Former Bassmaster Classic champion Stanley Mitchell is living the good life thanks to his family’s business.
“I’m kind of semi-retired now,” said the 50-year-old Mitchell. “I look after our family’s land and take care of it whenever I’m not fishing or hunting or doing something I want to do.”
The Fitzgerald, Ga., angler competed on the Bassmaster tournament trail for 22 years (1979-2001) and was the youngest Classic champion, winning the 1981 event at the age of 21. He also won the 1992 North Carolina Top 100 tournament and was on the winning squad of the 1987 Team Championship. His other B.A.S.S. highlights include a second-place finish, 15 top 10 finishes, 39 top 20 finishes and 10 Classic appearances.
Nudging out Harold Allen by less than a pound to win the 1981 Classic was the pinnacle of Mitchell’s fishing career. “That’s a thrill you never forget,” he says. “It seems like yesterday, but it’s been 30 years now.
“A Classic win helps you all the way through your career. It was always real good to have that Classic win that tagged along with me during the times when I wasn’t doing quite as well.”
The victory also made it easier to stomach close calls such as the 1995 Classic when rain messed up his pattern and he finished eighth, or the 1993 Megabucks event in which he lost some fish and took fifth.
Winning the Classic gives a Bassmaster competitor a golden opportunity to stockpile sponsorships, but Mitchell never felt the need to take that route due to his family’s thriving timber business.
“It helped me with Ranger and Evinrude and all the sponsors,” he says “Even if I didn’t get any money from some, I still got product. I could have done a lot better if that would have been my only income at the time. I could have done a lot more stuff with different companies, but I was really fortunate with the way our business was.”
After competing in his last B.A.S.S event — the 2001 Megabucks — Mitchell continued fishing competitively for the next three years on the FLW circuit.
“I really didn’t ever want to leave B.A.S.S., but the way my sponsorships were, if I was really going to get any help I had to fish FLW,” he recalls.
After losing his biggest supporter, Mitchell’s enthusiasm for competitive fishing started to wane.
“My father (Harry) was always kind of a big part of it, so when he died I just kind of felt like I needed to be home more with my mother,” says Mitchell.
In May 2004, Mitchell competed in his final FLW event at Kentucky Lake.
“I felt like it was time for me to bow out,” he says. “I haven’t fished a tournament since I quit. I loved the competition and wish I was still out there doing it, but I just kind of got burned out with all the road stuff.”
Despite giving up on an illustrious fishing career at the age of 44, Mitchell has no regrets. “It was great,” he says of his time on the trail. “I keep up with a lot of it today through Denny (Brauer) and Davy (Hite) and some of the other guys. I miss being with all of them. I love Kevin (VanDam) and how he represents the sport.”
Some back troubles and his aversion to traveling and motels nixes any thoughts Mitchell might have about making a comeback.
“I just don’t feel like I could compete now like I should.”
The former Classic champ now spends 75 to 100 days a year on the water and has broadened his fishing horizons.
“I do a good bit of saltwater fishing now,” Mitchell says. “I started redfishing and speckled trout fishing a good bit, and I really enjoy that. I still bass fish a bit on our rivers and lakes around here.”
The man of leisure admits he has become a fair-weather fisherman.
“I just go on the good days now. I don’t have to worry about the freezing cold days and the rain.” Fishing in those miserable conditions are long behind this retired Bassmaster.