It’s been just about four months since the magical day at the Spring Creek bridge that led me to my Bassmaster Classic win. The most frequent question I’m asked these days is how my life has changed in the past four months. I think most fishing fans assume that once you’ve won the Classic you can relax and just fish for fun, but that’s not the case with me. As Robin always reminds me: “To whom much is given, much is required.” And that is how I look at it – more great opportunities than ever before.
Most fishing fans also probably assume that a Classic win produces tons of new sponsors, and for some guys it might, but I already had such a great team of sponsors behind me. I’m just giving them all the love they deserve now that I can. They’ve taken care of me for so many years that it’s nice to be of greater value to them now.
Prior to BASSfest at Chickamauga, I had the chance to repay some of their loyalty to me.
First I went to Guntersville to work with the engineers from Daiwa (both from Japan and the U.S.) to test some new equipment, make videos and take pictures. It gets light around 5 a.m. at this time of year, and we had our boats in the water right when the sun came up. Between the still cameras and the videos, it felt like we were filming a TV show, except it was more like a marathon. We ate a quick lunch then got right back to work, pulling out of the water around 6:30 p.m. for dinner. Was it a leisurely meal? Hardly. We continued to brainstorm possible changes to the rods and reels and implement them right there on the spot. They had a couple of young Japanese engineers there who were just brilliant and masters of every little detail; they truly amaze me at how they tweak our ideas into reality.
I’ve been blessed to be with Daiwa for five years and I get the feeling that they’re not satisfied with their share of the market. Back in the ’90s, they had Classic winners like Rick Clunn, Denny Brauer, Larry Nixon, George Cochran and Jay Yelas on the staff – I remember seeing the ads in old copies of Bassmaster – and while the quality of their equipment has always set the standard in the industry, they needed another Classic title, and I was happy to give them one. With the introduction of the Tatula last year, they are working toward reclaiming their rightful place atop the mountain. Wait until you see what they introduce at ICAST, it’s going to be awesome!!
When I was done with the Daiwa event, I went up the Tennessee River to the Triton Owners Tournament on Kentucky Lake. I was there to share the classic victory with the Triton family, but it also gave me a chance to tell everybody how my days started with Earl Bentz and Triton Boats. Back in the fall of 1996, I met Earl at an event he was sponsoring and I was a rookie on tour struggling to make it. I was speaking at this event and afterwards Earl told me that he was starting Triton and that he wanted to give me a spot on the team because he believed that I was going to make it out there and he wanted me in a Triton. This was my first big sponsorship and it gave me confidence that somebody believed in me. I was 23 years old and that year I qualified for my first Bassmaster Classic.
It was great to go to the tournament and see some of those first generation boats and how well they’ve held up. It really is like a big family at the Triton owner’s tournament.
Two weeks, two companies, and what they have in common is that they both love bass fishing and they both thrive because of a strong work ethic that extends from the upper management down to the line workers and into the customer base. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve had reinforced in these past four months: When you enjoy what you do and the people you do it with, it never feels like work.
I fished a fun event at BASSfest but finished 58th and didn’t get to fish the weekend cut round. That was disappointing, but it allowed me to stay and do the Bassmaster High School Experience. We had a bunch of schools represented at BASSfest and these east Tennessee kids were serious about tournament fishing. I hope I can win some more Classics before these kids show up on the tour someday, because they will be taking our money to the bank!
We are finally home now and basketball camp is underway. I love basketball and helping with camps and coaches is a fun break for me. Our boys are growing up so fast that I’m glad to spend every minute doing fun stuff with them. We are blessed to have so many good people in our area that pour their time into these kids to help them learn the values that make them respectful considerate adults! I’m looking forward to having a couple of weeks to experience all the good things in life with my family during this break. I encourage everyone to make time to spend with your kids and do as much fun stuff as possible this summer because, in the end, it all comes down to our relationships with them and others and the grass grows best where it’s being watered!