Welcome to my world as the season gets mapped out on Mapquest…
[Editor's note: Read db's introduction to this gallery here]
Welcome to my world as the season gets mapped out on Mapquest…
[Editor's note: Read db's introduction to this gallery here]
...and the 4-Runner is packed...
...bye, bye Riley...miss you, dude.
2012 was a tough year on me health-wise, but it may have been the most important year of my life. The universe reached out and hit me upside my head, saying "family, family, family" is the most important part of life. When I look back on the year, it was toward family where I most pointed the camera -- here the last shot of the year was my wife Barb and I celebrating Thanksgiving with Michael Iaconelli and his family.
Of all the shots I took at the Bassmaster Classic in Shreveport, it is this shot that to me says what it is all about. That's Chris Lane’s wife, Holly, and their new baby. The stands were filled with family members. Without strong family support you couldn't make it in this sport. The next day, Holly and the entire Chris Lane family were circling the arena, holding the Bassmaster Classic Trophy.
Make no mistake, this is a family sport, where grandfathers take grandsons to weigh-ins and fishing....
...where fathers lead the way...
... or carry you home ...
...or take the time to play with you backstage...
...or bring you up with them onto the stage...
... and where two Bassmaster Classic winners, Paul Elias and Tommy Martin, share a back porch and stories.
One of my top four favorite photos of the year: When I told them that I would like to take a photo of their two teams, instead of breaking off into two groups, these B.A.S.S. Nation members from Spain and Canada all came together as one large group. No politics, no language barrier, just a bunch of people who like to fish.
The same thing happened with these guys. When I told them I wanted to take a photo of the two teams, they just got together for a group shot -- Auburn and Alabama -- just four kids with a love for competitive fishing.
By the way, I love this college fishing stuff. I love the college spirit and how they will do anything to be a part of this sport in its infancy.
Rooming with these two guys made my year. We became instant -- and I know lifelong -- friends as we stayed together for all the Elite events. The nightly talks we had about family and life helped each of us deal with being on the road away from family, and made the three of us family.
Here’s my favorite shot of my roommate Shaw Grigsby…
...and my favorite shot of my other roommate, Paul Elias, as he tests out new bait stuff in a motel swimming pool.
Laundry day on the trail.
You got me. I have no idea as to how, or why. Helluva last step, though.
If this was CatfishMaster you'd have a hundred anglers climbing that pole to duke it out with that bird.
If we could only get bass to do that.
Firsts only happen once, duh, and I was there when Brandon won his first Elite tournament. BP is like an adopted son to me out on the tour. I was happy to see him win, but if he doesn't win the Classic soon – dude, you are going to be grounded.
My heart goes out to the people of Branson, MO. Parts of the town were near-leveled like this in a springtime tornado outbreak. You want to help the people of Branson, GO THERE. Bring money, buy stuff, buy tickets to shows. Branson is open, and they need you and your money -- go there!
The face of a hero: Purple Heart recipient Staff Sgt (ret) Chad Brekke, a frontline combat medic who was blown up several times while trying to save others and is still recovering from the horrors, uses fishing to find peace and leave the battlefields behind. And day by day he gets better.
Another American hero: Chad's wife, like all military spouses who also face their own battles. But look at the look on her face as she watches Chad up on the Bassmaster Open stage. That there, that's the look of hope, and of love.
Me, throwing down to KVD. A series of competitions are underway, to see what makes Kevin VanDam one of the most -- if not THE most -- competitive professional athletes I have ever been around. Game on, buddy … we are BOWLING.
The dude shows up with his own bowling balls and bowling shoes. I won the practice game, he won the real game ("Anybody can win practice db, the money game is all that matters.") Yeah, yeah, yeah...next up was pool and I won one game, he won one game. So we are even at 2/2. We'll be duking it out all this year, starting with darts. KVD will go down...
Other than being a part of the Elites and their families, my favorite thing about this gig is getting to see America, especially small-town America, up close.
And, of course, the people who live there. These three ladies have worked in the Tinsley-Bible Drugs and Soda Fountain for years. The first lady on the left, Peggy, is de-facto mayor of the small town of Dandridge, Tenn., and has been running the place for the last 21 years.
Trust me on this one, if you think America has lost its “Mayberry” roots, you have to come out on the road with us, away from the big cities with the big problems.
Come to the quiet country roads that make up most of America in-between the interstates. Like here, to the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, built in 1905 and once again in 1962. Here, every tournament morning the members of this small congregation got up early …
… to come in and make breakfast for the tournament workers and the families of the Elite anglers. You think American has turned into a bunch of whiny celebrities-of-the-moment in Gucci-land, I'll send you this photo so you can see the real America, one that lends a hand instead of taking a hand out.
Main Street, U.S.A.,thank you for inviting us in. Thank you for your values, your work ethic, and your faith.
The next photos are for you folks surrounded by a cubicle …
… or for you kids on the couch zombied out to video games …
… for you who think buying the DVD ‘Planet Earth’ makes you an “outdoors” dude …
Put down the remote, the game controller; open the windows, open the doors and come on out …
… it's beautiful out here …
Come see the bits of wonderful just waiting for you.
Denny Brauer has retired from the Elite shebang, and I will greatly miss him. To many, the dude was known as a somewhat-crotchety old guy, and he could get his shorts all twisted up about things, but to and with me, he was never anything but a good friend and a gentleman. He’s someone who, when I had had enough of the madness, I could go to. Denny, his wife Shirley, and myself would get lost in laughs, giggles and understanding. Denny, buddy, you have my friendship, my respect, and my beer money. I'm coming for you, dude.
Ashmore made it. I took this photo, you know, just in case there was a miscalculation in feet and inches and I could use it to get him to buy a few dinners to not publish the splash.
Jerry McKinnis. This isn't the first boss I have watched throw things.
It is the first boss who, when they threw things, weren't throwing them at me.
Many places we went to had huge crowds. When they told me once to take a head count of the crowd, I did.
It was a very big number.
Quite possibly the weirdest thing I saw on the tour this year. I have no idea as to why it was there, and I didn't ask anyone either, preferring instead to just let the imagination deal with it.
Family: Julia Kennedy taking photo of her hubby on stage.
Steve Kennedy waving back. He’s a great friend, but also a great husband and father. You want to pick an athlete to follow for all the right reasons, pick this one.
Or this one. James Niggemeyer, an angler on the verge of greatness. You think this is just fishing. Look at his face as he watches his fish in the holding tank. You think this means nothing? That is the same look I have seen great athletes all over the planet possess. That’s how linemen look on the 3-yard line with the Super Bowl in the balance. You think of this as some sort of “almost-sport,” study that face.
Or go up against this dude --probably the most famous silhouette in the sport -- KVD. This is Babe Ruth. This is Richard Petty. This is Michael Jordan, Joe Montana. I have covered many of the best in professional sports, and I would invite Kevin to sit at that table.
It is all about being the last man standing right here, on this nasty old rubber mat. It is here where the trophy is raised for the first time in victory. It is the mat behind the podium on the weigh-in stage. The last one to leave footprints here, wins.
Is America great or what? Even I can get a fishing license.
Which I did so that my wife and I could fish in a couples tournament. Me and Barbie against a group of people who just happen to be the best anglers on the planet. Yep.
Here’s another of my favorite photos of the year: We are heading to our fishing spot with my great friend (unless he somehow gets me into his boat) and Elite angler Kevin Short (“K-Pink”) and his wife, my adopted older sister, Kerry (“K2”). She took the photo as he drove 72 mph to get to the honey hole. Except that, once we got there, we had to wait a half-hour for the bass to catch up to the boat, since they only seem to swim at maybe 5 mph.
Catch up the bass did, and I somehow managed to catch one of the slower ones. Barbie also caught fish along with K-Pink and K2, but it was my fish that seemed the most surprised to see who it was that actually out-foxed it.
Family. It's all about family. Look at dad's face, Elite angler Randy Howell. You would have thought he caught the fish to win the Basmaster Classic. Family, dudes, family.
The Elite anglers’ (and mine and Barb’s) 2nd annual couples tournament crew; the Cajun Baby Cliff Crochet and his significant other, Sara Theriot, won the tournament and the handmade trophy, but here's the most important thing you should know about this -- BARB AND I DIDN'T COME IN LAST PLACE.
Whenever an Elite angler dude starts complaining to me about something, I pull this photo up on my smartphone and show it to him. Just sayin’.
One of the great things about basically living with the Elites is the quiet time you get to spend with them. I went for a walk with Brent Chapman and his dog the night before he took to the water where Angler Of The Year would be decided. I stood back and watched as he looked out on the lake that could define his career, and I remember the water and the air being as calm as the man on the shore. I only asked him one question, not as a reporter but as a friend. "You ready for this dude?" Without turning to look at me, in a very soft voice that floated in the night air, all he said was, "Yep." Three nights later, he was crowned Angler Of The Year.
He tries to stay in the shadows of the sport, but to all who know him -- Trip Weldon, Tournament Director -- know it is his guiding hand that the sport hangs on to. Someday this sport will have a Commissioner, and when that happens I will go out and have a bronze plaque with the word "Commish" etched onto it, and I will proudly nail it to Trip Weldon's office door.
Yes, he does.
Aaron Martens, another great friend, and one of the most talented dudes in the sport, is another if you are looking for an athlete to follow. When he won the end of the year All-Star event he took $15,000 out of his winnings and donated it to the foundation I run, Tackle The Storm. That donation alone could put rods and reels into the hands of 2,000 children. It is because of Aaron, and the other hundred or so Elite anglers, that this sport is in good hands.
For me, all the roads I travel end in water. Twenty-one tournaments in 2013 – Elites, Opens, College and other events.
You are welcome to follow me, and I hope you do …
… as we cross America, the amber waves and shiny seas and everything in between. But before I go, I want to show you my top two favorite photos of the year.
In 2nd place: Sometimes Timmy Horton rooms with Shaw, Paul and me, as he did here in Tennessee. I love this photo, which most people would overlook, for two reasons. One, for the sportsmanship it shows between two competitors. Here, Paul Elias is showing Timmy how to tie a knot that could help Timmy on the water. The other reason I like it so much is the look of concentration on Timmy's face. If you can't be that focused on your sport, get off the field and buy a seat in the stands. I love this photo, but the number one spot goes to …
… Kevin VanDam …
… for this bit of wonderful. If you look close, KVD is sitting in the middle seat of his boat, and the young fan IS DRIVING. In 20 years of covering the big leagues I have never seen an act of kindness to rival this. It is Richard Petty handing you the keys to his race car and letting you take a lap or two. Do I think this sport has issues, yes I do. Do I think though that this sport has a bright future … to me this picture proves it. I'm very proud and honored to be covering it for another two years, and hopefully many more after that.