What I learned as a Marshal

Photo courtesy of Skip Walden
Riding as a Marshal taught Skip Walden tactics, techniques and areas he had never considered before.

Skip Walden served as a Bassmaster Marshal for Russ Lane, Morizo Shimizu, Brandon Palaniuk, Boyd Duckett, Fred Roumbanis and Kevin VanDam. This is his story. See his photos here.

Over the years, I have interviewed top anglers like The Bass Professor Doug Hannon and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Shaw Grigsby. It has been a while since I attempted writing anything beyond blogs, but I took this opportunity to write about my experience as a Marshal on the Bassmaster Elite Series and the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

I love fishing. I have fished tournaments for a long time. I was 8 or 9 the first time I fished a tournament, a father/son B.A.S.S. club event. Paul Elias, who was still fishing at the club level, was even in the tournament! I didn’t catch a bass that day but I did catch two very large catfish on Douglas Lake. In 2004, I was fishing a tournament on Laurel Lake in Kentucky. The steering went out on my engine as we were blasting off and I flipped a 20-foot Ranger boat.

Fear of that wreck put me out of fishing for three years, but I slowly got back into it and started following the major tournament trails again. I realized something real quick. In those three years, I had lost a lot of knowledge of the sport. You would be surprised how much equipment, lakes change and — ultimately — fishing changes.

Shortly before I wrecked I had covered the Bassmaster MegaBucks tournament on Douglas for Chevrolet Outdoors. It took about 14 pounds a day to win that one. When I came back to fishing, it was taking 25-plus-pound sacks to win on Douglas.

Clearly things had changed. I decided I would hold off fishing tournaments again until I got some of the wheels back under me and thought I could be competitive again.

I need to improve my ability to catch larger fish. Numbers are nice, but today it’s about size. The days of the 15-pound local tournament wins are about gone. Newer tactics and skills are required to be competitive. On my ride with Kevin VanDam, I asked him, “Do you ever feel the need to retool what you do to be competitive with the younger talent such as Brandon Palaniuk?”

Kevin’s answer was something to the effect that the younger generation is really the older generation to adapt to be competitive. I saw the advertisement for Marshals for the 2012 season in Bassmaster magazine, and one of the tournaments was on Douglas. I thought, what better way to learn something than to see a real live pro fish a lake I’ve fished regularly for the last 35 years and see what he does differently that I do?” For the then-$100 entry fee, I couldn’t help but get my money’s worth.

I really enjoyed the ride on Day 2 with Russ Lane that year, and I learned a trick off of him that I applied to the weekly Tuesday nighter I fish here at home on Laurel Lake and promptly won $300 with it. That single demonstration made me want to Marshal again.

Looking at the schedule for 2013, I didn’t see a lake I’d fished before. However, I saw one I was interested in. I have fished Wedowee in Alabama twice a year since it was built. West Point Lake is just across the line in Georgia, and I also think about going there if I’m not doing well on Wedowee. I thought it would be good to get a ride on West Point to learn some things about that lake just in case I actually pulled the trigger and swapped lakes. I also signed up for the Alabama River tournament because it was equal distance driving to my home.

At West Point, I got to ride with Brandon Palaniuk on Day 1. I got to witness a completely different approach to fishing than I have ever been around. Brandon fishes like an elk hunting guide, which he is in the off-season. He doesn’t pull into a place to fish. He pulls in to catch a fish that he knows is there.

The first spot he pulled into he said, “There’s a 6-pounder here, and that’s why we are here.”