Tying a different kind of knot

While the time away from the tournament trail was short this offseason, I did have a chance to achieve one very important milestone – I finally proposed to Tiffanie, and she accepted.

We’ve been together for nine years, and particularly over the last few I’ve heard the whispering from fans and friends. “When are you going to get married?” or “What are you waiting for?” or possibly “How long will she stay with him?”

I’m man enough to say that the delay is entirely attributable to my fears and to my singlemindedness. It’s all on me – I own that. I wouldn’t trade the environment I grew up in for the world, but it wasn’t your stereotypical American household with a mom and a dad, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence and everyone stays together until they die. So when Tiff and I met after my first year on tour, I didn’t have a timeline or a game plan.

We did, however, have “the talk” early on.

Everyone who wants to be a professional or even a semi-serious weekend angler has to have that talk. This sport requires a certain level of selfishness to experience success. There are long days on the water and long periods away from home. You are going to miss parties and graduations and birthdays, and people are not going to understand why, but your spouse needs to understand. If they don’t, you won’t stay together long. Even if they get the big picture, life on tour can be hard on relationships.

Becoming a professional angler has been the primary goal of my life since I was 8 years old and I first set my sights on qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic. In hindsight, I feel that I did a great job of achieving those goals, but I perhaps didn’t always do a great job of prioritizing other parts of my life. That fact that Tiff stayed with me through all of my growing pains is absolutely incredible. I took longer to sort out the competing priorities in my life and to get over my own fears, even if I knew all along that she was the perfect partner for me.

Those of you who have seen me on the water or on TV may see me as unflappable, but as I prepared to propose on the same dock where we’d met nine years earlier I was sweating bullets. I brought along Kyle, our friend and videographer, to take pictures, and at one point he asked me, “Are you more nervous now or when you’re trying to land an 8-pounder?”

The answer was easy: “Now ... definitely!”

When everything was finally said and done – I didn’t fumble either the proposal or the ring – she commented that the whole process had been a blur. I responded that it was exactly like hooking an 8-pounder. I got down on one knee to make the cast, set the hook and then everything went blurry until she said yes, which was the equivalent of landing the bass. That’s how it’s been for every big fish I’ve caught in my career: I set the hook and then suddenly the fish is in my hands. I only remember bits and pieces of what happens in between. 

To her credit, she knew exactly what I meant and took it the right way. That’s why we are so perfect together. Her unselfish giving over the last nine years and her unwavering confidence in the value of our relationship enabled me to do my job on and off the water. She is the rock that holds us together, and I can say with certainty that the better our relationship has gotten, the better my fishing has gotten. I can’t wait to see what our future holds.