My take on the 2024 Classic

The competitor in me definitely would have preferred to be fishing Grand Lake during the 2024 Bassmaster Classic. But as much of a disappointment as that was, the upside was my opportunity to work the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo.

If you’ve never experienced this consumer event, it is absolutely amazing. From an angler’s perspective, the interaction I get to experience with fans and the quality time I spend with my sponsors soothes the pain of missing the Classic qualification.

Hopefully, this doesn’t happen too often, but I can honestly say working the Classic Expo is much more than “making the best of it.” Rather, this is an honor, and it’s something that helps fuel my passion for the sport I love.

Let me start with my observations from this year’s Expo. First, it seemed bigger and better attended than before. There was excitement in the air — a really good energy that you could feel.

Sponsors did a really good job setting up booths that appealed to Expo attendees, and everyone seemed to enjoy the show.

That makes me proud. I’ve been in this sport a long time; I’ve been tournament fishing for 25 years. It makes me feel good to see how the industry has grown and what a big part B.A.S.S. has played in this growth.

That tells me I’m in the right camp.

A big part of that is the family element. What impressed me the most at this year’s Classic Expo was the number of kids with their parents. It was the most I’ve ever seen.

Something very important to note was the number of girls from 6 to 18 walking the Expo with their fathers. And they weren’t just there with ‘Pops’ — they were clearly into fishing and wanted to see what the Expo had to offer.

It’s very encouraging to see this growth in youth involvement because it creates common ground bonding opportunities between parents and their kids. That tells me the industry is in good hands, so I’m excited about the future.

As a father, that’s just amazing. I was so proud to see my daughter Hillary working the Expo because I know she loves this industry for the same reasons I do. She loves the fans the same way I do, and she’s committed to representing sponsors to the best of her ability.

As far as my interaction with fans, the most gratifying comments I get come from parents who say their kids watch our content on YouTube and social media. They appreciate the fact their kids can enjoy wholesome, family-friendly fishing content without having to worry about anything inappropriate.

Heartfelt feedback like this keeps me motivated because I feel like we’re making a difference. That’s really important, because working the Classic Expo is demanding.

My day there starts at 10 a.m., and I have a full schedule of sponsor booth appearances. I’m scheduled for one hour for each booth, and I spend most of that time posing for photos with fans and signing autographs.

I don’t take a lunch break, and it’s a mad dash to get from one sponsor booth to another. I’ll try to eat a hot dog or something and drink a bottle of water during the day, but I stay busy from the time I get there, until 4 o’clock.

That is definitely an exhausting day, but you know what — it is absolutely humbling to see people standing in line just to spend a little time with me. Those autographs and photos mean a lot to fans, and the fact that they want them means the world to me.

I appreciate the fans. They give me energy and make it all worthwhile.

Would I rather fish in the Bassmaster Classic? Of course, every time. But my experiences at the Classic Expo are time well spent.