Gene Gilliland’s favorite moment of 2016

My favorite moment of 2016 was at the Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa back in February. As the guy responsible for fish care at the Classic you might assume that the 100 percent live-release we achieved again this year would be my top pick – but there was another moment that really topped them all for me.

Prior to the first day’s weigh-in, the folks at JM Productions put together a video retrospective on the career of Classic Champion Ken Cook who had recently passed away from a heart attack. Ken had a special place in the bass tournament world. Not only was he an accomplished angler, but he was a fishery biologist too. In fact, Ken spent several years working for the same agency that I spent 32 years with, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC). Although our careers with ODWC overlapped for only for a couple of years, I stayed friends with Ken and followed his career through the pages of Bassmaster Magazine and on The Bassmasters television program.  

One of Ken’s special talents was communicating with anglers – explaining the biology behind bass fishing in terms that made sense to bass fishermen. At the 2016 Classic in Tulsa, we honored Ken by presenting the first annual Ken Cook Friend of B.A.S.S. Fisheries award to another Oklahoman and friend, Larry Cofer. Larry was a recently retired fishery biologist who also worked for ODWC and had not only been an intern for Ken Cook but took the job as Regional Supervisor when Ken left the agency to pursue a fishing career. Larry was also a great communicator, writing for several fishing publications, including the monthly “Bass Biology” column for B.A.S.S.Times. Larry carried on Ken’s tradition of converting biologist-speak into language that could help anglers understand bass behavior and help them catch more fish. 

The highlight of that ceremony was having Tammy Cook, Ken’s wife, and their two sons on hand to make the presentation. It was a special moment and we will be continuing to honor Ken’s memory each year at the Classic with a presentation to another deserving agency biologist or volunteer conservationists who has done great things in their career to further the sport of bass fishing.