My one that got away was in 2000 at a World Championship Fishing event. I was 21 or 22, so I was just getting started. The World Championship Fishing events combined fishing and boat handling. Anyway, there was an overall first prize that was $50,000. First place for fishing was $25,000, and first place for boating was $25,000; so if you won everything, you could win $100,000.
There were only 16 guys in that event, so it was a small field. We were at the Mobile Delta in Mississippi. Fishing was kind of tough. I squeaked out a small limit the first day, and the second day I also caught a small limit. However, my boat handling was really good. I think I was in the lead after two days, and I wasn't too far off in the fishing, either.
The last day I caught five, but one was right on the line. I mean, it depended which way you put it on the board. It wouldn't measure on one side, but if you were to flip it over, it did. It was so close I didn't know what to do. I was so worried that I would lose the overall championship if I brought a short fish to the scales. Back then, I thought they were out to get you for that sort of thing.
You could also bring 'em in and release them at the dock back then. I even asked Trip (Trip Weldon, BASS Tournament Director) if I could get a courtesy measure, and he said I would need to put it back right away, because once they come out they were his. I measured that fish for a long time; I could just barely get him to touch the line if his mouth was slightly open. And I wasn't sure about the ruling there; I know most people like to have the mouth closed.
I couldn't take the risk so I tossed it at the ramp.
After we weighed in, I ended up losing the fishing portion by 4 ounces. That was a $25,000 fish I threw back in the lake! To a 20-something kid just starting out, $25,000 is a lot of money. It's a lot to anybody, but $25,000 when you're starting out is huge.
I didn't win the boating, either, but I did win the overall competition, so I got $50,000, but that money was gone by the end of the year! That extra kick would've been nice.
I let go the one that got away.