Co-angler, amateur, anchor weight ... whatever the term preferred for us lowly creatures waiting at the dock with our rods and tackle in hand waiting for our pro partners with breathless anticipation for a day on the water and a glimpse of greatness. I am one, and it's an adventure to be sure.Why do I say "When luck meets opportunity"? Because that's just what it is at the draw — luck. Who you draw when you're the co-angler has as much to do with your success as the skills you bring with you to the ramp. You may be the greatest angler ever to pick up a rod and reel, but if you draw someone who is clueless, you are at their mercy and must use every tactic you've ever read or heard about to get you to the weigh-in line.So what happens when luck meets opportunity and you are prepared to take full advantage of both? You get to make an appearance on the weigh-in stand in front of hundreds of strangers and hope you're still there in three more days So who is this chick, Kathy Crowder, and how did she become the first female to win a BASS event outside of the Women's Bassmaster Tour?It's really my dad's fault. He taught me to fish as soon as I was big enough to hold a fishing pole. I caught my first fish on the pond at the Little Rock airbase when I was barely 3 years old, and I've been obsessed ever since. After dad retired from the Air Force, he moved us home to Arkansas. It's there that my obsession grew.I would sit on the banks of local farm ponds and lakes with my dad fishing for bream, catfish and the occasional bass until the darkness and mosquitoes would chase us back home. I would read my dad's Bassmaster Magazine and secretly dream of fishing tournaments and doing fishing shows like Roland Martin and Bill Dance. So, when the opportunity came along to join my first bass club, I signed up and started my journey to my dream.
I started fishing competitively with my husband, Cliff Crowder, in 1996. I've fished many circuits as a co-angler, including local team circuits like Mr. Bass of Arkansas, Vince Miller's SuperTeam, Wal-Mart BFL events, the Bassmaster Weekend Series and, most recently, the Bassmaster Central Opens. Each venue presented its challenges and with them came learning opportunities and a view from the back that proved valuable even when the weigh-in bag was empty at the end of the day.But enough of the history lesson. How did I get the opportunity to win, and what does karma have to do with it all?I was lucky enough to draw some great partners. It really started at the Central Open event on the Red River, and that's where the karma comes in to play. That's right, what comes around goes around, and it was proven to me in a huge way.On the first day, I drew Kyle Fox, a young up and comer from Florida who is definitely going to be a pro to watch in the future. When he makes it to the Elite Series, put him on your Fantasy Team because he's going to be good. We met at the pairings, and I was amazed at how young he was. I don't think he had turned 20 yetI have socks older than that.But I digress. Kyle had a 13-pound limit fishing jigs in cypress knees that day, and I had 2 fish that weighed 6-15 with one of them being pretty close to 5 pounds.On the second day, I drew Marvin Ettredge. He'd never fished with a woman before, and I wasn't sure he was too keen on the idea that morning. He turned out to be a great guy; we had a good time and the day turned out great for me, but not as great for him. I had 4 fish for 10-4 and he had a limit at 10-5. Again, one of the fish in my bag was close to 5 pounds.What made the day not so great was I made the 30 cut and he missed it. I was happy for me but I was disappointed for him because he was great to fish with, he fished hard, and it was his home water.On the third and final day, I drew the tournament leader, Billy McCaghren. Here comes the Karma part. Not only is he leading the tournament, but he's a friend of mine and we're on the same marine dealership fishing team, H2O Sportz. I'm pumped! I knew I would have to have a huge stringer to win, and I was so tickled to make the cut that I had already made the decision I was not going to get in his way.
I truly believe that having a co-angler in the back really can affect the outcome of the pro's day. It happened to Marvin the day before. If he had caught that big fish, he would have made the cut and would have been fishing his home water for $50,000. So I decided I would wait to fish until Billy had a limit and I would just run the net.After he caught a limit, I did throw out and catch one keeper, but I kept thinking about my previous days and catching big fish behind my pros. I would have been sick if I caught another one, and he missed the win by a few ounces. He kept telling me to fish and that he would feel better if I would, but I just couldn't. I told him one day it would come back to me and I would have my opportunity and someone would help me the same way.Now let's fast-forward to Lake Texoma. What you do for others does come back to you.Luck meets opportunity again, and I drew out with exceptional partners. Day 1 was Aaron Johnson — second in the overall points going into the tournament. Great guy, great fisherman, good sense of humor. It's going to be a good day. He's on a "run and gun" pattern, hitting every spot he can trying to catch a limit. That didn't really fit with what I had done in practice, but I was along for the ride and was trying not to slow him down.
I kept throwing what I caught them on in practice because sometimes I'm just hard-headed. A Carolina rig with a watermelon candy Zoom Brush Hog fished like a crankbait. You bang it hard against the rocks trying to get a reaction bite. It was working earlier in the week. However, Aaron was moving at such a speed that I really couldn't get the rhythm down and work it like I did in practice. He slowed down long enough to pitch a jig in a brushpile, and I just kept working that rig in shallow water. Wham! A 3-15 ate my Brush Hog, bringing me big bass honors for co-angler side on the first day! That was the only fish I weighed, but it was a good one.On the second day I draw out with another Louisiana pro, Logan Sherrer. He had a hard first day, logging in a zero. But he's enthusiastic and we're going to try to catch them despite the wind. He's throwing a buzzbait, and I'm still throwing that Carolina rig. We had been fishing about an hour and didn't have anything yet and we pass a little brush sticking up in the water on a shallow flat. He's really moved past it already and hadn't fished it and I tell him to throw up through the middle of that brush with his buzzbait. He did and a keeper just slammed it — textbook catch. He was pumped after that.We went a little further, and I switched to throwing a Rat-L-Trap, but I kept catching stripers. He boated another keeper and asked me if I was ready to change to a buzzbait. I told him I was hard-headed but not hard to convince, so I started to look through my tackle and realized I had taken out the buzzbaits. He gave me one of his, and I tied it on and started fishing. We came to a point that had some laydowns on it, and he said, "You take the left side and I'll take the right side." So we both threw and a 4-2 swallowed my buzzbait. I kid you not; Logan was just as excited as I was. I got one more keeper for a 6-15 sack that got me to the Top 30 and big bass for the second day in a row!
For the final day, I drew Nick Aber. (I know it says "John" in the standings, but he's really Nick.) It turns out he knows one of my husband's best friends and fellow fisherman from Benton, Ark. I get chills. This is going to be another great draw. Here comes the karma part. Nick signed up to fish this one event because it's not far from home, and he's just trying to make a check. He told me that morning before we took off that he was going to get a limit, and we were going to get me a limit and that I was going to win this thing. I just said "Good deal. I'm in your boat, so I'm following you. Let's go!"We started on the bank just outside of the marina, a spot he had been trying to hit the last two days but had not been able to because of the all the boat traffic. He had four in the boat before 8:30 a.m. I had a few swat at my buzzbait, but no takers. I thought it was looking pretty bleak for me. We headed to fish docks close by the takeoff, so I tied on an Eakins jig in my favorite color (brown purple flash) and I put a cinnamon purple twin-tail grub on as a trailer. I managed 2 keepers and then he boated his limit fish. We went back to his best docks, and he put the boat in a position for me to fish them and just ran the trolling motor while I caught my limit.Karma — it's a good thing. After I caught my last keeper, we were headed out to the main lake bank to run a crankbait and see if we couldn't upgrade his catch and move him up for a better check. Just after we shut down, we heard someone shouting for help. One of his friends, Bradley Hallman, has just pulled up. His motor quit. We headed over to get him and his partner and their fish. It was 3:22 and their check in time was 3:30. We were close to the marina, but it takes 5 minutes to idle to the check in from the no wake buoys. We got them in just in time and Bradley came in second place in the tournament and won over $16,000. Karma! It will come back to Nick sometime soon!So there we are at the ramp, and I'm just beginning to realize that Nick may have been right that morning. I could actually win! I have a limit and those were very hard to come by in this event, especially from the back of the boat. I ask my husband to scope out the leader on the co-angler side before I bag my fish. He comes back and tells me that he only has one fish, and I am just about to burst! We get our fish sacked up and head to the tanks.It's going to be a quick weigh in because there are only 60 of us instead of 290, but as we are standing there it seems like it's going to take forever. I'm shaking so hard that I'm turning the water bottle I am holding into a frothy mess. I am standing next to Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jami Fralick, who is trying to make it to the Classic, and he's got a limit. He asks me what I have, and I barely choke out the words because, despite the water I am drinking, my mouth has just gone dry as the Sahara desert. Another co-angler weighs in and takes the lead spot, but I'm so jacked up that I didn't hear the weight.We make it to the bump table and one of my fish just barely touches the 14-inch mark, and I'm catching my breath again. Still have 5 in the bag. Nick says the co-angler in the lead has 20-9, so I'm standing there in line doing the math in my head. I had 10-14 going into the final day. We think I have close to 9-13 in the sack, and if that's right, I win. But if we're off ... well it's just too close to even think about.I step on stage and Chris Bowes, the tournament master of ceremonies, says "Here comes Kathy Crowder from Sherwood, Ark., and she has the first limit on the co-angler side today. He puts the sack on the scales and the fish are just moving around too much to get a weight. He says I need 9-12 to take the lead. The scale settles down and reads exactly 9-12!What did he just say? "Nine-12 and Kathy Crowder takes the lead by one ounce."I go sit in the "hot seat" and have to wait for the rest of the co-anglers to weigh in. It seems like a lifetime, but it's only about 5 minutes, and then all of a sudden all that's left are the 5 pros in the lead to weigh in, and Chris announces that I have won the co-angler side of the event. I am now officially the first woman to win a BASS event outside of the Women's Bassmaster Tour!What comes next? I have received priority entry into next year's events and I am going to sign up and fish them on the pro side. I want to earn a spot in the Classic through the traditional route that other professional anglers have had to take. My husband, Cliff, is so supportive, and I know it's going to be hard out there competing on the other side, but I believe with him behind me and the other members of the H20 Sportz Marine Dealer fishing team, I will have all the encouragement I need to keep me going.