Of all the anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series, no one speaks more openly about his faith than North Carolina’s Brandon Card.
He talks proudly about his reliance on God, and he then walks it like he talks it.
So, it’s more than a little ironic that during last year’s holiday season Card found himself in hell.
Figuratively speaking, of course.
But a hellish situation, nonetheless.
The day after Christmas, Card woke up with a headache so severe and relentless that he was forced to visit an urgent care facility. When they were stumped, he visited an emergency room, only to be told again he had nothing more than a simple migraine headache.
It wasn’t until 10 days later that Card’s neighbor, a doctor, diagnosed him with viral meningitis — a serious ailment that can have long-lasting effects such as hearing and vision loss.
It landed him in the hospital and led to something called Bell’s palsy that paralyzed the right side of his face.
Suddenly, the perennially positive Card found himself at one of his lowest points.
“It was a really rough time, mentally and definitely physically,” Card said. “That’s the first time in my life that I’ve had a health scare like that. It’s the first time I’ve had to stay in the hospital. When I got home, I still felt horrible. I wondered if I had left the hospital too soon.
“I was in a pretty rough spot there for a while, several weeks.”
Card says he spent a lot of time praying, quoting scripture and talking to his family. That all helped his mental standing. But as the Elite season neared, he had no idea if he could handle a simple trip to a local lake, much less back-to-back events at Lake Okeechobee and Lake Seminole to start the season.
He even considered taking a medical hardship or, at the very least, skipping the first two events and hoping to qualify for the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota by fishing only seven out of nine.
But instead of waiting for the storm to pass, Card decided he’d just learn to dance in the rain.
After making one three-hour fishing trip back home, he traveled to Okeechobee, having no idea if he’d be able to fish at all.
“One of the big problems is I can’t close my right eye without using an adhesive patch,” he said. “That patch is a lifesaver, but I still have to take it off every hour or two to use these gel drops to keep my eye from drying out.”
That was especially tough during practice at Okeechobee when winds often topped 30 mph.
After the first day of practice, the eye was painful and bloodshot. But the blood clots that formed in both his arms due to meningitis weren’t hurting nearly as bad as he expected. With an added emphasis on using the gel drops every hour, he decided to push on — and it became clearer and clearer that he’d made the right decision.
After landing in 37th place after Day 1 with 16 pounds, 1 ounce, he began a steady ascension up the leaderboard. A big bag of 23-4 on Day 2 moved him into 16th place, and then 18-9 on Day 3 jumped him into the eighth spot with a berth on Championship Sunday.
He ultimately finished seventh, turning a tournament that could have been a total loss during one of his darkest times into his 20th career Top 10 with B.A.S.S.
Not surprisingly, his takeaways from the experience revolve around health and spirituality.
“The viral meningitis and the Bell’s palsy all started with the shingles virus,” he said. “I’m 36, and I had no idea you can get shingles this young. So now, I’m telling everybody my age or older to talk to their doctors about getting the shingles vaccine.”
Spiritually, he advises people to look at the big picture.
“God always has a plan,” he said. “When we’re going through these tough times, we just see what’s happening to us right here, right now and say, ‘Hey, this is terrible.’ As humans, we can’t see the bigger plan. That’s human nature. The message is don’t lose hope. Don’t stop fighting, because God has a bigger plan than what we can see.