Elite pros hold on to their hats

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Seigo Saito
Edwin Evers donates hats to an uncle's church that gives them away on mission trips.

PART I: HATS OFF TO ELITES

This is Part I of a five-part series on Elite Series anglers and their relationship with hats.

If you travel to certain villages south of the border, as far as South America, you might come across someone wearing a ball cap once owned by Edwin Evers.

It’s unlikely that person is a fan or has ever heard of Evers, let alone bass fishing tournaments. The only connection is the hat. So his Talala, Okla., home doesn’t fill from bottom to top with hats, Evers bags up extras for a relative to take far, far away.

“Aw goodnight, I give bags of them away. I have an uncle who goes on mission trips,” said Evers, the 2016 Classic champ. “They love hats. I literally give trash bags full.”

It’s among the most unique dispersal methods of the heavy-hatted bass fishing pros. Bassmaster Elite Series anglers get tons of hats each year from sponsors. They are almost always wearing a hat, but inquiring minds want to know what happens to all the others.

The idea to look into their hats was spawned from a Facebook post by Stacy McClelland, wife of Elite pro Mike McClelland. She dumped a box of 100 or more of his hats on the floor and wrote, “And he says I have a shoe problem.” She had hashtags #timetopurge then #gladhesontheroad. (Uh-oh. We’ll visit how that turned out later.)

While it’s rare to see a pro angler without a hat on, most hadn’t given much thought to their headwear relationships. Almost to a man, the Elites queried for their take on hats at first responded curiously, most with a quizzical look, asking “Hats?”

Once primed and privy to the premise, the Elites donned their thinking caps and offered all sorts of info on hats: their likes and dislikes; details of their collections; thinning the herd; the business implications; superstitions; and even wearing the wrong one.

There was so much information, this reporter got stupid. So, here we go. Hold on to your hat.

PUT THIS IN YOUR HAT

Wikipedia says hats are “head coverings worn for various reasons, including protection against the elements, ceremonial reasons, religious reasons, safety, or as a fashion accessory.”

B.A.S.S. pros have all of those covered in one way or another. Shaw Grigsby is among the handful of anglers who approach the hats they wear while fishing pragmatically. He doesn’t have a lot of hats and uses the ones he keeps for their intended purposes.

“They keep the sun out of your eyes, and keep it off your nose, and hopefully help so you can see a few fish,” he said.

There are several non-hat freaks on tour, but Stacy McClelland is correct to infer that many Elites have “hat problems.” A good number report they are fanatical about hats. Many called themselves “hat guys,” admitting that they are rather picky about the ones they’ll wear out of their obnoxiously large collections.

Gerald Swindle, the 2016 Toyota Angler of the Year, has been a B.A.S.S. pro since 1995, and he wore hundreds upon hundreds of caps before winning his first AOY in 2004, and he’s worn a couple hundred more since. Over the years and relationships with companies, Swindle has tossed, donated and given away tons of hats while accumulating quite the collection.