The B.A.S.S. Federation Nation played an instrumental role in helping Bassmaster Elite Series pro Lee Bailey Jr. fulfill his lifelong dream."Since I was a kid, I dreamed about being a professional bass fisherman, and the only way to do that was to join the Federation Nation, fish with a club and learn as much as I could," said the transplanted Alabama pro.
Despite living in the New England area where bass take a back seat to other species, Bailey decided to follow his dream by joining the Central Connecticut Bassmasters in 1985. Bailey belonged to a couple of other clubs throughout the years and began his own club about 12 years ago called the Connecticut River Bass Anglers.
"While I was in the Federation Nation, I got involved in everything," said Bailey, who served as state vice president and tournament director and produced the Connecticut Federation's newsletter for three years.
The extra duties never hampered his fishing; Bailey won several club tournaments and qualified for three state teams. He also earned a berth in the 1988 B.A.S.S. Federation National Championship. "Making the state teams and progressing to the Nationals really whet my appetite for the national scene," said Bailey.The versatility he gained from fishing on different bodies of water and competing against anglers of different skill levels in the Federation Nation prepared him for his pro career. Gaining recognition at the Federation Nation level helped reinforce Bailey's drive toward the pro ranks. "Winning tournaments was great, but just earning that respect among my peers was a big thing," he recalled.
He took his first step to the pro level when he competed as an amateur in the 1994 Bassmaster Top 100 event on the Connecticut River. Since then Bailey has recorded nine Top 10 finishes in Bassmaster events and won the 1997 Missouri Invitational on Table Rock Lake. He has competed in two Bassmaster Classics and qualified for next month's 2007 Classic in his new home state of Alabama.Bailey believes making the Classic through the Federation Nation process is harder than qualifying through the pro ranks. "You have to go through so many steps to get there," he said. "For me, competing in the Federation was hard. I just started out fishing against a bunch of guys who had been fishing those waters for years. It took a little while to get my competitive level where it needed to be."The BASS pro credits the late Don Sanzo, a fellow Federation Nation angler, with helping him achieve his dream. "I met him one day at a movie theater and he is the one who got me into my first bass club," said Bailey. "He was my mentor and taught me about fishing and about being a professional. I'll never forget what he has done for me."Once he turned pro, Bailey continued to support the Federation Nation. "I had my own lure company, Cavitron Lures, and for many years I sponsored the state team," said Bailey. "For a long time, I sponsored my club as well as other anglers on the Federation level to help them get started as well as to help them feel like and learn how to behave like professionals."A hectic schedule the last five years has made it difficult to stay involved with the Federation Nation, but Bailey made a couple of appearances at the Connecticut Federation Nation's annual banquet. He also speaks to clubs in Alabama or at some of the tournament sites on the Elite Series trail. "I try to squeeze in as many of those club appearances as I can," said Bailey, who usually talks at three or four club meetings in a year."I would hope at some point in my career that I would be able to turn around and do some stuff with the Federation Nation and help it grow," disclosed Bailey. "Hopefully I will be able to pass on some of my experiences and maybe spark some other young angler to get involved and turn pro."