As we enter a new season of fishing, we’ll have a new crop of Bassmaster Elite Series first-year competitors. There will be another group of anglers looking to make the Bassmaster Classic or the Elites through the Opens or the B.A.S.S. Nation.
At the Elite level, it’s a remarkably diverse and talented group, with former Elites, three former Forrest Wood Cup winners, an angler from the powerhouse Bethel University program and other known commodities, along with a few anglers we know less about.
The last group includes Kentucky angler Matthew Robertson, who competed in the 2019 Classic and then won the 2020 Eastern Open on Cherokee. He’s an exceptional angler and a larger-than-life personality, but he also represents a very small subset of the anglers on Earth.
Think about it – of all of the anglers, only a limited percentage fish tournaments, and of that group only a smaller percentage have the natural talent to claim one of the 100 spots on the Elite Series. Of that small group with the ability, a substantial number are too comfortable in their lifestyle to take the leap. Maybe they have a secure job or kids at home, or they’ve strayed from their dream for some other reason. Then there are people like Robertson, who never gave up on that pursuit
I know because I met Robertson in 2008 at the TBF National Championship on Lake Wylie. In fact, we roomed together at that tournament — an 18-year-old kid from Idaho who’d never traveled that far from home before and a wild guy from Kentucky. It was the first time I’d been out of the west.
I don’t remember him being quite as outlandish then as he is today, but he certainly wasn’t quiet or conventional. Even though I had never been around someone like him and couldn’t understand half of what he said, we clicked immediately and had a great time that week. We were both there for the same reason, and I believe we earned each other’s mutual respect. I know he earned mine.
We tried to keep in touch after that event, but eventually that happened less and less. I qualified for the Elites a few years later and my life became consumed with fulfilling my own dreams, and he had his own life to live and tournaments to fish back home. Then, when he made the Classic the first time, I recognized that crazy redneck and shot him a text to congratulate him.
Now, over a decade after we first met, we’re traveling the same path again. There’s never been any doubt that Robertson was one of the chosen few with the talent, but his long road to this point shows that he has the necessary desire as well.
If the crazy 2020 season proved anything, it’s that Matthew’s far from a one-hit wonder. He qualified for just about everything under the sun, won an Open and finished second in another. There’s no doubt that he’s in it for the long haul.
As you watch our tournaments and follow the storylines this upcoming season, remember that each of those new or returning Elite Series pros has their own set of sacrifices they’ve made to get to this point. The runway is not the same for everyone. Whether they’re Pat Schlapper, who has fished a total of four B.A.S.S. events, or Greg Hackney, who has fished nearly 200, there’s a story behind their careers and what drives them, but the one thing they have in common is that God-given ability.
That’s what makes our sport so special. Your age, ethnicity, physical condition, upbringing and state or country of origin don’t exclusively determine your level of success. There are many different paths to the Elites, to the Classic and to career-long success, but it’s hard to get there if you don’t have “it.”
You have to be On ‘Em all the time.