Texas Fest - grad fest

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Cal Culpepper's mom wanted this shot, and I'm flattered to be in it.

Lake Travis is a great lake — deep, clear and full of bass. And though I didn’t perform very well in the recent Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest event, I did catch a ton of fish. In fact, everybody did. Unfortunately, most of us failed to catch the size needed to be competitive.

As a result, I missed the cut to the weekend final. Disappointing, yes. But not all that bad. Everyone gets paid at Texas Fest … even last place receives a check for $3,500. So that helped ease some of the pain. 

Because of my poor performance in the tournament, I was offered a unique opportunity to participate in another venue … for which I am extremely grateful. 

Tagged the Bassmaster High School All-American Bass Tournament presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, it was held in conjunction with Texas Fest, and it showcased the talents of 12 young anglers, handpicked from various schools across the country. Although all were excellent anglers, the criteria required much more to be among those selected. 

Besides tournament results, academics, conservation and community involvement were key areas of consideration. And all of the qualifiers more than excelled in each of those areas.

Friends and family

The tourney format paired an Elite Series pro with one of the 12 young men, and the two competed both as a team and individually — recording their largest individual bass in the half-day competition.

I was paired with Cal Culpepper, an 18-year-old graduating senior from Harris County High School in Hamilton, Ga. Ironically, Cal opted to fish in the All-American rather than attend his high school graduation ceremony. You have to appreciate that.

How we ended up together was fortuitous. We have a mutual acquaintance — Matt Headrick of GLL Marine. My son is a sales rep for Shimano, Loomis and several other fishing brands, and GLL is one of his key accounts. I actually met Matt when I appeared at the grand opening of GLL’s satellite store in West Point, Ga. They support Cal’s high school team and host a series of local tournaments in which Cal and his dad compete.

We also have another mutual friend — Bobby Padgett, a former B.A.S.S. champion and one of the best structure fishermen in the country. But, for me, the connection went even deeper. Cal reminded me of myself at his age. He has the passion and desire to become a force in competitive fishing and, as our day unfolded, I quickly realized he had the skills as well.

Cal told me he started tournament fishing with his dad when he was 8 years old, and that he won $600 for catching the biggest bass in his first event. That sparked the flame and, ever since, Cal has been on the path to becoming a professional angler.