DETROIT, Mich. – As his bass boat bobbed in a stiff breeze this morning at Lake St. Clair Metropark on the second day of the Bassmaster Northern Open, John Murray mentioned that he felt a slight tightness in his neck. Normally, that would be par for the course, an occupational hazard for a veteran pro nearing the end of a grueling tournament year. However, given his recent disclosure that he suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, a slight pain could be worrisome, perhaps a harbinger of worse things to come. Murray was stoic in the face of such possibilities.
“I can handle little twinges,” he said. “It’s the big things that are debilitating. But I know that I’m on the right medicine and the doctors told me that it’ll probably take another month to fully kick in.”
Murray will turn 48 next month, and while he’s not old in the conventional sense, he has a lot of miles on his tires.
“I fished my first tournament when I was 13 and I’ve been at it constantly since then,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve missed a month. When I didn’t know what was going on, and I had to crawl around in my boat, I thought I was done. When I couldn’t pick up a rod to make a cast, I thought I was done.”
That would’ve been a hard pill to swallow for someone who admitted that not only has he never had a conventional full-time job, but who has never really considered what he’d do if forced to take one. He’s guided a bit in Arizona over the years, but his passion is fishing tournaments, and if that were to be taken away it would be mentally devastating. Additionally, despite thousands of hours behind the wheel of a bass boat and standing one-legged on a trolling motor in bucking seas, his body hadn’t previously shown any sign of breaking down.
“I’d never been sick, or had a broken bone or been in the hospital in 40-plus years,” he said.
Murray skipped the first Northern Open of 2012, so even if he were to win this week, it would not punch his ticket to the Bassmaster Classic. Accordingly, it might seem logical that a tournament on Lake St. Clair, known for backbreaking boat rides, wouldn’t be an obvious choice for an elective tournament, but Murray can’t stay away. It was breezy yesterday and seems likely to be even windier today. Furthermore, yesterday it rained, which is often believed to aggravate typical arthritis. Murray said the weather hasn’t affected him yet.
“It’s called arthritis but that’s a little misleading because it happens everywhere,” he explained. “I’d get pains in my mid arm, or in the middle of my chest, but not in my joints. It’s the body attacking itself and I’d feel it in weird places. It was never like just my knee hurt.”
With the arthritis seemingly under control, Murray’s next goal is to get his fishing back on track. He’s suffering through what he described as the worst season of his career, and hasn’t been to the Bassmaster Classic since 2010. That was his sixth appearance in the world championship in nine years. He’s also won the U.S. Open, referred to as the “Iditarod of bass fishing,” and is generally revered by his western peers.
“You start to take it for granted when you make it so many times,” he said of his six Classic appearances. “Then when you start to miss it you wonder if it is ever going to happen again. I’ve had down streaks before in my life. I always used to love slumps. As I told Aaron Martens, when you have a slump you can come back even stronger. He’s come back. I’m still waiting.”
In addition to – or perhaps as a result of – his physical maladies, this has been a tough season for Murray. He’s only earned two checks in seven Elite Series tournaments this year, and currently sits in 81st place in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year race. With only one Elite Series tournament left to go, he’ll fail to make the 2013 Classic unless he wins at Oneida. At St. Clair, he sits in 110th place after Day One with 14 pounds, 13 ounces. Today Murray will play it safe, not because he’s afraid of the rough water, but rather out of concern for his co-angler. “I’d been catching 4-pounders but yesterday they were all 3-pounders,” he said. “I’m so far behind, it’ll take a minor miracle to do anything. But my partner is in second place and I don’t want to take some oddball chance and take him out of the running.
“There are always lessons to be learned in life,” he continued. “Sometimes they’re not real obvious. I have a super-healthy and happy little 3-year-old boy. My wife travels with me. Everything in my life is perfect except for my fishing, and you can always improve your fishing.”
At some point, John Murray’s streak will end, and he will go a month without fishing a tournament, but it does not appear that month will come any time soon.