SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- While in the hospital moments from going under the knife, Bob Sealy got a call from the hall that perked his spirits.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Sealy said of his nomination to the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. “It made me feel a lot better. It really pumped me up and I could care less what would happened.”
Well, maybe not, but his surgery went well and he’s feeling great now. Sealy sure shared a ton of smiles last Thursday when the BFHOF held its class of 2017 induction and opened its first home in Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium.
“This is just quite an honor. I’m very humbled,” Sealy said. “I’ve been very blessed. My wife (Donna) and daughter (Nicole) have been a huge part of the success we’ve had over the years. They work their butts off. I have the best staff in the world.”
Sealy is the namesake of Sealy Outdoors, which runs the largest amateur bass fishing events in the world. These Big Bass Splash derbies, which have benefited a number of charities, have been popular jackpot events across the south since 1984.
“We’ve changed lots of folk’s lives over the years, by creating a concept that’s strictly for the grassroots amateur fisherman,” Sealy said. “All it takes is one cast, one bite, and it will change their whole lives.”
Sealy, a lifelong angler who learned to fish from his grandfather and got his drive from a workaholic father, was actually inspired for his big idea by B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott. A salesman like Scott, Sealy sold real estate around Jasper, Texas, and ran a small convenience store near Sam Rayburn Reservoir. To promote the lake and region, he worked to bring a big tournament there.
“I got Ray to come to Raymond to put on a B.A.S.S. event,” he said. “I was so intrigued with Ray. I told him point blank, ‘I want to do what you do.’ There’s no way I could compete with him, but I thought there’s a lot more amateurs.”
And paying those amateurs like the pros has been a theme of the Big Bass Splash. In recent years, the $1 million payouts have given the winner a prize package of around $120,000 in a boat, vehicle and cash. In 2016, Tonya Woytasczyk became the first woman to win a Big Bass Splash, taking home $122,000.
“For 30 years, Dad’s been saying he’s never had a woman win. He had always wanted a women to win,” said daughter Nicole, who began working the events when she was 8. “In 2004, we had an 11-year-old win.”
Brandon Adams remains the youngest angler to win $130,000 in cash and prizes. Adams had asked permission to compete against the adults, and lo and behold, came in with an 11.57-pounder at Sam Rayburn. Sealy recalled there were 20,000 spectators, with Adams’ family in the front row, when he gave the lad a check for $30,000.
“The second thing we gave him was a fully-rigged Triton boat, courtesy of Mr. Earl Bentz,” Sealy said. “Then I said, ‘Brandon, I got you a four-wheeler.’ His eyes got big. ‘This is going to be the biggest four-wheeler you’ve ever seen in in your life.’ I handed him the keys to an H2 Hummer. His dad and granddad about passed out.”
Sealy’s events, which had been featured on National Geographic, come with his declaration as he emcees that “You ain't seen nothin' yet.” On the event’s 25th anniversary in 2009, there were 7,552 anglers from 42 states and six foreign countries. That was the first year of the $1 million purse, and Kevin VanDam came and espoused the familiar “win like the pros” as he presented the grand prize.
Ever the promoter, Sealy spoke of his 35th anniversary in 2019, saying bigger and better things are to come. The Big Bass Splash will have more than $1.2 million in guaranteed prize money and the amateur winner will take away Bassmaster Classic money -- more than $300,000 in cash and prizes.
Sealy’s events have benefitted a variety of charities, including Ronald McDonald Houses and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.