This Field of Dreams

Before I get too far ahead of myself, while I was fishing the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest at Lake Fork, my son Jacob and his fiancé Alita welcomed their daughter Avery into the world. She is mine and Candy’s second granddaughter, and she is beautiful. If she turns out to be half the fun our oldest granddaughter Emerson is, then we are in for a great time. With the addition of my second granddaughter, on top of all of the changes this year, it really got me thinking as I prepared to write this column.

It’s been an enlightening season for me on the Bassmaster Elite Series. I’ve had some time to reflect on how much the industry and our sport changed this past year, and I’m feeling entirely different than I did this offseason.

It’s the midway point of the 2019 season and I have to admit that I started the season with a little bit of fear because of the way things started out. With the departure of friends and competitors, and the addition of new Elite Series anglers, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and it made me nervous. But, as this season has progressed I’ve seen and heard some things that have given me a fresh and reassuring perspective.

As “players” in the bass fishing game, I think we tend to get a sense of self-importance as to our positon in the industry. Yes, we play on the biggest stage in the game, but we’ve all arrived at a point where we think we are the biggest part of this industry, and that’s just not the case. Our own self-focused perspective leads us to believe that we are the reason for this game, when in actuality, the most important parts of this equation are the fans and the companies that allow us to do this for a living – not the other way around.

I get the sense that as a group we tend to think our career equations look like this: Pro Anglers + Sport = Fans, when in actuality the math problem looks like this Sport + Fans = Pro Anglers. Without the people that support our sponsors by buying the products and coming to the venues we get to fish at, this career is pointless.

The other thing that I was reminded of is how important the history of this game is. You see we’re different than a lot of pro sports where the players are the ultimate draw. Fishing is more like college football, in that the school is the thing that holds the loyalty of a fan. An Alabama fan today has been an Alabama fan his whole life, and the same for every other major school. Fans love a Nick Saban, and they get to know players, but when those stars graduate or get drafted to play pro ball, their first loyalty is to the team — the Crimson Tide (or your favorite school), and the fandom continues for decades.

That’s the same kind of thing I’ve seen from the fans of the Elite Series this season. That history means something to fans of this sport; that B.A.S.S. shield means something to a huge number of fans of this game, and I had to be reminded of that.

At this point in my career, I’ve been fortunate to fish at just about every level of the sport from the clubs, to the B.A.S.S. Nation, to the BFL’s, Costa’s, Opens FLW Tour and now the Elite Series. Every day that I’m able to continue living this life this is a gift. I’ve realized that this game, and the B.A.S.S. stage is a lot like the movie Field of Dreams. In particular, one line in that movie. When James Earl Jones’ character says, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.It’s not any different in bass fishing.

More than 50 years ago, Ray Scott started The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, and that has grown the Elite Series today. This stage, and the B.A.S.S. Shield mean something to me. I’m an Alabamian, and watching Bob Cobb, and The Bassmasters on TV, and reading Bassmaster Magazine are in my blood; and that still gets it pumping for me.

With that in mind, I’ve realized that I am very lucky to get to do this for a living. I get to live a dream, and someday fans may remember a moment I took part in, or they may remember some of my accomplishments — they also grant me the ability to be here with their support.

I guess it’s just hit me more this year that I owe you all a lot. Thank you to B.A.S.S. for providing us this stage and these forums to appear in. Thank you to my sponsors, fellow competitors’ sponsors, the industry support — all for giving us the opportunity to perform at this level.

Most importantly, thank you to the fans for loving this sport and continuing to support it. It is all of you who allow us to walk across this stage and show you the fish that we catch – for you.

Your cheers move me, and it has become even more important for me to let you all know that I appreciate it more than I am able to explain. You provide us the ability to chase these fish, dream these dreams and walk across This Field of Dreams.