(To see Lee Sisson's year in photos, click here.)
DECATUR, Ala. – Lee Sisson thought about it each time he slipped in and out of his life jacket during Friday’s Dixie Duel on Wheeler Lake.
He thought about it during take-off that morning, when he strapped down his rods the last time and when he reported to the check-in boat.
And he really thought about it when he stood in the weigh-in line and walked off the Elite stage.
“This is it,” he sighed, “my last time for doing the things I’ve dreamed about all these years. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it.”
The 63-year-old rookie has decided to return to the semi-retirement life he enjoyed before fulfilling his lifelong dream to fish against Bassmaster Elites.
“Anyone who has ever bream-fished has dreamed of fishing with these guys,” said the Texan. “It took me 63 years to do it, but, by golly, I did it.”
So why quit now?
“It’s harder than I even imagined and my body can’t take it,” he winced. “I was away from home seven straight weeks, and then spent time in the hospital with near-pneumonia brought on by fatigue. That’s what happens at 63 when you’re not used to this.”
Of course, there’s also the reminder his wife leaves him with each time they discuss his pursuit of his “once in a lifetime dream.”
“She keeps emphasizing that it was a ONCE in a lifetime dream,” Sisson says with a smile.
There are other factors, too. Illnesses within the immediate family require him to spend more time closer to home.
“I need to be there,” he said.
And then there is the competitive nature of the tour. Sisson, who proudly recalls beating Bill Dance in a non-BASS tournament during Dance’s hey-day of the 70s, admits the guys on the Elite Tour are better than he ever imagined.
He finished 93rd at Wheeler and 94th in the final season standings. His best finish was 13th on the Harris Chain early in the season.
“I thought I could compete with these pros after that, then they fed me a constant dose of humble pie,” he joked. “I’d stand in the weigh-in line thinking I’ve done pretty well only to see much bigger bags in front and behind me. These guys’ experience and decision-making abilities are incredible.”
Sisson said he asked other Elite veterans Rick Clunn and Paul Elias, also in their 60s, how they manage to do hold up physically year after year.
“They admit it gets more difficult each year, but they have the advantage of having done it most of their lives,” he noted. “I truly admire the fact that they can continue like they have.”
Sisson likely will resume his lure designing consulting business on a part-time basis in the future. He is credited with creating the first deep-running crankbait, the Bagley DBIII, and has helped several major lure companies with new creations since then. He also designed the “Two Way Alarm” for boats, marketed by TH Marine.
“I’ve been very blessed,” said the former high school, all-state tackle. “I played for a high school foot state champion and in an NCAA college football championship. I blocked for Terry Bradshaw in college. Then one week out of college, I was designing baits for Bagleys.
“And now this.”
Sisson knew several Elite pros through his affiliation with tackle companies, but now knows them on a different level.
“I only made two checks as an Elite angler, but I made 98 dear friends,” he said. “You can’t do any better than that.”