Winning the 1980 B.A.S.S. Federation Chapter Championship but missing out on a berth to the Bassmaster Classic was bittersweet for Ken Cook. However, the experience turned into a blessing in disguise that launched his pro career.
"At that point in time, the person who won the tournament didn't necessarily get to go to the Bassmaster Classic," said Cook of the championship on Grand Lake in Oklahoma. "The highest man on the winning six-man team got to go to the Classic. Even though I was the high man of the tournament, my Oklahoma team didn't win the overall championship. So I didn't get to go the Classic that year, and that really lit a fire under me."
The Oklahoma angler started competing in Bassmaster Invitationals in 1981 and qualified for the Classic in 1981 and 1982. After winning the Super BASS tournament in 1983, Cook quit his job as an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fisheries biologist to turn pro. The Federation graduate earned two more trips to the Classic.
And in 1991, he became a Classic champ.
Cook now has more than $750,000 in BASS winnings, and he has qualified to fish the Bassmaster Classic 14 times.
The Oklahoma B.A.S.S. Federation was in its formative years when Cook joined the Lawton Bassmasters club. "It was the best bass club in Lawton and they were affiliated with BASS," recalled Cook. "I was already a member of BASS, so I thought that was the best way to go because that was the fishing organization that I wanted to be a part of."
A Lawton Bassmasters rule stated that prospective members had to fish with a club member in their boat and beat the club member in a tournament before being admitted to the chapter. Cook recalled that he not only beat the club member but he was also the overall winner in his inauguration tournament on Oklahoma's Lake Eufaula.
Although he didn't fare as well in his first tournament as an official club member, Cook got hooked on competitive fishing. Soon after, in 1973, Cook qualified for Oklahoma's first state championship, held on Lake Texoma, where he already had some experience.
Cook finished as the overall winner and advanced to the Federation Chapter Championship on Pickwick Lake. "I remember going over there and getting my butt handed to me." However, Cook bounced back and returned to the Chapter Championship in 1975 at Table Rock Lake and in 1980 at Grand Lake.
His highly successful stint in the Federation was ideal training for the BASS pro. "I learned that catching a fish in competition is way more exciting than catching one for fun," said Cook. "I also learned how much of an accelerated learning experience it was. I got to fish with different guys in the club and the Federation normally had the best fishermen from the area, so I got to learn from the best guys in my area about how to fish in competition."
The Oklahoma pro believes the modern-day qualifying process for the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship is a better learning process than the old days of the Federation Chapter Championship. "It is significantly different," said Cook. "It goes through a much more complicated process to reach the top now, and I think that's the way it should be."
The Federation Nation divisionals give club anglers the chance to experience multiple-day tournaments on unfamiliar waters just like the Elite Series pros. "You need to get some experience outside of your home base in order to see if you have the versatility it takes to compete at the national level," advised Cook. He suggests club anglers wait until they succeed regularly in multiple-day tournaments before deciding to join the pro ranks.
While he no longer has any close ties to the Federation Nation, Cook still appreciates the grass-roots organization, especially when he sees the volunteers working at the Elite Series events.
"They are an essential part of the team," said Cook. "We certainly benefit from their time and effort."
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