Elites pass on wisdom to next generation

Continuing a look at how seasoned Elites guide journeyman pros to the next level.

When you’ve walked the road, you understand the journey. Suffice it to say, veteran pro Mark Menendez knows what it takes, so he appreciates the profound achievement John Garrett reached last October after punching his ticket to the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series. 

Entering his 19th Elite season — and 32nd overall — Menendez watched his young friend chase his Elite berth for four years before celebrating a dream achieved with Garrett’s second-place finish in the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens EQ points race.

Menendez has gotten his Skeeter boat through Union City Marine, the dealership run by Garrett’s grandfather Johnnie Garrett for 20 years. Having observed Garrett’s growth and development, Menendez has long pondered the opportunity to room with his young friend; a plan they formulated for the 2024 season.

Through this time on the road — right in the heart of intense Elite competition — Menendez knows he can offer safe harbor during the often-tempestuous times. 

“I’ve seen John develop. I’ve seen the spark in a young person,” Menendez said. “He’s an old soul and he’s become a very good angler, but there will be those times when you’re trying to make that 50 cut and there’s a lot of pressure on you. 

“With my experience, I’ll be able to show him ways to avoid thinking about that, and not let the rigors and the pressure impact his fishing. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, and I can try and forecast a solution for whatever problem may arise.”

A rare resource

Garrett said he values that he can always count on Menendez for genuine, unfiltered truth.

“That’s something you don’t get a lot — honest, real help,” he said. “Mark is such an impactful person on the fishing industry. He’s a great angler, a great person and an absolutely great media guy, so he understands all aspects of the fishing industry — on and, more importantly, off the water.”

Noting that he’s been seeking Menendez’s opinion for the past 16 of his 28 years, Garrett said the queries have evolved from fishing techniques to business and industry relationship matters. Consistently, he said, the input has been on point.

“He’s been around for so long, he knows (how to advise) on what I should and shouldn’t do, what I should go for, what I should stay away from,” Garrett said. “That’s been a huge help because all of us have these off-the-water business decisions that help us fish tournaments and help our families. 

“Mark has been around those blocks a lot, so he has the answers that would take me a lot of years, a lot of trial and error, or a bad deal to learn. He’s able to keep me from making those mistakes.”

Menendez said that’s precisely his plan — respect his young friend’s proven talent and inject helpful insight, as needed.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun watching this young man,” Menendez said. “In my opinion, he’s one that’s going to be around a very long time.”

Outlook and optimism

As he sizes up the next stage of his career, Garrett views his friendship with Menendez as a key support element for what he knows will be a huge level of requisite work.

“If all things are going good, that’s great, but when things aren’t going my way, if I’m not catching fish, or practice is not going well, having someone who’s been around the block to give you a little talk or reassurance will be a huge help,” Garrett said. “If anybody knows how to handle that, it’s a guy like Mark.

“Mark has had a very successful career, but all the veterans had bad years or terrible tournaments. He’s had so much experience in the trial-and-error stuff that maybe he can give me some advice on how to avoid those things.”

To this point, Garrett describes how Menendez’s biggest piece of advice helped him gain the confidence and mental clarity to commit to a course that led him to the sport’s highest level.

“Everybody says, ‘Fish how you like to fish,’ but until (the 2023 season), I never listened and did it that way,” Garrett said. “When you go to a body of water, there are things that you’re supposed to do.

“Mark always said, ‘Just ignore what other people do and do what you do.’ It took me a while to listen to him, but I finally did that this past season, and it helped me qualify for the Elites.”

Huff’s lessons from the legend

No talk of generational wisdom can stand complete without a respectful nod toward the already astounding legacy of Rick Clunn. The four-time Bassmaster Classic champion is in his 50th season of professional fishing and much of the knowledge and experience he’s amassed has been shared with an angler 1/3 his age.

Cody Huff, the 26-year-old, third-year Elite from Clunn’s Ava, Mo., hometown describes a mutually beneficial friendship that has greatly impacted his fishing.

“Rick likes to come play with electronics and learn that side of it and, of course, he’s taught me a lot about catching them when they’re on the bank,” Huff said. “It’s a relationship I’ve been very thankful for. 

“It’s taught me a lot about the game in general — really thinking things through. He’s taught me to trust your gut and making game-time decisions.”

Clarity conveyed

During the first two days of the final 2023 Elite event at the St. Lawrence River, Huff struggled with equipment issues that burned up huge chunks of his fishing time. The challenge could have wrecked his focus, but summoning the steadiness Clunn has imparted, he kept his head in the game and salvaged a 14th-place finish.

“If I had not been right in my head, I never would have been able to make it work,” Huff said. “The second day of the tournament, I had driven an hour and 15 minutes to my starting spot and my trolling motor broke. I drove back and sat in the service yard until 12:15.

“That day decided if I made the Bassmaster Classic or not. If I didn’t get to weigh in, I probably would have dropped all the way out of the Classic cut.”

Relaunching at a quarter past noon with an empty livewell, Huff could have played it safe, fished near takeoff and scraped up a limit. Instead, he made the long run into Lake Ontario, fished for one hour, added 19-13 to his first-round limit of 22-1 and made the Day 3 cut.

Overcoming trolling motor issues — along with a big motor breakdown on the water — Huff earned a third day of competition that yielded 26-4. This mental toughness he credits to Clunn’s calming influence.

“He’s taught me to stay calm through adversity,” Huff said. “On that second day when everything was falling apart, if I had tried to play it safe and stayed there by the ramp and gotten more fishing time, it probably wouldn’t have worked out.”