Forty-year-old law enforcement officer and fishing fan Heath Stokes returned home from his Patoka Lake Bass Club tournament to find a social media message on his computer from Gerald Swindle. “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner, I’ve chosen you as the winner of our Toyota All-Star Week contest,” said the personalized electronic note from the G-Man.
“I just went to hollerin’ when I read Gerald’s message. My wife couldn’t figure out what the heck I was carrying on about,” grinned Stokes, who has been an outdoorsman since his youth, growing up in ‘Sportsman’s Paradise’ near Baton Rouge, La.
Yep, no joke, the happily married father of four daughters from Owensboro, KY, and one of 12,120 bass fishing fans that follow Swindle’s comical quips and candid real life experiences on Facebook, was headed to B.A.S.S. Toyota All-Star Week, on Swindle’s nickel. Actually, about 20,000 nickels.
“Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner.” That sounds like something Swindle would say doesn’t it? Only this time instead of humoring thousands from a weigh-in stage, Swindle was talking only to Stokes. And sure enough, just days later Stokes found himself five hours from home in Decatur, Illinois, eating not chicken, but a juicy ribeye in a corner booth with Swindle and his wife,.
“I was so excited to get here that I drove up the night before I was due to arrive, and slept in my Camry at the state park so that I could be there for morning launch,” admitted Stokes.
You might say Stoke’s trip started on August 28th when Swindle made a simple series of Facebook posts to his fans. “If you’ll vote for me, and together we tally enough votes for me to qualify for Toyota All-Star Week, I’ll pick one of you to be my guest in Decatur, Illinois, and I’ll give you $1,000 toward your travel expenses.”
That post was followed by a series of other posts, offering more and more bonus prizes to his fans, until eventually, Swindle tossed in roughly $1,500 worth of the best-in-the-business products he uses on tour, such as a Quantum rod and reel, Oakley sunglasses, War Eagle Spinnerbaits, Zoom soft plastics, Lucky Craft crankbaits, and one of the jerseys he wears to compete in.
“I’ve always followed Gerald because he seems like’s he’s just a guy like me that loves to hunt and fish … and sure enough he is,” confirmed Stokes. “I’ve only been here two days, but I feel like I’ve made friends for life with both Gerald and LeAnn,” added a grateful Stokes over breakfast with LeAnn soon after they both waved Swindle good luck at morning launch.
“He’s always cuttin’ up – you never know what he’s going to say next,” added Stokes, still awed over the fact that one of G-Man’s most recent unpredictable sayings was aimed exclusively at him.
“Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner.” Welcome to B.A.S.S. Toyota All-Star Week, Stokes … courtesy of the Swindles.