Nearly twenty years ago I was nearing the end of my second deployment to Iraq when I stumbled across a Bassmaster magazine. As I turned the pages, I noticed an article that discussed veterans who had recently returned from dangerous overseas missions. They were using bass fishing to cope with the hardships of combat. I quickly thought back to the many bass fishing trips with my dad when I was a boy and a smile lit up my face. From that moment, I became a dedicated follower of Bassmaster.
Once I returned home, I bought my first boat, helped start a local bass fishing club, and began my journey towards becoming a better bass fisherman. What I have learned over time, is that bass fishing taught me much more about life than just how to catch fish.
Bass fishing has helped me develop into the person I am today. Over the years I have become more patient, more appreciative of the little things in life, grateful for the opportunities I have been given, and gracious when things seem to go my way. In life, things don’t always go your way, pretty much on par with bass fishing.
As I sought out little green fish, I found a new outlet to process hard times associated with loss from military experiences or even the struggles of everyday life. The hours I spent on the water trying to become a better angler, allowed me the space needed to become a better person. Bass fishing has taken me to new places, allowed me to meet new people, develop lasting friendships, and create unforgettable memories. To my military brothers and sisters who are still struggling, or perhaps just looking to fill the void of lost camaraderie, give bass fishing a try.
Ten years ago, I was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 2013, the Bassmaster Classic was held on Grand Lake in Oklahoma. Only a few hours away, and closer than possibly ever to my home in Manhattan, Kansas. I then made plans to attend. I spent time at the Bassmaster Classic Expo, watched the boats take-off at the ramp on a frigid February morning, observed as a spectator boat, and experienced the concert-like weigh-in show. That was my first in-person Bassmaster experience, a lasting one for certain.
In 2015, I was scheduled to relocate duty stations. One of my choices was Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. After some quick research, I realized I could live and work near famed fisheries Lake Hartwell, Lake Murray, and Santee Cooper Lakes. That’s right, I moved my family, home, and military career based off bass fishing opportunities. In 2018, and again in 2022, the Bassmaster Classic was held on Lake Hartwell. Each time I attended, I took my family to the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” once and then I took a good friend to introduce him to the Bassmaster experience.
Over the last two weeks I have been able to get a closer look into this sport. I have driven cameramen around Lake Murray and Santee Cooper Lakes. I held a weigh bag as an angler loaded twenty-three pounds of Lake Murray bass inside. I have rubbed elbows with those that make everything happen behind the scenes. I have stood on the Big Stage where Big Dreams are made.
If you are fortunate enough to live near an area where the Bassmaster Elite Series visits, I recommend you go check it out. Get out on the water, give the bass fishermen some space, observe and learn from them. Please respect their fishing areas until the tournament is over as they are likely coming back to them later during the event. The weigh-in show is a well-organized event that is established for us the fans. Show your support, take a demo boat ride, visit the vendors, watch the anglers cross the stage with their catch, and cheer for your favorites
Thank you to the Elite Series anglers for putting on two great displays of bass fishing excellence on Lake Murray and Santee Cooper Lakes. Congratulations to Drew Benton and Luke Palmer for their wins and showcasing what our waters have to offer. Thank you for the Bassmaster tournament crew and production team for creating a positive atmosphere and putting on two great shows. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the season has in store. Thank you Bassmaster for affording me the opportunity to gain a better understanding and greater respect for your organization. I am sure we will meet again, but for now, so long from South Carolina.