Fishing and family

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Courtesy Bernie Schultz

During Classic Week, I couldn’t help but notice a recurring theme — one that was subtle at first, but by the end of the event became overwhelmingly pervasive.

The theme? Family … and how significant they become during major events like the Bassmaster Classic.

After making that realization, fishing’s biggest event became something other than what I had expected. Here’s why.

Never leave home without 'em

As I began the 18-hour trek to Grand Lake, my mind was fixed solely on the task ahead … not on family or what I was leaving behind. I wanted to win, and I selfishly thought going alone might put me closer to achieving that goal.

I was wrong.

Before leaving home, my two sons (20 and 23 years old) pleaded with me to take them along. When I told them it wouldn’t work out, they took matters into their own hands — checking flights and car rental options. My wife, too, felt she should attend. But because of her ailing mother’s needs, it just wasn’t in the cards.

Finally, after considerable debate, I told them they could fly out if I were in contention to win. It wasn’t exactly what they wanted to hear, but they agreed to it.

Some distance down the road, guilt began to set in. My thoughts drifted back to those I left behind. There I was, headed to the biggest event of my career, without those who support me the most.

Out of sight, not out of mind

Eventually, I reached Grand Lake and met up with Alabama pro Greg Vinson — the guy I would share a house with during official practice. For a time, that got my mind back on fishing and what lay ahead.

I spent hours studying lake maps and Google Earth while tweaking tackle. I wanted to make sure I was in a position to take full advantage of anything good that might happen … and all was going well until I overheard a phone conversation between Greg and his young son. Then guilt crept in again.

When the three days of official practice were complete, I drove to Tulsa to check into the host hotel. Almost immediately, I was confronted by other Classic contenders and their families, each excited about the week ahead.

More guilt.

At the B.A.S.S. Night of Champions banquet, I encountered numerous competitors and their wives, all enjoying each other’s company. That hit home as well.

The next couple of days, I was buried in media requests and last-minute preparations. Thoughts of my family were, at that point, somewhat suppressed. Then came the competition, in which I got off to a decent start. But by the time I was off the water, it was clear there was no one there to share it with — no one truly close to me, at least.

By the end of the second day, I was eliminated from the competition. My focus then turned to working the Classic Expo for my sponsors. All day long, I observed family after family pouring through the aisles of the convention center — all excited about the show and impending weigh-in ceremony.

Family matters!

When the Expo closed and weigh-in began, I retreated to the media center to watch from behind the scenes. I shared a large flat-screen monitor with some people, but the dialogue was distant and almost meaningless.

As each angler crossed the stage, the cameras would pan to their loved ones in the crowd. My thoughts, again, drifted to my own family.

Then came the finale, when Edwin Evers was crowned Bassmaster Classic champion. The music grew louder and confetti filled the air as his family rushed the stage. It was at that moment when it all hit home.

I realized the Classic was much more than a competition or personal goal. It was a gathering — of families and friends — a moment in which to share.

For Edwin’s family, his victory became their victory. And as much as he wanted to hoist that trophy, he more wanted to share it with his family.