There were close-ups of Jason Aldean, where I could see his tongue sticking out. There was Jordan Lee whooping and hollering then weeping and wailing.
But probably the top photo, the one I went around showing off proud to have taken, was on sponsor night when five legends of the sport happened to be a few feet apart.
One sees a ton of awesome things at most every GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, and this grouping might just have happened because B.A.S.S. is celebrating its 50-year anniversary.
Many of the luminaries of bass fishing just happened to be at a sponsor party after Day 2. After getting a quick bite – smoked salmon appetizers, beef rib meat atop homemade mac 'n' cheese then shrimp and grits, ah yum! – I roamed to the other corner of the banquet hall and recognized a prime opportunity.
All through the day I kept track of the present-day stars battling it out, and I had just left Bon Secours Wellness Arena after talking with leader Jason Christie and second-place Edwin Evers, who not two years before stood in nearly the exact same positions. (Evers rallied to win with one of the largest bags ever weighed at a Classic.)
After walking past a couple folks standing up and obscuring the sightline, I saw them.
The founder of JM Associates, Jerry McKinnis, sat in the center of three legends at a table talking over who knows what, maybe if Jordan Lee would make another remarkable comeback and match the man on his right, Rick Clunn, and Kevin VanDam as the third angler to claim back-to-back Classic titles. (He did that the very next day.)
Now, Clunn first pulled off that feat in 1976 and 1977, but he's done plenty other record-setting stuff. In 2016 at 69, he became the oldest angler to win a Bassmaster Elite Series event, and by a long shot. McKinnis said afterward that today’s fans are fortunate to be able to witness a living legend practice his profession.
To McKinnis’ left was his friend from their White River days, Forrest L. Wood, founder of Ranger Boats and namesake of the FLW fishing tours. Just like always, Forrest wore his signature cowboy hat and his blue eyes sparkled as he listened, told and relived stories.
Nearby, but not sitting down, were a couple more fishing legends in Roland Martin, known as the Great American Fisherman, and Jimmy Houston, the blonde-haired, loud-laughing fish-kisser. Both are long-time, famed TV hosts.
Last summer I visited Martin at his home in Naples, Fla., to gather some content for the 50th anniversary, and I had met him and Houston, as well as Bill Dance, at ICASTs and written several stories on them. (Read Legacy of three fishing legends and see photos) So after greeting Martin and Houston, neither of whom were involved in a conversation at the time (that’s probably a first), I quickly asked them to get behind the trio sitting down and pose for a shot.
It was one of those ask for forgiveness later and not permission, because Jerry might not have wanted me turning their casual get-together into a press ordeal.
Of course, this corner of the venue was the darkest with awful backlight, and my first snaps were dark. I worked to turn the flash on, instead hitting the button to flip the camera at myself. Dangit! In my struggles, about a dozen other guests pulled out their phones and took shots. Even though mine came out dark and a little fuzzy, I still think it’s probably the most remarkable shot I took during the weeklong celebration of bass fishing.
Feeling i had a coup, I was bursting for some show and tell, and luckily ran into B.A.S.S. worker Donny Wilson then former JM worker David Healy. Think they were impressed.
Oh my, there’s 2012 Classic champ Chris Lane. He will surely enjoy the significance of this shot.
Lane hadn’t qualified for this Classic and was waiting at a table with his wife, Holly, and folks from his title sponsor, Power-Pole, for his good friend and the night’s entertainment, country music star Rodney Clawson, to take the stage.
I excitedly show Lane my shot, and he nodded and asked his wife to dig a phone from her purse. She unlocked it, and he quickly opened up a file and turned the screen toward me, smiling.
Lane one-ups me big-time with the image below.