Nestled between the borders of the United States and Canada, the St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands comprise one of the most picturesque venues ever visited by the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Jared Miller can only imagine the view his cousin and lifelong friend, Zac Stice, will have of the region when the pros visit next week.
At age 31, Stice succumbed to colon cancer last week after a battle that lasted nearly two years – and now Miller, who had planned to take some time away from the Elite Series to care for his friend, plans to fish the rest of the season after all.
“When he took a turn for the worst, I had just about decided I wasn’t going to BASSfest (June 3-7),” Miller said. “But he told me to go. Then when I got back from BASSfest, I decided I wasn’t going to go to the rest of them.
“But he passed away Saturday, and I know this is what he would want me to do.”
Cousins, friends, fishing buddies
Miller and Stice were born just a week apart in 1984, and they would eventually fish together for a little bit of everything all over the globe.
From bonefishing in the Caribbean to battling giant grouper on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, they saw the world together with fishing rods in hand.
“One time, in the same week, we caught a brown trout, a brookie and a rainbow, plus a bonefish and a tarpon,” Miller said. “Those were the kinds of things we did together.”
Stice’s final hometown was Norman, Okla. But Miller said he lived many other places, including Singapore, Australia, the Middle East and California’s Mojave Desert.
“We caught barramundi in Australia behind his house,” Miller said. “Then we’d go and catch giant grouper on the Great Barrier Reef. We fished it all.”
Statistics show that 90 percent of new cases of colon cancer and 95 percent of deaths from the disease occur in people over the age of 50. So Miller said it was a shock for everyone when Stice was diagnosed with colon cancer after a colonoscopy at age 29.
By the time it was discovered, the cancer had already spread to Stice’s liver. He began treatment right away, completing 37 rounds of chemotherapy and several rounds of radiation during the next 18 months.
Stice finally decided he’d had enough of the grueling treatments in late May.
“He decided he wasn’t going to do any more chemo the week of BASSfest, but he was still getting around, walking and eating and everything,” Miller said. “He told me to go to BASSfest. But when I came back, he had taken a turn for the worst. The last two weeks, he didn’t get out of bed or eat. He didn’t have the strength to do anything.”
After deciding he would take some time away from the Elite Series, Miller also elected not to fish a saltwater tournament with fellow Elite Series pro Jeff Kriet.
He’ll always be thankful he made that call.
“It was one of the best decisions I ever made not going, because I got to be with him those last couple of days,” Miller said. “I was sitting on the bed with him when he died. It was peaceful. He just went to sleep.”
Time to fish on
Miller and his wife, Laura, are expecting their first child – a son – in late September or early October. They plan to name the child after their fallen friend.
“His full name was Zachary Chase Stice,” Miller said. “My wife is 27 weeks pregnant, and we plan on naming our boy Chase.”
As for the remainder of the Elite Series season, Miller said he hopes it will be therapeutic – and he knows Zac will be watching.
“He had an amazing life,” Miller said. “It got cut short, but we got to do a lot of things.
“Right now, he has no pain. He’s in heaven watching over us – and what better place to see from that view than Thousand Islands?”