Being Classic Runner-up can be a blessing

They say no one ever remembers who finishes second in the Bassmaster Classic, but I can assure you that Bryan Schmitt does.

I know how it feels, as I was a runner-up in the 1996 Classic that George Cochran won.

As painful as it was, it was one of the greatest things that happened to me during my career.

If that sounds crazy, let me explain.

In ’96, I was the last man to walk onto the stage late that August afternoon. Everyone, including Ray Scott, thought I had it won. Cochran stood on one side of Ray and I was on the other when my bag of fish slid on the scales. Ray held my arm in anticipation of raising it when I won — but the scales showed me a pound short.

Ray let go, and I felt like I had been gut punched. I shuffled off the stage in disbelief, only to be greeted by my 8-month pregnant wife and 5-year-old son Parker, who was sobbing. I couldn’t believe my son was taking it so hard. I felt awful, and began crying as I knelt beside him and asked him what was wrong. Through the tears, he told me he thought he was going to get to ride in the boat around the coliseum with his dad and the American flag.

“I promise, we will get to make that ride someday,” I told him.

Now, that was something you should never do — promise your children something that a lot of great anglers before me couldn’t do. Dads shouldn’t make those kinds of promises.

But it motivated me even more. I told myself if I focus more and put all of my efforts into it, I can win that Classic.

The next year I won the Bassmaster Angler of Year title. The following year I won the FLW Championship, and in 1999, I won the Classic.

And to this day, I believe that finishing second and the horrible feelings that overwhelmed me and my family were instrumental in my improved performance the rest of my career.

It gave me the drive and desire that I may have lacked during my early fishing career, and it changed me.

A funny side story to this is, after I won, I was wearing the big ring they give to the Classic Champion. I now only wear it during Classic week.

Anyway, Parker never asked me about anything else that I got from winning, but one day he said, “Dad, who’s going to get that ring after you’re gone?”

That experience obviously was pretty special to him, and he wanted to be the first to lay claim to that ring.

It was very special to me as well. Ever since then, I seek out the second-place Classic finisher and tell him to not beat himself up. Sure, you can look back on the week and say, “If I would have done this, or done that I would have won.”

That’s not going to help. I tell them they just proved that they were that close to being a world champion and good enough to become one someday.

If you can turn that second-place finish into a positive, your family will greet you on stage with tears of joy, and you’ll forever be remembered as a Bassmaster Classic Champion.