Recently, bass fishing legend Denny Brauer announced his retirement. I can understand the why of his decision. Nevertheless, it’s a sad day for professional bass fishing. He’s one of the good guys who helped take us to a higher level.
I could write about all the tournaments he won and how successful he was as an angler. That would be appropriate. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to give you my view of what I think is more important about his career.
Way back when — I forget the exact date — he appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman after winning a big award. At the time I’m guessing that most people thought of professional bass anglers as uneducated, ignorant hillbillies. Who else would climb into a boat and spend the day trying to catch a fish — for money? I don’t mean to be crude but the truth is the truth. That’s what a lot of people thought.
Denny took his seat on Letterman’s couch and handled himself with style and class. He was able to trade barbs with the entertainer as easily as any Hollywood celebrity, politician, or athlete. He did us all proud. Anyone who saw him on that show knew that anglers were every bit as professional and serious as anyone else was about their career.
In my mind, that was a turning point for our sport. It showed people what we are and what we’re about. It’s no exaggeration to say that he set the stage for the rest of us. Denny showed the world that night that we should be taken seriously.
His input didn’t end there, though. Every young angler of the day, myself included, wanted to be like him. We learned to keep our boats and trucks clean so that we would look the part when our fans saw us. We learned to smile and give interviews, even when our bag was empty and our wallets thin.
Listen to him give an interview, and you’ll see what sponsor loyalty is all about. Denny knew why he was being paid, and he earned his money. At the same time, however, he didn’t do it just for the money. I never saw him promote junk, not once in over three decades. He had no intention of sending his fans out to spend their fishing money on stuff that didn’t work. He had integrity. The rest of us took notes.
I can’t tell you the number of times I saw him stop eating in the middle of dinner to sign an autograph or pose for a picture with a fan. The fact that he was dead tired and hungry wasn’t the point. He knew that the fans were important, that they had to be taken care of or he (we) wouldn’t have a career.
I know Denny Brauer caught a lot of fish, won a lot of tournaments, and earned a lot of money. I also know he moved our sport forward, way forward. When I look at his picture on the Wheaties box in my trophy room that’s what I’ll think about.