Justin Larson was proudly discussing his and teammate Adam Saldaña’s recent conference regional victory as members of “The Wheelchair Spurs,” as 7-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam attempted to bait their hooks with hot dogs.
Yes, hot dogs. VanDam actually started the day by molding a pinch of Snickers bar on to a size #10 hook, before fast realizing that frankfurters were generating bigger bites. His teammate Gerald Swindle placed pizza crust left over from his lunch on a hook, stating, “I’ve figured out that thin crust works better than thick.”
VanDam and Swindle were just two of the six big-hearted Bassmaster Elite Series pros that graciously stopped at Toyota-supported Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio as they drove north from Falcon Lake last Sunday. Completely wheelchair-accessible, Morgan’s Wonderland is the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park designed with special-needs individuals of all ages in mind, and built to be enjoyed by everyone.
When you see sophomore Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock drop shotting a hot dog, Brandon Palaniuk being called an amateur because his 4-pound catfish just got dwarfed by a 6-pounder caught on the opposite side of the dock, and Terry “Big Show” Scroggins yelling, “Hey y’all, somebody’s cork just went under, set the hook!” – it’s fair to say, that, indeed, Morgan’s Wonderland was being “enjoyed by everyone.”
At one point during the chilly and windy afternoon, all 48 Zebco spincast combos, provided free for the day, for use by Morgan’s Wonderland guests, were in use. Some of the push-button reels were in the able hands of the six Elite Series pros. But more importantly, the Morgan’s guests the pros were serving as fishing guides to were holding most of them, and having a great time.
“Morgan’s Wonderland is a place where folks can come for the day and be themselves, relax, and have fun, no matter what challenges they are facing in life,” said Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Chip Porche. “It’s the kind of place you have to see and experience first hand to appreciate its goodness, and I’m really glad I got to experience it,” he added.
As the day ended, the six Elites climbed back in their Tundras, paraded past the park’s Wonderland Express Train, and moved slowly back out of the park, driving onward to prefish for an upcoming event, meet a sponsor obligation, or simply head home.
The life of a Bassmaster Elite Series pro includes tens-of-thousands of annual highway miles. But on this day, it included a special three-hour pit stop to graciously provide their time, hearts and angling expertise. Their efforts made better the lives of others on a chilly Sunday afternoon.
“Morgan’s Wonderland is a really cool place,” said VanDam. “Some of those kids caught their first fish today. And to me, that’s what it’s really all about.” Even when hot dogs are used for bait.