Although she’s never entered an event and caught a bass, Holly Keen realizes she’s a part of Bassmaster history.
“I do,” she said followed by a joyful laugh. “That was so exciting. Home lake, friend of mine, Century Belt. It was a really amazing day.”
Keen will long revere serving as judge for Lee Livesay on that momentus April day at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite on Lake Fork. The home-town favorite and Fork guide caught the third-heaviest five-fish limit in B.A.S.S. history at 42 pounds, 3 ounces. With a four-day total of 112-5, Livesay won his second Elite title and became the 32nd angler to earn a Century Belt.
Keen, a family law paralegal who lives in Sherman, Texas, knows she only played a bit part to Livesay’s leading role, but it was exhilarating just the same.
Nervously shaking a bit but always ready with the digital scale, Keen weighed each of Livesay’s “baby whales,” entered them on BassTrakk and his scoresheet and sent in photo after photo of big bass. She punched in a lot of crooked numbers as Livesay’s bass weighed 9-2, 7-6, 8-15, 8-14 and 7-14, just 3 pounds shy of Dean Rojas’ 2001 record of 45-2 on Lake Toho.
Having that front-row seat for the feat isn’t lost on Keen, even though she had more practical things on her mind when the day began surrounded by a gallery of spectators.
“When we got to first spot and we stopped and I looked around, ‘Well, how am I going to go to the restroom today?’” she thought. “But it was so neat to look around and see all those boats and know that the B.A.S.S. media was out there, and then to be put in the article, the photos with those guys. The Elites are top level. You’re not just going out there with your local angler.”
For the past five years, Keen has served as judge in the Texas events, where most bass are weighed and released. Besides having a front-row seat to history, Keen said another benefit was learning.
“I enjoy doing it, one, because I tournament fish as a co-angler and some team stuff,” Keen said. “You get to learn a lot from the guys. Maybe not right off the bat, but if you’ve got questions, they’ll answer them. They’ll tell exactly what they think you should be doing under certain conditions, what to use, why. It’s not you just go out and sit in the boat and watch them catch fish.
“I’ve not yet had an Elite not explain stuff. They’re focused on fishing. You can’t talk to them the whole entire time, because you’re just going to drive them crazy, but they’re always open to offering information, giving advice.”
Marshal registration for the 2022 Elite Series and Bassmaster Classic recently opened to B.A.S.S. members. While Keen said she runs into the occasional acquaintance who scoffs at paying $100 for at least two days on the water with a pro, she said it’s worth much more.
“You’re going to get to learn because you’re watching them actually tournament fish,” she said. “If you take a guide trip, you’re going to spend anywhere from $600 to $700, if not more. You’re not on a guide trip where they’re either casting or helping you do this or that. You get to watch how they put into play everything they use to catch fish during an actual tournament. So to me, it’s worth it.”
There’s also special swag from B.A.S.S. and sponsors and comradery among the Marshals, who are taught the duties of entering weights and submitting photos at a pre-tournament meeting. Keen said that shouldn’t be a worry for even the most technically impaired.
“BassTrakk is super easy to use. Even people that didn’t have a smart phone or the app, they gave them a phone,” she said. “It’s pushing buttons. It’s simple, but it’s important to be accurate. I enjoy taking photos and I enjoy looking at them afterward. That’s what the fans want to see when they can’t be there.”
A blind draw sets Marshals up with an angler each day, and Keen said she had the best of luck as “they’ve all been great guys.” In the 2019 Elite at Fork, Keen witnessed Micah Frazier “wreck them on a topwater” in taking third. A day before Livesay, Keen was thrilled to be paired with fan favorite Gerald Swindle.
“I always joked with my friends about wanting to be with Gerald,” said Keen, who admits rubbing elbows with Elites is another cool benefit. “I stay in contact with a few of them. I’ve had questions, and they’ve always answered. It’s a pretty good relationship.
“I text and talk to Lee all the time. He was actually up hunting in Oklahoma, and he texted me about that. Whiskey Myers played down here, and I texted him about that. We just BS, have conversations here and there. Gerald texted me the other day. We had an angler down on Rayburn who got hurt.”
And there’s always that chance to witness something special. (See Marshals enjoy time on front line.) Keen realizes it’s unlikely she’ll strike gold again when the Elites come back to Fork, but who knows. In any case, she remains amped to have been there for Livesay’s remarkable day, and she even took home an artifact worthy of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.
“I got the Spook,” she said, followed with another long laugh.
Coming off the water, Livesay’s Bassmaster LIVE cameraman Hunter Lindsay asked him for the swimbait he used that day. Keen, who until that time never thought about asking an angler for a memento, jokingly asked “What do I get?”
When Livesay said she could have anything she wanted, Keen was keen in her choice, “I want the Spook.” Livesay signed and presented the lure to Keen, who made a shadow box display with a Marshal shirt and hat that hangs in her office alongside a signed bighead fan of Swindle.
“I started to feel bad about it months later,” Keen said. “Man, should I give this back to him?’ I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, he could put it up in his trophy room.’ I thought about it, and I’m like, ‘No I’m not quite ready to ask him if he wants it back.’ Maybe some day, just not now.”
2022 Elite Series schedule
Feb. 10-13, St. Johns River, Palatka, Fla.
Feb. 17-20, Harris Chain of Lakes, Leesburg, Fla.
March 17-20, Santee Cooper Lakes, Clarendon County, S.C.
April 7-10, Chickamauga Lake, Dayton, Tenn.
May 19-22, Lake Fork, Quitman, Texas
June 2-5, Pickwick Lake, Counce, Tenn.
July 14-17, St. Lawrence River/1000 Islands, Clayton, N.Y.
Aug. 18-21, Lake Oahe, Mobridge, S.D.
Aug. 26-29, Mississippi River, La Crosse, Wis