Learn from the best
Jerry McKinnis, one of the new owners of B.A.S.S., is scheduled to speak Jan. 8 during the Shreveport-Bossier City, La., stop of The Bass University.
The Bass University, intense seminars for the already-skilled angler, is a joint venture of Bassmaster Elite Series pro Michael Iaconelli and pro Pete Gluszek. For more information, go to www.TheBassUniversity.com.
Shreveport-Bossier City and B.A.S.S. have a strong connection. Among many other B.A.S.S. events, the city hosted the record breaking 2009 Bassmaster Classic and will welcome the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
How stockbroker Ben Parker became an Elite Series pro
Two years ago, Ben Parker earned his living as an investment banker. Today, he's a rookie pro in the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series. That may seem like an improbable leap, but it is true to his outdoor roots on Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee.
"On my father's side of the family, we've been hunting, fishing and guiding in the area of Reelfoot for years and years. My life growing up revolved around that," said Parker, who now lives in a cabin on Kentucky Lake near Springville, Tenn., not too far from Reelfoot.
Influenced by his schoolteacher mother, Parker left home after high school to attend the University of Memphis. He earned a degree in business and finance. Right out of college he got a job as a stockbroker. He stayed in the investment field for more than eight years, traveling the country, but he never gave up fishing or hunting; he continued to guide duck hunters almost every season.
And then one day about two years ago, he decided to chuck the investment job. He said he could no longer deny that pro fishing was what he really wanted to do. "I didn't want to wake up one day, 80 years old and kicking myself for not doing it," said Parker, now 33.
He aimed for the top: Bassmaster Elite Series pro. "All the bass fishermen I idolized growing up, B.A.S.S. is what they all fished. The Elite Series and Bassmaster Classic — that's what bass fishing is all about. It's the highest level of competition in my opinion," he said. To finance his fishing, he geared up his guiding business, Parker's Outfitting (www.parkersoutfitting.com).
Meanwhile, he acquired the Kentucky Lake cabin and worked on his fishing skills. He'd fished B.A.S.S. Federation Nation tournaments and the 2010 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens, and by the end of his first season, he was in 10th place in the points standings, not quite good enough for the Elite Series invite. But Parker didn't give up hope that, as duplicate or declined qualifications were determined,
B.A.S.S. would work down the list to 10th place and offer him a spot in the 2011 Elite Series field. It happened. The call came December 1. Parker said he didn't hesitate, accepting "in about half a second."
His wrap sponsors will include Parker's Outfitters and, he hopes, another deal now in the works. "I'm hoping to get my name out there and pick up some sponsors so I can continue fishing," he said. "Right now, I'm taking a big chance and financing myself. I want to see how good I am. I'm putting everything on the line, but fishing the Elite Series is what I want to do."
In reaching the upper echelon of competitive fishing, Parker also can count himself as a member of another exclusive set: former B.A.S.S. Federation Nation competitors who fished their way up into the Elite Series ranks.
Members of the club include Michael Iaconelli, Jami Fralick, Russ Lane and one of Parker's fellow Elite Series rookies, 2010 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship winner Brandon Palaniuk.
Although Parker won his state Federation Nation event again in 2010, qualifying him to compete in the Southern Divisional, he'll have to pass because of a scheduling conflict with the Elite Series. "But that's part of it," he said. "The Federation was what really got me excited about tournaments, and I really enjoyed. Not everyone's goal in fishing the Federation is to get to the Elites, but it's a great platform to use to work your way up.
Swindle's new venture
Usually at this time of year, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Gerald Swindle is deep in the Alabama woods. He's an avid bow hunter, and the call of the woods is strong for him.
"It's my getaway, it's how I recharge my batteries to get back on the tournament circuit. I've spent most of my winters in the woods with my bow in my hand," said Swindle, whose Warrior, Ala., home is close to some of the best deer and turkey hunting in the nation. But this winter, a camera often follows his every move in the woods. He's working on a new TV show, The Hit List, slated to debut on the Outdoor Channel starting in July, Swindle said. He described the show, a collaboration with fishing pros Andy Morgan and Chad Ritter, as "an in-your-face, down-to-earth show with a little bit of comedy and a lot of hunting."
One aim of the show is to portray hunting as it really is for most hunters, he said. "We don't do those real fancy, high-priced hunts, but hunting like we do with our buddies, like we grew up doing," he said. The show's production will have to go on without him for much of February. That's when his attention will turn to competing in the 41st Bassmaster Classic out of New Orleans.
He'll be on the Louisiana Delta for official practice days, Feb. 11-13 and Feb. 16, and through competition days, Feb. 18-20. Swindle's 10 Classic appearances include all three of the previous Classic competitions on the Delta. He finished 39th in 1999; fifth in 2001 and 11th in 2003.
Classic show gears up
Scores of big-name makers of fishing tackle, boats, motors and other outdoor products have signed up to exhibit at the 2011 edition of the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods.
See the current exhibitor list — subject to expansion before the three-day show opens Feb. 18 at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in downtown New Orleans, La.
In addition to exhibitors on the list, the show roster will include B.A.S.S. itself, as well as B.A.S.S. official sponsors, including Toyota Trucks, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Skeeter and Yamaha.
There is free admission to the expo, and it will run concurrently with Bassmaster Classic competition days, Friday-Sunday, Feb. 18-20. Get more Expo details, plus all the information needed to plan a trip to experience the world championship of bass fishing.
Inclined to be excited
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Gary Klein is blogging for Bassmaster.com about his upcoming 29th appearance in a Bassmaster Classic. Klein is aiming for his first Classic win. He finished in second place in the 2003 Classic — on the Louisiana Delta. He finished fourth in the 1999 Classic — also on the Delta.
"So if you think I'm excited about this one, you're right!" Klein wrote in his blog on Dec. 20, 2010.