While condemning “legend” talk, Gerald Swindle proudly let his inner “redneck” shine. The part that loves God, his country, momma and wife. The part that would give someone in need the shirt off his back. The part that cries when Old Yeller dies or when something fantastically good happens to him.
Sunday, the fast-talking country boy got all choked up, drawing a flood of tears from many across the country watching him take the 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Bass fishing’s clown prince needed several moments as the emotion of reaching the sport’s pinnacle – again – hit him hard. With his hat low over his eyes, the angler who always has something to say was rendered speechless … for a bit.
When he finally could, he talked of being blessed this season but added that he was mad at himself for not closing out the title in style. He came into the AOY Championship at Mille Lacs Lake with a huge lead. He only needed to finish 43 places ahead of Keith Combs in the 50-man field, yet Swindle hovered near the bottom of the standings the first two days.
“I’ve lost more sleep in the last two days over not catching than I have trying to chase that trophy,” he said. “I wanted to fish my best. Today I left it out there.”
Fishing scared and conservatively never won anything, so attacking his way on Sunday gained him 22 pounds and a couple spots in the event. That really didn’t matter, except for his pride, because Combs finished 30th.
Of the 20 anglers who have won the 47 AOY titles awarded since 1970, Swindle, who won his first in 2004, became just the 11th with more than one. An AOY pretty much guarantees superstar status, and two or more kicks that up to legendary. But Swindle wouldn’t have any of that.
“I don’t know if I’m legend,” he said, downplaying emcee Dave Mercer’s accurate assertion. “I don’t look at myself like that. This is what means a lot to me – some of my best friends are standing here watching me. To see Kevin (VanDam) and Skeet (Reese) hang around and watch … We grind it out day in, day out, they got your back. I’m just not a legend, guys.”
During his acceptance, his voice cracked, his eyes needed a Dude Wipe … scratch that, a shirt wipe. Actually, a couple. Later, folks from around the country posted to Facebook that seeing Swindle's reaction made their eyes leak too.
Mercer again was right in saying that Swindle’s denial makes him even more of a legend. He had a pretty legendary season. Swindle cashed in all nine Elite events, reached an amazing six Championship Sundays, and topped it with a best finish of third on Lake Texoma. This came after a season in which he failed to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Now he’s going to his 16th.
Swindle also closed in on $2 million in career earnings, climbing inside the top 20 of the all-time money winners in B.A.S.S. Pretty good for the Warrior, Ala., redneck whose next feat will be contemplating all this in a tree stand.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do is fish … and make money at it,” he said. “And I love it. I ain’t going to lie to you, I started fishing because framing houses sucked, and I made money fishing. I said, ‘I ain’t never going back.’”
And by the way, G, you are truly a redneck legend.