GROVE, Okla. — Greg Gutierrez was practicing for the Bassmaster Elite Series Sooner Run on Grand Lake earlier this week when his cell phone rang."My battalion chief called," said the 45-year-old pro angler and fire captain from Red Bluff, Calif. "He asked if I'd been watching the news. I said, no, I haven't seen anything. He said we'd just lost nine men in South Carolina."I just sat down in the boat. It really takes the wind out of your sails."If you didn't already know it, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 helped you understand the nationwide brotherhood that exists between firefighters. The Charleston, S.C., furniture storage facility fire was the single largest loss of firefighters since that date in 2001.
Not only did Gutierrez feel the loss of nine men who shared a common profession, he thought about his 18-year-old son, Greg Jr., who just finished his first week as a fireman in California.And one more recent event made the moment even more emotional. Gutierrez recently appeared in his local newspaper, in a photograph, helping extinguish a fire.
"I was standing up on this roof, putting out a structure fire," Gutierrez said. "I had a couple of big ol' firefighters up there with me. We had worked pretty hard. When I ended up with my photo in the paper, I was thinking this is so cool, an action shot."It was the sudden roof collapse of the South Carolina facility that claimed those nine firefighters' lives.
"Then you flash forward to those firefighters out there," Gutierrez said. "And you think, the next thing you know, that roof I'm walking on is gone. That's when everything hit home."It's hard to dampen the spirit of the seemingly ever-smiling Gutierrez. He quickly brightened when asked about his son, who is following in dad's footsteps, it turns out, in more ways than one."He's been working towards (a firefighter's career) for several years now," Gutierrez said. "He's working towards a fire science degree."He's an accomplished angler, too. He took me to the (Bassmaster) Classic before I ever qualified."As the four-time California champion of the BASS Casting for Kids program, Greg Jr. has earned enough college scholarship money to pay for his education, according to his proud father. Gutierrez has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic the last two years. But before earning a spot in the Classic, father accompanied son for the Bassmaster CastingKids national finals, which are always held in conjunction with the Classic.
Bass fishing legend Bob Cobb will be a special guest on ESPNOutdoors.com's exclusive live pre-game show Hooked Up. Cobb will be a part of the 3 p.m. ET live update on Sunday and will sit in with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona an hour later for the live Hooked Up show at 4 p.m. ET.
Cobb is an icon in the sport and helped start both the Bassmaster Magazine and Bassmaster Television show. He is also an Oklahoma native who is familiar with Grand Lake.
Cobb's debut at 3 p.m. will be during the third live update of the action on the water on Sunday. There will also be live updates at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m ET.Gutierrez tries to connect with local fire stations wherever the Bassmaster Elite Series tour goes. Through his role as a professional angler, Gutierrez attracts some attention other firefighters might not get. It helps him spread the message about fire prevention."Fire prevention is a really big point of emphasis," Gutierrez said. "The more fires that we can avoid, that's 'we' as in 'everybody,' those are that many fires that we don't have to go in and risk our lives for. If I can just get one or two messages to sink in for one or two people at every stop (on the pro tour), that's a pretty successful rate."Gutierrez actually stayed in a fire station this year when the Elite Series tour stopped at Clear Lake, near Lakeport, Calif."It had been closed for the season," Gutierrez said. "It was a fully functioning fire station, but the personnel had been moved temporarily to more effectively utilize the equipment."
Those quarters must have brought Gutierrez some good karma. Clear Lake marked his best performance so far this season. He won $27,500 with a third-place finish and also joined the BASS "century club" with a four-day, five bass per day limit weighing 108 pounds, 1 ounce. (It took 122-4 by Steve Kennedy to win the California Shootout.)
Gutierrez matched that performance at Grand Lake last year, finishing third in the Sooner Run. It doesn't appear as though he'll be able to repeat that showing, as Gutierrez stood in 89th place with a five bass limit weighing 10-9 going into Friday's competition.But you won't hear any complaints about fishing from Gutierrez. As firefighting often does, this week in the form of South Carolina's tragedy, Gutierrez' perspective about what's truly important in life has been reinforced.And it doesn't involve catching bass, even when a $100,000 first place check is at stake.
Editor's note: ESPNOutdoors.com invited the University of Oklahoma bass fishing team to join coverage of the Sooner Run. The collegiate anglers will post a regular blog and appear on Hooked Up, the live Internet shows that air at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET on Sunday in advance of the live weigh-in. Bob Cobb, creator of Bassmaster Magazine and Bassmaster television, will be the special guest on Hooked Up.
Daily live weigh-ins and a realtime leaderboard will be at 4 p.m. ET. Please feel free to post comments to this blog via the ESPN Conversation feature at the bottom of this and every news page on this site.