As long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve gained a reputation of being a bulldog competitor. Someone who goes hard after it and who will stand up for myself. While my “on the water” persona is certainly one of a competitor, I’ve been told by Candy and some of my friends that I’ve not always let people see the whole of me. Well, here's a little bit of my heart for this sport and the people in it.
Even though I try to stand my ground and battle on the water, I know how hard it is to compete out here. It’s not just hard for the anglers doing it, it’s really a commitment for the families behind the anglers. When an angler holds a trophy above his head, I know it’s a team win. That’s how I felt when I won the 2016 Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Ray Roberts. It was as much a win for Candy, and my sons Josh and Jacob too, because they sacrificed a lot for me to live this dream.
With all of that on my mind, I have some memories of moments that have been incredibly special to me, memories of other anglers achieving great things that have stayed with me.
A couple of them that quickly come to mind are when Gerald Swindle won his second Bassmaster Angler of the Year Title in 2016. Gerald was battling injuries and conflict all year that really made it hard to focus, but seeing how he stayed locked in and fished all year as well as anyone I’ve ever seen, with his wife Le Ann’s help, was so impactful. With both of us being from Alabama, I’ve competed around Gerald my whole career, and while competitors can butt heads, I respected his — and Le Ann’s — year more than they will ever know. And it was really special to watch.
Another AOY title that had an impact on me is Brandon Palaniuk’s 2017 season. Being that we’re both Skeeter/Yamaha teammates, I’ve been around Brandon a lot, and he has understood what it takes to compete and succeed in this game — both on and off the water. He managed to win that year, and claim the AOY title, and he never lost his ability to focus on the water or do his promotional work off it. While he is one of the “young guns” that will take this sport into the next generation, he has a respect for the history of the sport and the anglers who came before him. Seeing him win the AOY trophy was special to me because of how he goes about it.
Those are two examples, and there are others too. But being there a couple of weeks ago to watch Bill Lowen win at Pickwick Lake was by far my favorite moment watching an angler achieve a goal he’d dreamt of.
Bill has become like a brother to me. We camp near each other, and our wives are friends. Living this life on the road is made easier having those kinds of connections. I know how hard Bill works, and I know how good an angler he is. Bill is one of the most consistent anglers the Elite Series — the sport of bass fishing for that matter — has ever seen. His nickname “Dollar Bill Lowen” is there because he is a check cashing machine — he’s going to be standing in that check line the majority of the events.
He has a reputation for being a power fisherman, but a better description is probably the best power finesse fisherman any of us know. He can go super shallow and figure out a way to make every fish in an area bite, and most anglers wouldn’t be able to catch what he does. He fishes his strengths, he’s very comfortable with it and he’s won close to $1.5-million in B.A.S.S. earnings doing it.
I’ve seen his struggles and watched him get close, but being there to see him win was such a happy moment for Candy and I. To see him put it together on that final day and finally get that second-place monkey off his back will always be one of my favorite moments as a spectator of this sport.
Bill asked me while we were standing in the bag line on Day 3 if we were gonna pack up and head home, but I told him, "If you do your job, I’ll be there to celebrate with you." I saw his primary program fall apart, and at one point thought we were heading home, but he adjusted. Around 11:30 he set the hook on that 8-pounder, and for the rest of the day I was glued to Bassmaster LIVE like I never have been before.
We headed down to MacFarland Park and watched the moment. We saw the emotion that he, Jen and their kids, Neveah and Fisher, had about the win. I was there to grab him, hug him and let him know how proud and happy I was for him — and still am. It’s not something any of us can fully appreciate until we’ve seen the struggles leading up to it. When we see the emotion released after an accomplishment like that, we have to know what’s behind it.
I’m still driven to compete and excel myself, but living this life and seeing the accomplishments of my friends and competitors makes me want it even more. And I appreciate what it took for them to get there.