Classic conversations with Cherry, Lester and Palaniuk

I want to start by thanking every single one of you who showed me an ounce of support at the 50th Bassmaster Classic recently in Alabama. Being the only Carhartt College Series angler competing in bass fishing’s biggest event could be really intimidating if a guy wasn’t lucky like me to be surrounded by so many good people. 

The support and career-shaping moments came from some of the top pros I interacted with there too – like Brandon Palaniuk, Brandon Lester and eventual champion Hank Cherry. 

I’ll always remember Brandon Palaniuk going out of his way to talk to me before takeoff on Day 1, and the perspective he offered me right before I headed off to make my first cast at the $300,000 top prize.

Brandon is only 32 years old, but he’s already competed in nine Classics. He asked how I was doing. I told him I wasn’t on any one particular honey hole or pattern, and he said, “Well, that makes you a dangerous man, because you’ll fish with a more open mind today.”

I’ve looked up to “BP” for years, and the confidence he gave me was awesome. In fact, moments later – on my very first cast in the Bassmaster Classic – with Palaniuk’s words still playing in my head, I caught a 5-pounder on a Rapala DT10 crankbait. 

Brandon’s words weren’t the only ones that left a mark on my memory. The conversation I heard between Hank Cherry and Brandon Lester on the final morning of competition made me realize the kind of great characters who are a part of professional bass fishing.

Hank and Brandon entered the final day in first and second place, each with a chance to win their first Bassmaster Classic title and the $300,000 first place check. 

Yet rather than let competition trump class and character, I heard each of them wish one other good luck, and agree whoever was meant to win – would win. As a younger angler, that made one heck of an impression on me.  

Most know by now, Hank held on for the win, and I placed in the middle of the pack. But I became the first Carhartt college angler to make it to the Classic’s Championship Sunday final round since Jordan Lee, when he was an Auburn student in 2014.

To be honest, I went there to win, not simply to live in the moment. But I’m proud that I held my own during a very tough week on Lake Guntersville and ultimately hauled home memories of conversations that will help prepare me even better for a return trip to the Classic in years to come.