Captain Steve Carter was practicing for the European Open bass fishing tournament on Spain’s Lake Caspe in September 1986. He was serving in the U.S. Air Force in Zaragoza and spent his off-time chasing the bountiful bass population in this young reservoir. He had found a giant school of fish holding on bridge pilings when a young Spaniard in an inflatable raft approached him. Little did he know how this chance encounter would change the future of bass fishing in that country. “He asked in broken English if I had caught anything, so I lifted up a stringer of 4-pounders and his mouth fell open,” Carter remembers. “I don’t think he even knew what bass were. They mainly fished for carp and walleye back then. I tried to explain where to find largemouth and how to catch them, but my Spanish was worse than his English.”
Carter said goodbye to the young man in the raft and didn’t think another thing about the brief conversation. He and his partner, Chief Master Sargent Ken Varnes, would go on to win that tournament with over 90 pounds.
One year later, Carter was again practicing for the tournament, and again fishing the bridge pilings when he saw that same young man fishing.
“We remembered each other and started another conversation. This time, I invited him to join me for a couple of days of fishing to teach him how to catch bass. I gave him a bunch of worm hooks, bullet weights and soft plastics before I left and wished him luck. I never saw him again.”
That young man was Marcos Calleja. Calleja would become Spain’s version of Bill Dance over the next 30 years. His feature articles in Spanish fishing magazines exposed the Texas rig, which he learned from Carter, to the country’s anglers. His video series would ignite a passion for chasing bass that did not exist prior. Calleja became a fishing legend in Spain and credits Carter for helping ignite his career.
Of course, Carter had no idea who the young man was or what became of him. At least, not until he walked into Watson’s Marine in Bluff City, Tenn., one cold January day in 2018, more than 31 years after he last saw Calleja.
“I walked into the dealership and Aaron, the owner, said ‘Son, you’re famous!’ I had no idea what he was talking about. Come to find out, there was a story about bass fishing in Spain in Bassmaster Magazine and he said I was in it. Still, I thought he was joking.”
A few hours later, Carter received another phone call.
“My current fishing partner, Phil Poston, called me and said I probably wouldn’t fish with him anymore since I was a celebrity. And I was like, what’s going on here?” Poston then texted him a photo of the magazine story, which detailed the meeting between him and Calleja, complete with a photo of Carter holding a bass during their day together in 1987.
“I was flabbergasted,” Carter admits. Wanting to reconnect with Calleja, Carter found the legendary journalist on LinkedIn and sent him a note.
“I never thought I would again get to see Captain Steve Carter,” Calleja says. “Then he sees the Bassmaster story, and I am reconnected with my teacher from 30 years ago. It is a miracle.”
Carter joined Calleja this past October in Spain to fish the Caspe International Bass Tournament with him.
The pair returned to the bridge where they first met. The reunion was complete, and at the exact spot where the story began. Together they fished: The man who sparked the passion of bass fishing in an eager student, and the student who spread those flames to an entire nation.