I don’t remember exactly when and where I met Larry Nixon for the first time.
It was some tournament, somewhere, when I was 20-something. I’ve finally reached the age when they all start to run together just a little bit.
What I remember about it for sure is that I was disappointed.
At that age, I had still been a pro fishing fan longer than I’d been a reporter, and Nixon was one of my heroes. He was one of the giants of the sport. Ray Scott’s “Million-Dollar Man.” That soft-spoken Southern gentleman who would quietly kick your teeth in on the water and smile while he was doing it.
I walked up to say hello after he’d weighed in and failed to make the cut — and while he shook my hand, he barely managed a “Hi” and just kept walking toward his boat.
Being the temperamental young buck that I was, it totally changed my opinion of him for a few years.
Then I covered the 1998 Bassmaster Classic on High Rock Lake in Greensboro, N.C. That event was won by another of my heroes, Missouri legend Denny Brauer.
When the tournament was over, I was exhausted. So, I decided to order some takeout, go down to the hotel lobby to get it and bring it back to my room. When I boarded the elevator to ride down, there was Brauer, wearing a tuxedo and headed for whatever Champion’s Toast he was required to attend.
I had a great chat with the newly crowned Classic champ that absolutely made my week. Then I got my food and got back on the elevator to find Nixon.
He hadn’t qualified for the Classic that year, and I was honestly prepared for him to not even speak. But to my surprise, he said, “Hey, Bryan! How you doing, man?”
I went weeks feeling like a big shot because Larry Nixon knew my name before I finally realized it was only because I had still been wearing my press credential with my name clearly printed on it.
But that didn’t matter.
We had a great chat that didn’t end when the elevator reached my floor before it reached his. We actually stood outside the elevators for a few minutes, talking fishing, talking about his future plans and just jawing like old buddies.
I’m sure Nixon doesn’t remember that little moment in time. But I’ll never forget it because it taught me two very valuable lessons.
First, while these guys might be our heroes — and certainly entertainers to a great extent — they are, first and foremost, intense competitors. They’re out there doing a job that millions of other people would love to have, and if they have too many bad days, one of those young wannabes will come and take their place.
We’ve all had bad days at work. Would you want to be judged entirely on how you acted after one of those days?
Me neither. So, the whole scenario with Nixon taught me that fishing is both a sport and a job.
It also taught me that to judge someone based on a 30-second first impression is about as unfair as anything you can do.
I came away from that first encounter thinking Nixon was one thing when he is, in fact, the very Southern gentleman I had always believed him to be.
He’s that guy who’ll click “like” on a random Facebook post and make you look like a big shot in front of your buddies because Larry Nixon just agreed with you. He’s a hulking presence worthy of his nickname “The General,” but also a kind, easygoing soul who’s mentoring others toward the success he enjoyed during his storied career.
As most of you know by now, Nixon announced his retirement from B.A.S.S. after last season and will now be moving on to the next chapter of his life.
I’m thankful he fished one more season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, and I wish I had gotten to cover him more.
But more than anything, I’m thankful for those few moments outside those elevators in Greensboro, N.C. — and the life’s lesson that it takes more than a 30-second snapshot to truly see what a person is made of.