Stephen Browning's magic tree

“Gave me knowledge of myself…”

Dateline:  The Magic Tree

The greatest knowledge is to know,

you don’t have great knowledge.

We know so much, about so little.

Where knowledge ends,

magic begins.

I’m not talking hocus pocus here, not talking spells or witches and warlocks.

I’m talking about those things that happen to all of us, that we can’t explain.

Explain to me, Déjà vu.

Explain to me how a tornado can rip a house to shreds but leaves one room intact, the room that held all that remains, all the stuff of a loved one who passed away. Not touched.

Explain to me the call that comes from the person you were just thinking about.

Explain to me the feeling of knowing something is wrong, and finding out it is.

Explain, dread.

Faith, began, as magic.

I’m going to be flat out honest here and tell you this, I don’t know if there is a god, I hope so but I don’t know if there is, BUT, I do believe there is something out there that knows more than we do and that every once in a while,

it shows us just what it knows.

Whoever, or whatever it is, sometimes, let’s us peak behind the curtain.

And it is those peaks, wherein lies our faith.

Believe if you believe.

Wonder if you wonder.

But we are all on a bus that we ain’t driving.

Life, is the bus ride.

Magic, is the bus stops.

I could care less about the HOW of the win, I’m fascinated by the WHO of the win.

Wins, are always, within.

The basketball never makes the shot.

The baseball never goes over the fence on its own.

There isn’t a bait in the world that will catch a fish if someone doesn’t put it in the water.

I have been at the moment of hundreds of wins, and in all those hundreds of moments I have never asked the winner, “How did you win,” or “How do you feel?”

The reason is, that over the three decades of being a professional asker I’ve come to realize that the best stories are found when you are a professional listener.

So on the last day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate on the Red River, I saw Stephen Browning pull his truck into the staging area. I had already heard that his sack of fish seemed to weigh more than anyone else this final day, and if that was true, he would win, and as I was walking to his truck I saw two other reporters heading his way,

so I slowed down, let them get to Stephen first, let them ask all the “Hows,” and they did, and then just as quickly as they got there, they left looking for other “Hows.”

And as they were walking away, searching for how, and not so much who, Stephen turned to me, smiled and said, almost in a whisper,

“db, I have a Magic Tree out there on the river.”

I nodded as he sort of giggled, and he came over and gave me a hug, “It’s magic, db, it’s magic.”

And this was all I said to Stephen, “Welcome to the Classic.”

“…showed me ways and means and motions…”

Stephen Browning is a hard ass.

Stephen Browning is a MAN!

That is, if all you know of Stephen Browning, is the HOW.

Here’s his how:

47 years old, been married 15 years to Tammy, one son, Beau.  Has a degree in Fishing and Wildlife Management, worked as a Waste Water Treatment Plant Inspector. Won the ESPN TV Reality Show, The Wild Rules, where he was dropped off in the middle of nowhere in the forest north of Vancouver and beat 12 others players back to the finish line.

Stephen, who is not very tall, not very muscular, WON a survivor type TV show; this is a tough as nails kind of Marlboro Man dude sitting in front of me on a beautiful porch and a hill overlooking the waters of Toledo Bend.  We are sitting at a small, wrought iron outdoor table in small unpadded black wrought iron chairs,

and a tear is running down his cheek.

He is trying to tell me about the Magic Tree.

“I knew, just knew that on Day 3 of that event that there was going to be a time that I would go back to the Magic Tree and that the Magic Tree was going to be Magic and that it was going to be mine, the win was going to be mine.”

Stephen’s win last week was in fact a back-to-back win, the last time the Central Open was on the Red River, he won it, this year he won it, both wins came, at his Magic Tree. That's where he caught all his fish. 

A tear is running down his cheek because of what I just said to him, which was this, “You know, it is really not a Magic Tree, what it really is, is a Confidence Tree, now you just have to find a Confidence Tree on the Elite circuit.”

Stephen has won two Opens and one B.A.S.S. Top 150 tournament, but never an Elite event.

“db, you know, I think I was put on this earth to fish…”

He looks away from me, whatever he is looking at, he is not seeing, he is only looking inward, “I tell myself, always tell myself, there is always hope and you know what, failure makes hope, beautiful.”

And to Stephen, as I move my chair up a bit closer to the table and it makes an iron squeak, I say, “Let me tell you about your Magic Tree even though I have never been there…”

While talking I lift my two arms up above the wrought iron…

“…when you get there it is like this…”

And I take my two arms and hold them slightly askew from each other, both hands are facing the same way…

“…but then suddenly this happens…”

And I move my arms so that now instead of being askew, they line up…

“…clunk the universe just seems to line up and suddenly everything is like one, everything just goes right, you feel what’s going to happen before it happens, and it is the moment of all moments…”

The tear gets bigger on his cheek.

“Stephen I know you are a very religious man, believe in God, you said so up on stage, you know what I believe man, I believe that when those kind of moments happen, it’s not magic, it’s the hand that leads, pulling back the curtain and letting you see how great things can be.”

All Stephen can do is nod his head, “And you know what happens then.”

He shakes his head, turns from looking inside himself and looks me directly in my eyes, head still shaking yes all he says is….


“…showed me what it's like to be…”

“I’m ready to win an Elite.”

We talk about the bus we are not driving, we talk about the stops.  “You know, this was the first win my wife was ever at, the first win my son was ever at.”

I just smile, listen as he talks about the stop, “You know, db, I’ve learned that it is important, very important to realize, as you say, when the universe is lining up, when the curtain is peeled back.  I think now I know that when that happens it is time for me to get after it.  I think I get in my own way too often; to win an Elite, I need to get out of my own way.”

“Stephen, all of us have a gift inside, all of us are here for a reason, but the secret is not trying to find out what the reason is, the secret is to just let the reason, happen.  If you believe you where placed on this planet to fish, if you believe that at certain times the curtain is peeled back, all of that is happening for a reason, let the reason take you to a win.”

Stephen wipes away the tear on his cheek, looks away and then back to me:

“db, I do think that is God’s plan.”

I don’t believe that for a moment.  If there is a hand that guides, I don’t think it cares about wins.

I hope it don’t.

So I lean up even closer to Stephen, flipped my notebook closed, put down my pen, the interview is obviously over, and this is the last thing I say to him:

“Stephen, the magic tree isn’t in the water, it’s in you. The hand is pulling back the curtain to show you, to show us all, that if there is magic on earth, it is in all of us. All that tree is doing is showing you what happens when you have confidence, THAT is God’s plan, do with the confidence what you will, that is up to you, but trust me when I say this, you have been given a peak inside the curtain. You know that, right?”

Stephen just shook his head, yes.

And a tiny tear,


the black wrought iron.

“…showed me things I cannot see.”

"Tore Down a la Rimbaud"

Van Morrison


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