Through the eyes of an Elite Series Marshal

A Christmas wish turned reality last week on the Mississippi

Austin Hopfensperger
Courtesy of Austin Hopfensperger
Austin Hopfensperger's Christmas wish came true last week when he got to be an Elite Series Marshal at the Mississippi River Rumble.

I was really excited when I found out that the Bassmaster Elite Series was coming to La Crosse, Wis., for the Mississippi River Rumble. As soon as I saw the 2012 Elite schedule, I told my parents that the only thing I wanted for Christmas was the opportunity to be an Elite Series Marshal for the event. I didn’t care if I got anything else; being a Marshal was enough.

They agreed that I could go; and on opening day of registration, they helped make sure my Christmas wish came true. It took a few extra weeks to get my information packet, and I was checking the mailbox every day. It finally came, and I was so excited even though the event was still months away.

As June approached, the idea that the Elites were coming to Wisconsin and I was going to be able to ride with them began to really sink in. It really hit me when I showed up Monday to fish, and all the anglers’ trailers were in the launch parking lot, and I saw the guys on the water. At that point, I knew that my dream was going to come true – the Elites were here!

I really had no idea what to expect; I had only heard that it was a great program and that everyone I talked to that had done it said it was a great experience.

We showed up early for the Marshal briefing; I needed to stretch my legs so I walked out to the lobby and there's Skeet Reese and Russ Lane and a few other pros chatting right there. Most people would have said hi or something but I was so excited that I just walked right by and thought to myself, “Wow that was really Skeet and Russ!”

On Day One of the event, I was paired with Russell Parrish. I met him down at the ramp, and we sat out on the river and talked fishing until take-off. I was living my dream; I was in the boat with an Elite pro just chatting. When he got to fishing, it showed me how good these guys really are. I have almost zero experience on the river but I was looking at the bank he was fishing and I thought I would be flipping this if I were fishing. As the day progressed, I realized that if I had been doing that I would have been fishing under the fish and likely not catch much. Overall, I really enjoyed my day with Russell.

Austin HopfenspergerAustin Hopfensperger
On Day Two, I was paired with Takahiro Omori. I was really excited because I’ve been a fan of his since he won the 2004 Bassmaster Classic in the last five minutes of competition. I met up with him Friday morning, and he asked me if I’d be OK with driving his boat when he dropped me in at the launch. I said sure!

So, here I am living my dream. I must have been the youngest kid who was a Marshal, and I'm driving a pro’s boat. I just did what I'd done a hundred times before and found an open spot in the mass of Elite anglers’ boats and waited for him. I had a blast with Takahiro; he was throwing a frog most of the day, and that is by far my favorite way to catch fish. He had some awesome strikes.

On Day Three, I was paired with Matt Reed; he was throwing a frog, too. So, of course, I had a good day again. Matt and I talked about where we fish and about our home lakes; I really enjoyed his stories since his home lake is Falcon. He said an 8-pounder is an okay fish.

One thing that was the same across all three days was the boat ride; when you get out of the no wake zone, you are off to the races and you better hang on. I looked over at the GPS a couple times this week, and it said we were going 75 mph. It’s a nice, fast ride.

Overall I enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about doing it. It doesn't matter if it's on your home lake or not; it is a blast to watch these guys fish. If you go, listen, learn, ask questions and enjoy it. I know I did!

I would like to thank Trip Weldon, Dave Mercer, Chuck Harbin and Ryan Watkins for taking such an interest in my story and making my week here even better.