Classic practice butterflies and fire ants

With several of the 2024 Bassmaster Classic contenders headed to Grand Lake to practice before the cutoff, I’m reminded of my first Classic pre-practice.

It was at Logan Martin in 1993. Coincidentally, it was also David Fritts’ first Classic, and he won it.

Anyway, that practice was a surreal experience. When I qualified for it, I had no idea if I’d ever fish another one so I wanted to make the most of it.

Boy, did I. I spent two weeks at Logan Martin during the pre-practice period, fishing from daylight to dark every day, and those were long, summer days back then.

I had never practiced for any tournament for that many consecutive days or as intensively. I was shocked when I saw other guys practicing and then going home after a week or less.

But that’s how I was trained through my military career and my sports playing days. To be successful at anything, I knew I had to be totally focused and give it 100%.

Keep in mind this was before modern electronics. We didn’t have GPS or multiple units. All I had was a flasher-style sonar and a paper map. It took a lot more time to learn a lake and triangulate the spots you wanted to fish. Fortunately, my military training with a map and compass made it a bit easier, but it was still time consuming.

I remember I stayed at a Day’s Inn right on the water. Although I qualified through the Bassmaster Invitationals that were fished by most of the top guys, I really didn’t know a soul and stayed by myself.

One of those days will stick in my memory. I thought I would be cagey and go cut up some brush and sink it on a spot where I thought I could catch ‘em during the tournament. It was perfectly legal.

So, I load up the brush and headed out in darkness so no one could see where I put it. Unknowingly, that brush was loaded with fire ants, and they were all over me before I could get to my spot. I had to jump into the lake to stop them from biting me.

Once I got back in the boat, I went right back to the hotel and took a hot shower. It’s funny now but wasn’t too funny at the time.

As a side note, I watched TV when Robert Hamilton won the year before. I remember seeing the caravan of identical boats and trucks headed to Logan Martin from Birmingham and thinking how awesome that would be. Roland Martin was in one of the trucks near the rear.

The very next year, I was in one of the trucks and near the rear of the convoy and Roland — one of my idols — was ahead of me. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was in that Classic fishing against a legend.

To be honest, I had no visions of winning that tournament; I just wanted to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself when my boat rolled into the coliseum. Although I felt good about the practice, I was a nervous wreck when I got that first bite on the first day of the Classic. I had to get that bass in the boat so I would have something to carry onto the stage. If you zeroed back in those days, Ray Scott wasn’t easy on you!

I didn’t embarrass myself, finishing 23rd among 41 anglers — not bad for a nervous, unknown Classic rookie.

I became more at ease with future Classics, and when I finished second in 1996, it gave me the confidence that with more work and effort I could win one.

Hoisting that trophy over my head in 1999 proved it. As memorable as that was, I’ll never forget my first Classic practice, the butterflies, and of course, that nighttime lake dunking covered in fire ants.