, the full field of 50 was set for the 2011 Classic, to be held Feb. 18-20 on the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans. In just days, McMurtury has become known as the "weekend angler" who made it into the 2011 world championship of fishing. But that's just the beginning of this man's talents. He recently earned a degree to be a certified surgical technician. He's also a certified nursing assistant. In his home workshop, he makes custom lures, specializing in colors that his customers crave and secret colors he won't share.

He's also been a deputy sheriff and a high-school football coach (he was a field-goal kicker in high school and junior college).

He's an artist who has sold his drawings. In the words of the 43-year-old native South Carolinian: "My kids call me Forrest Gump because I've done a little bit of everything." Of all his endeavors, he likes bass fishing the best. He says he goes out many times a week, either for tournaments or just for fun. If he's not home during the day, his family — his wife of 22 years, a 20-year-old son and two younger girls — assumes he's on the water. "I fish, probably, more than 300 days a year," he said. "I have for the last 15 years. I just like the feel of that pull on my 'string.' I can be at one of the lakes near my house pretty quick."

He can fish a lot because he works nights on home health-care jobs. That leaves his days for fishing, minus time for sleeping and, he pointed out, minus time dedicated to his kids. He said he always tries to be at his daughters' school functions. McMurtury started out in local tournaments about 20 years ago and stayed at that level for years. He decided 2010 was going to be his breakout season, and he signed on for the Weekend Series. "I wanted to see what I could do, if I could compete.

I don't want to be sitting around the house when I'm 60 years old, thinking, 'Darn, I should have tried it.'" The Weekend Series tried and taken, his new goal is to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series through the 2011 Bassmaster Southern Open circuit. He's set for the Southern trail's Jan. 20-22 season opener on Lake Tohopekaliga out of Kissimmee, Fla. A

nd then McMurtury will be packing his tackle for the Feb. 18-20 Classic. "I'll be competing against Kevin VanDam and other big, big names," he said. "That's unreal. I hope I get the luck I had at Guntersville."

Catching up with the youngest 2011 Classic qualifier

Brandon Palaniuk has been mentally prepping for years for his first Bassmaster Classic. "Every tournament I've ever fished, I fished like I was in a Bassmaster Classic, like I was fishing the biggest deal in the world," said Palaniuk (pronounced Paul-a-nick, accent on the first syllable). The 23-year-old from Rathdrum, Idaho, is the youngest qualifier for the Feb. 18-20 Classic on the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans. He made it through what many say is the toughest, longest road to the Classic, the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship presented by Skeeter and Yamaha.

He not only won in his Western Division — enough to get to a Classic — he also emerged as the overall 2010 champ. "I'm superexcited. I think a lot of opportunities are going to open up," he said a few days after his Oct. 29 victory.

The 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series may be one. He has decided, if sponsor deals he's working on come through, to use the Elite Series invitation he won by being the Federation champ. He will have a new Skeeter/Yamaha rig to use in the Elites — another prize of his win — so that helped influence his decision to turn Elite. "It's definitely a big jump — those guys are the best in the world — but it's also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and those are getting harder and harder to get, so I figure I need to take advantage of the shot I have now," he said.

He may be all of 23, but he's been trying to get to the Classic through the Federation since he was 16. He's been fishing since he was about 8 years old. A friend took him on his first trip in a bass boat, but he gets his love of the outdoors from his mother, Tonya Lyden. She's an avid fly fisher, backpacker, camper and elk hunter.

She recently added bass angling. It was her son who introduced her to the revolving spool reel. "We won a bass tournament together earlier this year," Palaniuk said. "She's the greatest. She's even more into it now, and on her own."

Mississippi youth champ repeats

Trevor Ladner did it again. For the second consecutive year, the Poplarville, Miss., angler won the Mississippi Junior Bassmaster State Championship. He's the first Junior Bassmaster angler to take two titles in a row in Mississippi. "It's unbelievable. It's an amazing thing to get to do at the age I am now," said Ladner, 17.

"I feel it is the beginning of my future, the start of a career as a bass pro." Ladner's Oct. 23 win on Mississippi's Flint Creek Reservoir secured his berth for next year's Bassmaster Southern Divisional youth event. In turn, that tournament will determine qualifiers for the 2011 Junior Bassmaster World Championship (event dates and locations to be announced).

Ladner, who turned 17 about a week after he became a two-time state champ, is a junior in high school. He's already checking out colleges, favoring Southern Miss for its civil engineering program. He likes the looks of the bass fishing team there, too.

He's certainly thinking about a pro fishing future. "I want the college degree and career, but I'd also like to go all the way with the fishing," he said. "Maybe I'll get lucky and be able to do both."

Hall of Fame adds two Bassmaster anglers

Superpro Kevin VanDam was one of two Bassmaster anglers in the 2011 class of inductees into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis.

A six-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and three-time Bassmaster Classic champ, VanDam's accomplishments are legendary, so it is fitting he was tapped to be among the hall's "legendary angler" inductees. B.A.S.S. can claim another 2011 inductee as one of its own because she was a competitor in the Women's Bassmaster Tour. Yet Sharon Rushton made her mark on sportfishing long before she entered her first WBT event in 2005.

Tapped for the hall's highest honor of "enshrinement," Rushton is perhaps best-known as the founding executive director of the Future Fisherman Foundation (www.futurefisherman.org).

She also started the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs program, now in use nationwide and in foreign countries. Many of the aquatic education programs and teaching curriculums Rushton developed while working for the foundation are being used today. "I look back to my work with the Future Fisherman Foundation with pride, but everyone should know I never was working alone; there were always many good people working along with me," said Rushton, now retired from the foundation and living in Kimberling City, Mo., where she is working on a book for young readers. "Many B.A.S.S. Federation Nation members were integral parts of the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs programs," Rushton said.

"They became our local experts in schools, and they conducted programs and helped with fishing events, all the while serving as important, positive role models for students."

Screams of joy

"They were hard to talk to because there was a whole lot of screaming going on at their end." — Bassmaster Weekend Series champ Ryan McMurtury on his family's reaction via cell phone when he won $110,000 and a 2011 Bassmaster Classic berth

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