I love fishing, but I love anglers and fans too

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Shaye Baker

The first tournament of the year is right around the corner. Everyone is asking me if I’m ready, but I haven’t really been home in four of the last five weeks. In that time, I’ve been from my house in Birmingham up to Raleigh, N.C., for the Big Rock Show. I’ve been to Pensacola, Florida and Dallas, Texas. I’ve been to Central Arkansas to film a show with Zona, and I’ve just now made it back to the house from the East TN Fishing Show to start getting tackle ready and my boat set to head for Cherokee Lake.

Most of the time on the road, I’m headed to expos and shows for meet-and-greets for my sponsors. There’s not much fishing preparation you can do in a booth, but what you can do is talk to fishermen, and a lot of the time that’s important to me too.

One of the best things about all that travel and going to shows is the chance I get to talk to fans. That’s something I’ve always loved to do, because you meet some really cool people with really interesting stories when you’re out on the road or on the show floor.

I met a few guys last year at a show — I’ve met them more than a few times — but these guys are some of the most diehard fishermen I’d ever seen. They call themselves the Jon Boat Bass Club, and they fish tournaments and have championships just like us.

They were such cool guys. They have a lot of fun fishing, and they were all pretty good fishermen, too.

These guys have war stories, just like any of the guys in the Bassmaster Elite Series, but their stories are made going seven miles per hour across the water — and I think some of them carry their boats in the back of their trucks. Mostly, the jon boat guys hit smaller lakes, but occasionally they hit some of the bigger ones that I sometimes find myself on for the Elite Series.

Those are the kind of people I love to meet, and they are what make the long road trips and flights and standing on concrete for 10 hours rewarding for me.

If I didn’t spend time going to shows or hanging around the weigh-in areas after tournaments, it would be a lot harder to meet guys like that. But that’s what I like to do. It’s really cool to hear from people who fish all kinds of different events and places around the country. Meeting people like that is awesome.

I think sometimes when people see me, especially younger kids, they get a little shy. So, I try to fix that and just hang out with them: let them see that I’m just a regular guy. A lot of people are nervous to ask for a picture, so I’ll ask them to take one. I love doing that with fans because the fans are what make bass fishing so great.

Before I could get ready for the 2017 season, I got the chance to talk to the fans. People like the jon boat guys or the people that come up to me and talk at weigh-ins; they’re the reason that the Elite Series tournaments mean so much in the first place. So, if you ask me what I’ve been doing to prepare for the year’s first tournament, the answer is that I’ve been talking to the fans, and reaching out to the roots of pro bass fishing to remind myself how great it is to be fishing in this world for another year.