Weekend warrior Darrell West has been chasing his dream for two and a half decades.
He's fished local fruit jar circuits, the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series operated by American Bass Anglers and the Bassmaster Opens in an attempt to improve his game and ultimately compete in the grandest tournament of them all, the Bassmaster Classic. This year his dream came true.
"I felt pretty good going into this year's Weekend Series," says the Drasco, Ark., dental crown and bridge maker. "I figured that if I could fish well during the year I'd have a shot in the regional championship and at the national championship."
That attitude came from his prior experience on the Red River, site of the regional, along with two strong finishes on Lake Dardanelle, site of the national championship. Unfortunately, however, the regional was moved at the last minute to Sam Rayburn because of high water on the river.
"Based on my past performances on those waters, I thought they were places where I could compete against the other guys with a pretty good chance of success. When the regional was moved, I was concerned. It turned my plans upside down. I didn't panic, though. I put my head down and fished.
"That mental attitude didn't hold through the nationals, however. I had a bad spell and I did panic."
That's unusual for West, who's rarely rattled by anything and usually approaches his fishing — and his life — with a laid-back, easygoing attitude. But, this wasn't usual. It was his chance at a Classic berth. The prize was within sight. Who knows how long it might be before he'd get another shot?
"I was leading after the second day, but on the third day my bite slowed down. To top it off several of the other competitors moved in on my spot. I got rattled — I'll admit it — and fell apart. I pulled up my trolling motor and moved, trying to find new fish. That was a boneheaded mistake. It cost me two hours and nearly cost me the tournament and my spot in this year's Classic.
"That night I went back to my room and had a talk with myself. I knew if I didn't collect myself, I would be in big trouble. The next morning I went back to my fish, put my head down, and just barely caught enough weight to win. It was a lesson learned. Hopefully, it'll make me a better angler."
Like all first-timers, he's excited about going to the Classic. (He's never been to one, even as a spectator.) But that excitement hasn't blinded him to the realities of the event. He spent at least a week and a half on Lay Lake before it went off-limits in the middle of December.
"I tried to get a feel for the lake. I had some good days and some bad days. Overall, however, I think I know what it looks like, and I think I found a few places where the bass might be in February.
"I know how tough it's going to be. I've fished against some of those guys in the Opens, and they're good — real good. Add to that the fact that they have Classic experience and I can only imagine what I'm up against.
"I'm going to fish to the best of my ability, though, no matter how good those guys are or how tough it gets. At the same time I'm going to enjoy every minute of the experience. This is a fishing dream come true. I couldn't ask for anything more.
"And, while I'm thinking about the Classic and all that it means to me, I want to say thanks to my wife of 21 years, Melody. She's supported me as I spent time and money on my fishing during our marriage. She's a part of this, too, and should share the experience with me."
West's plans after the Classic include fishing the Central Opens next year as well as the Weekend Series, if his schedule permits.
"I'm serious about my fishing. My dental lab is in good shape right now and can run without my day-to-day supervision. I should be able to spend more time on the water next year. After that, who knows?"