FRISCO, Texas -- When professional anglers from both the B.A.S.S. Elite Series and FLW tours are competing, they’re used to spectator boats following them around for a glimpse of the action.
But Thursday during a pro-am before this weekend’s Toyota Texas Bass Classic, some fishing fans who braved chilly and rainy conditions were out to see stars of a different kind.
Terry Scroggins, a B.A.S.S. Elite Series veteran, was paired with renowned country musician Eric Paslay. B.A.S.S. Elite Series pro Chris Zaldain was teamed with a standout athlete of a different kind – Cody Eakin, a center for NHL’s Dallas Stars.
Both pros said it was a bit different to have the focus on someone other than themselves when it comes to a fishing tournament (especially a pro-am event.) But they both welcomed the chance to talk with their teammates for the day, and to get to know a bit about them during the brief three-hour fishing window.
“He was a cool guy,” Scroggins said of Paslay. “He wanted to learn a little bit about fishing, and I wanted to learn a little bit about country music. He’s a pretty good fisherman. But me, all I can play music-wise is the radio.”
As “Big Show” noted, Paslay knew a thing or two about fishing before he met the Florida-born angler at the pro-am. There were ponds near Paslay’s great uncle’s house which he frequented as a kid, and a pond near his own home was stocked with catfish and rainbow trout.
“I’d go down and wet a hook all the time as a kid,” the platinum-selling country artist said. “Growing up, I loved fishing. This was awesome today. I learned a lot of things about some certain lures and we caught some good fish.”
Scroggins said the duo caught approximately a dozen fish, and that two were keepers – a 2-pounder he landed, and another bass that Paslay caught that weighed 2-8. A big one Paslay hooked got away though, which gave him the opportunity to show he can spin a fishing tale, as well as a good country song.
“We didn’t get a look at it, but it was at least 20 pounds, I’m sure,” Paslay joked.
Turns out that Zaldain and Eakin share a lot in common, as well – even though the pro angler is from San Jose, Calif., and Eakin was born in Winnipeg, Canada. That’s because Eakin did a fair amount of fishing in his youth and has really embraced the sport since moving to north Texas to play professional hockey.
And Zaldain? Well, he happened to play hockey for 13 years, and at a fairly high level, at that.
“I played in a lot of junior tournaments growing up, and I’ve been to Quebec, and I’ve actually been to Dallas to play hockey before,” Zaldain said. “I got invited to play at a big prep school, but at that age, I didn’t want to leave home.”
The conversation during Thursday’s pro-am mainly focused on fishing, Zaldain said.
“I tried not to talk about hockey, because that’s all he talks about I’m sure. When he exits the hockey world and goes fishing, we’re going to talk about fishing.”
They didn’t do too well on the water, however, with only one keeper weighed aboard Zaldain’s boat. The pro lost another bass he said had good size.
Eakin said he was glad to be a part of the pro-am, regardless of the bite.
“Fishing here in Texas is quite a bit the same as it is in Canada,” he said. “I fished on Lake Texoma last year, and I’ve really started to like it.”
The pair had another thing in common besides fishing and hockey. Turns out they likely are pulling for the same team in the NHL Western Conference Finals – an ongoing series between the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues.
“I grew up pulling for San Jose, of course, and the Blues beat (Eakin’s top-ranked Stars earlier) in the playoffs,” Zaldain said.
“We had that to talk about, and I learned a lot about fishing also,” Eakin said. “I learned what kind of structure to look for; things like that. It was really fun, and we had a good time out there.”
Thirty-eight teams, each led by a professional angler, took part in Thursday’s pro-am, which was shortened somewhat because of persistent rain and unseasonably chilly temperatures.
The event started and ended at Bass Pro Shops in Garland. Pro Luke Clausen and amateur Steve Brooks took top prize in the pro-am with a 16-pound, 8-ounce haul. Jacob Powroznik teamed with amateur Norman Hollis for second place with 15-0. Randy Howell and amateurs Wesley Wheat and Justin Venteicher placed third with 13-8.
Dean Rojas landed the Big Bass Award for pros with an 8-pounder, and Hollis led the amateur catches with a 5-pounder.
The 38 pros now turn their full attention to the 10th annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic, which begins Friday on Lake Ray Roberts in Denton, north of Dallas. The top 15 anglers from both the 2015 BASS Elite Series Toyota Angler of the Year standings, and the Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year race will fish, as will eight exemptions (including 2015 TTBC Champion Brett Ehrler.) The full field will fish on Saturday as well, and the “Tundra 10” will remain to fish on Sunday.
At stake is nearly a half million in cash and prizes, and the winner will claim $100,000 and a Z20 Nitro boat with dual Power-Poles.
The TTBC is a fundraiser for the Texas Park & Wildlife Department’s youth fishing and outreach programs. The event includes food, drink, an outdoors expo, live music each day of the event (including Paslay on Friday evening,) and more.
Angler take-off is Friday at 7 a.m. at Lake Ray Roberts State Park. Admission is free. Toyota Texas Fest will begin at Toyota Stadium in Frisco at 2 p.m. on Friday. Angler weigh-ins and live concerts begin at 5:30 p.m. Activities at Toyota Stadium require a ticket.