Ailing from years of wear on the Bassmaster tournament trail, Rick Morris, 57, underwent hip replacement surgery last week, and he’s already on his feet and prepping to get back on the water.
“People have no idea how bad it was because I kept my mouth shut,” the longtime pro from Lake Gaston, Va., said. “I’ve had it for two years, but it wasn’t as severe (until recently). In the morning, you’re pretty good, but the more you walk, the more you do, you start to feel like hell.”
The longtime Bassmaster Elite Series angler reports his hip steadily worsened over the past two years, and he scheduled the procedure after X-rays this summer showed bone on bone in his right hip. He said his fishing certainly suffered — he finished next to last in the season-long points race this year.
“It affected my fishing, without a doubt. I did a lot less running and gunning this year,” Morris said. “OK, I’m just going to rely on these couple spots, and they better produce. I had a hard time walking up the boat ramps. I was hurting coming across the stage.”
“I’m not usually one of those guys who complain. If I would have ever made a Day 4, I may have never been able to fish. At Tenkiller, Day 3 would have been, ‘Oh no, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it through the day.’”
While young for the procedure at 57, Morris said he believes 28 years of competitive fishing caused the issue. He noted running on rough waters with his right leg pushing on the gas pedal, endless hours with the same leg working the trolling motor, and even time behind the wheel of his truck probably contributed.
“That’s my theory,” Morris said. “You’re pressing the Hot Foot through the floor, your whole leg is pushing as hard as you can and the waves, bang, bang, bang. Then you get up on the trolling motor. I’m on the right leg a lot, even in the truck. I’ve calculated three trucks over 300,000 miles, so I’ve gone over 1 million miles. That’s 5 1/2 years in the truck seat. It just added to it.”
Doctors sawed off the damaged end of the femur and replaced it with an artificial joint of metal and plastic. The top of the femur is reamed out then a device with the ball joint is hammered into the bone.
“It’s like a spike. I heard the word hammer many times,” he said. “The upper part is like a half of a tennis ball, and they glue it up in there and most of the time add a couple screws. Your bone is supposed to grow around that cup.”
A therapist had Morris up on his feet within three hours, and he will use a walker the first week or so then switch to a cane. He hopes to test things out on a calm Lake Gaston in several weeks. He said there’s no pain inside the hip and that having the muscle and wound heal are the main concerns.
“I think it’s going to heal up pretty quick. I do exercises, I’m pretty strong in my legs,’ he said. “I’m not 70, so I’m thinking it’s a miracle so far. If I had to walk without the walker I could, but I don’t want to slip and hurt it.”
Before the procedure, Morris had an epidural pain-relieving shot, and it made him nervous. His legs went totally numb before he went into the operating room.
“I could literally punch my thighs, and I thought, that’s not mine,” he said. “That was crazy feeling. I was scared of the epidermal.”
It was not Morris’ first surgery related to fishing. In 2012, he had arthritic material removed from his thumb and a tendon moved. He said that was much more painful experience.
“I couldn’t hold my fishing rod. They made the arm go dead, cut the thumb open,” he said. “There are like 12 tendons in your wrist. They cut one and moved it over and tied through the thumb.
“You want to talk about painful. I was crying on the floor. That was way worse than what I got going on now.”
When he does get out fishing, he plans to take it easy. He made several social media posts about his surgery as a warning to others so they could be more considerate on what could happen.
“Bass fishing can take its toll,” he said. “The reason I put it on Facebook in that manner is so that other fisherman can take heed and try to be a little more careful, run a little slower in those rough waters, try not to lock your leg. Everybody is aware about skin cancer, and now we have to be looking out for joints and elbows and hands.
“To be a pro fisherman, you have to be an athlete. You have to have great balance, you have to have great stamina. I see the younger guys running at full speed in practice acting like they are in the middle of a tournament. Slow down a little. They got to start thinking about these kind of things.”
With 258 tournaments in B.A.S.S., Morris is among the longest lasting anglers on the trail — he only trails 72-year-old Rick Clunn by 189 events.
“I’ve got to get to where I’m the longest,” Morris said. “I may not have the wins Rick Clunn has, but I’m going to shoot for lasting that long.”
Offseason surgery time
Getting “patched up” isn’t solely for anglers. Bassmaster photographer James Overstreet underwent knee surgery to repair torn meniscus that had been bothering him.
“I limped through the last seven tournaments,” Overstreet said. “I couldn’t stop long enough to have surgery.
“It’s just repetitive wear and tear stuff. When you get to be my age, stuff just starts to be breaking.”