If it seems like the name Denny Brauer has been missing from the winner's circle in recent professional bass fishing events, it has been.
But don't be surprised if the 1998 BASS Masters Classic champ is back on tournament leaderboards soon. Brauer is recovering from back surgery earlier this month aimed at correcting a painful Sciatic nerve problem caused by a bone spur and a calcium deposit that had combined to virtually pinch the nerve off.
"The surgeon found the problem and corrected it," said Brauer, host of "The Bass Class" each weekend on ESPN2. "It's a matter of getting the feeling back in my leg and foot and getting back to the type of fishing that it takes to be competitive."
A tough break
The problem developed while Brauer was competing near Detroit, Mich., following the 1999 Classic in New Orleans.
"It happened two years ago in August, right after Davy (Hite) won the Classic. That's when one of those wild waves at Lake St. Clair hit my boat and threw it up in the air. When I came down, I had a stinger go down my left leg. I don't know if that was the total cause or the final straw, but I got up the final day and couldn't stand up in the boat."
The 52-year old Camdenton, Mo. angler limped through the remainder of the 1999/2000 BASSMASTER Tournament Trail season. The 1987 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year was finally forced to pull out of the MegaBucks regular season finale.
While Brauer has been able to compete this year, it has been a struggle.
"This year, I was able to make it to all of the events. I wasn't happy with my fishing. It was hard to put in the intensity and to maintain the focus at the level that I enjoy competing at. I'm not real good at going through the motions."
Perhaps most frustrating of all admits Brauer is the timing of the injury on the heels of his 1998 Classic win and FLW Angler of the Year title. The injury abruptly stopped his momentum in its tracks.
Papa Brauer's physical difficulties have been tough for his family to watch.
"It's tougher to watch him not be able to fish like he wants to fish in tournaments," said 29-year old son Chad. "Ever since I can remember, I never remember seeing him sit down to fish during a tournament or when just fishing for fun. For the last two years, that's all that he's been able to do. "
"Sitting down really limits his effectiveness with the way that he likes to fish because you can't cover as much water and you have to resort to different techniques," mused the younger Brauer, who also competes on the B.A.S.S. circuit.
1991 Classic champ Ken Cook can relate to Denny's situation. Cook contracted Lyme disease in 1999 and suffered a back injury in a 2000 ATV accident. Add in a knee problem and the Meers, Ok. resident can feel Brauer's pain.
"It's tough to fish well when you're hurting," said Cook.
According to Cook, Denny's biggest battle may not be a physical one.
"At one point in both of our careers we think that we're invincible. But when you start hurting and start to realize that you are mortal, it's hard to get back that mental edge that you had."
"This is a very mental game and it's harder to reach a mental peak than the physical peak," said Cook.
Physically, Denny appears to be well on the road to recovery despite an unsuccessful outpatient surgery last summer. He expects this month's procedure to correct the problem once and for all.
"My plan is to be up and running when the circuit starts in August. I might have to take it easy for a tournament or two, but I don't really plan on missing any events," said the eldest Brauer.
Chad expects his dad to quickly revert to his championship form once the back is sound again.
"I think if everything goes well with his back healing up, he may even be a little bit better. Having to sit down has forced him to do some new things and if anything, I think he may be more versatile now. I expect that when he gets back to 100 percent physically, he'll get back to where he was and pick up where he left off."
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