Sleeveless in Kentucky

"My mom said that if I win the Classic, I should buy a new trailer,” said Elite Series pro Matt Robertson after he weighed in 16 pounds, 4 ounces on Day 1 of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. “I told her if I pull off the win, I’m gonna buy the whole damn trailer park!”

For fans who were able to witness Robertson’s interview with Classic emcee Dave Mercer, there’s no doubt his comment was not meant to be a joke. The 35-year-old Kentucky angler was standing on the biggest stage in bass fishing wearing a T-shirt, sleeves cut off, his right arm proudly displaying a new tattoo, the B.A.S.S. shield, just under a skin decal of the American flag. His long blonde mullet flowed from beneath his signature “On ’Em” cap, sweat-stained from several years of constant wear and few, if any, washes. So no, his thick Kentucky accent, quick Southern wit and trailer-park-life attitude isn’t some sort of marketing gimmick. What you see with Robertson is precisely what you get.

“I know I rub some people the wrong way, but there’s nothing I can do about that,” Robertson said. This admission likely stems from his Classic debut in 2019, when he qualified for the world championship through the Bassmaster Team Championship. He rolled into the arena on the first day wearing a fake fur coat and doused himself with bottles of water before weighing in. The sleeveless T-shirt was his encore.

“Listen, you wouldn’t think it, but it took me and my wife almost an entire day to make that shirt. Not kidding. We had to go to the Walmart and get that special paper to iron on decals. Then we sat there in my kitchen making it look just perfect. Then I cut the sleeves off.”

But why sleeveless?

“So, my first Classic in 2019, I just made too big a deal about it in my head. I totally choked. For this Classic, I thought I’d treat it just like any other 50-boat derby back at home. And when I fish those tournaments, I wear my lucky sleeveless fishing T-shirt. So, I looked through the rules and nowhere did it say we had to have sleeves; they just said I had to have the B.A.S.S. patch. I reached out to a very talented tattoo artist and he doctored me up with a killer B.A.S.S. patch. Problem solved!” Solved, indeed! Robertson finished in seventh place when the Classic lights finally faded.

Robertson is not wrong. He does rub some fans the wrong way. While at the Classic, I heard several comments about how the way he presents himself will take our sport backward. After all, B.A.S.S. has fought fiercely over the past decade to push professional anglers out of the stereotypical Bubba frame and into a space of respectability. The boat wraps, the dress code and the code of conduct were all employed to push professional angling to, well, a more professional level. And then here comes Robertson.

For our sport to continue to evolve, fans, old and new, need to be engaged. I contend that authentic personalities are the best means to that end. Robertson sweats authenticity; drips it from every pore. Plus, there are a lot of folks who can identify with Robertson’s past.

“We never had much. My mom was a single provider for our family, so she worked her ass off to get us fed. I’m not afraid of the struggle and I don’t expect anything to come easy for me,” Robertson said. “I’m not sure I’ll make it as a pro, but it ain’t gonna be from a lack of working for it.”

When he does make it, and I feel certain he will, is there a house in his future?

“I’m pretty sure I’ll keep my current trailer for another 5 to 10 years. We did buy a piece of land and will be moving the trailer from the park to our own property. But, I don’t think I’ll ever own a house. It probably sounds weird, but I don’t think I deserve that. So, I’m good living in the trailer.” I’m certain his fans wouldn’t want it any other way.