The 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series kicks off in the morning on Cherokee Lake in East Tennessee. As it happens, that’s not too far from my home. For the first time in several years, I did not sign up to be a Marshal for a tournament, mainly because another obligation I had and I couldn’t come up with a definite date in time to register. As it turns out, I could have Marshaled Cherokee.
That aside, when I read that Don Barone may possibly retire at the end of the season, I was a little bothered that I might miss a last chance to shake Don’s hand. In the several years I’ve served as a Marshal I have not missed speaking to him and shaking his hand. Not having signed up for the 2017 season, I was afraid I’d miss my last opportunity.
I have read Bassmaster Magazine almost since it began. There are certain people who have written for the magazine for years and years and years that you can’t hardly forget. One of my early magazine favorites was Harry and Charlie “Writ by Don Wirth an Drawed by Cliff Shelby.” There was of course Dave Precht, who was the editor of the magazine for a long, long time. I have met Mr. Precht three times in my life. The first was at least 15 years prior to the last 2 times. There’s no way I would expect anyone to remember me that far apart. Dave is one of a kind; he remembered the first time we met just like it had been the day before.
In recent years with the Internet coming on, Don Barone’s articles have become a mainstay for Bassmaster.com. Don has been special to me in that he helped me get my first article published on Bassmaster.com. I understand I’m a Joe and he’s a Pro, but as many red marks as my high school English teacher put on my papers, to actually have something I wrote published by an organization with the stature of Bassmaster gives me, a B- English student, something to be proud of. I can actually say, “See those times I played hooky from school to fish really did amount to something.”
As far as driving an hour and a half to shake Don’s hand goes, it was an honor for me to be there.
Having marshaled tournaments for several years and written several things for Bassmaster.com, I have had the opportunity to meet many of the anglers and many of the folks who do what they do to bring the tournament to the fans scattered to the four corners of the Earth. One of the first people I ran into today was James Overstreet. In case you don’t know who that is, look through your collection of Bassmaster magazines and pick out the ones with an upside-down bass on the cover. There’s a good chance James took that photo. I know one of the articles of mine that got published featured a photo blog with it of James' work. That adds a whole other excitement to this Joe of a writer, when you look at your story and it features photos from someone with Overstreet’s stature.
A little bit later I ran into my favorite interpreter, Seigo Saito. You may ask, “How have you met Seigo, and who is he?” Seigo is another one of B.A.S.S.'s ace photographers. He’s shot many of the cover photos for Bassmaster magazine. He is also Japanese. Twice in my stint as a marshal I have drawn out with Japanese anglers. The first was Big Mamma Morizo Shimizu, and second was Ken Iyobe. To put it simply, it’s tough for a hillbilly from eastern Kentucky to communicate with someone who primarily speaks Japanese. It took me a little while to convert hillbilly-English to Cajun-English so I could talk to Cliff Crochet. All I’ve ever had to do is find Seigo and he has always been more than willing to help interpret between my Japanese angler and me.
Out in the parking lot, I found Ronnie Moore chasing after the legend Kevin VanDam. I suppose he was after a story about changing line and tying on fresh jerk baits for Thursday. If you follow the Elites and the people around it you may know Ronnie recently got married. He said she was still tolerating him and also said, “Set the hook once and hang on.”
Then there were the anglers that I have met and become friends with over the years. As I walked across the parking lot I stopped to help Mark Menendez put the cover on his Skeeter. I’d recently seen Mark at a seminar at Angler’s Outpost Marine in Lancaster, Kentucky. I mentioned I’m interested in buying a Skeeter in the near future but couldn’t decide between a new ZX250 or a used FX21. We discussed some of the differences between the two models.
As I walked up to the building I ran into Paul Elias. Back in the day Paul lived in this part of Kentucky. I can remember fishing a father/son B.A.S.S. Club tournament and Paul was in it then. That was during the time he was working his way through the system that eventually landed him in the Bassmaster Classic, which he won with his trademark “Kneeling and Reeling” technique. Paul said his old partner, Terry Disney, had better let him sleep half the night if he expected to beat him. He also said he didn’t think anything he’d learned then about Cherokee would help this week. Too much time and too much water over the bridge. Still, he was confident he could catch fish.
Closer to the building I ran into Matt Herren. He asked, “Are you marshaling again?” I told him I came down to see Don Barone, but I’d not signed up to Marshal. I noticed Matt hobbling. He fell into the boat or on the boat or something like that this morning and was sort of hobbled by it. Hopefully that won’t slow him down in the tournament.
Then there was another young angler I owed an apology to. Skylar Hamilton, a rookie on the B.A.S.S. Elite Series from the area around Cherokee Lake. Last year, both of us were fishing tournaments on Cherokee (not the same one) and I pulled up on a point with about 5 minutes to go to be at the ramp. I intended to pull in behind Skylar and fish the water he’d already fished to give me one last chance at the last fish I needed to finish my bag. What I didn’t know is Skylar was hung up and had turned his boat around to try to free his lure. When I sat down, I caught a 4.5-pound smallmouth on the first cast right behind his boat. By the time I’d boxed up the fish I had to go to make weigh-in and I also realized what had happened. Thankfully, Skylar wasn’t upset. Good luck, young man. If you don’t know him, you will soon. He’s the kid who checked-in with 25-something pounds on Nickajack during the first BASSfest.
There were many others. Randy Howell and his sons, Greg Hackney (who somehow made a prediction on his TV show Sunday when he said “It’s just like fishing against you [Mark Rose] on the Tennessee River”), Stephen Browning with a big bandage where the treble hook was, and Boyd Duckett, trying to say howdy while keeping up with the telephone calls.
Definitely, I’m going to miss being a Marshal this year. Hopefully, by next year I’ll have this scheduling problem solved so I can better plan things out. The B.A.S.S. family of folks are a lot of fun to hang around with and educational for fishermen like me. There are always things to learn even on a lake like Cherokee that I’ve fished hundreds of times over the years. I’ve seen and heard a lot of predictions of what it will take to win this derby and where the fish will come from, and many of those are coming from people very familiar with the lake. The thing is, Cherokee actually fishes pretty small. A B.A.S.S. Elite Tournament is a whole other animal than a one-day Saturday jackpot. These guys have to bring in five good bass on four consecutive days to win this thing. This year, the weather has been somewhat odd and the water temp on the lake is considerably higher than normal. Couple that with the predicted weather that has Thursday being a Bluebird with decreasing temps, Friday being cold early and clouding up late with another front, Saturday warming back up with storms, and Sunday being somewhat mild but wet. The long and short, I doubt the same pattern will work all four days. I also observed some of the guys practicing on the way down. They were not where I thought they would be. It will definitely be a show to watch.