At 8:30 a.m. Friday, a call was placed to the cell phone of B.A.S.S. legend Ken Cook.
A voice on the other end answered, “Ken’s phone.”
The voice was almost too soft to be heard, but the shock and sadness rang through loud and clear.
Cook, a six-time winner on the B.A.S.S. circuit and the 1991 Bassmaster Classic champion, died around 5 a.m. He was at his son, Hunter’s, home in Oklahoma City and suffered an apparent heart attack.
“He was at my house dropping his dogs off on his way to a Safari Club Show in Dallas,” Hunter Cook said. “He was complaining of some indigestion before he went to bed, and we suggested maybe he should go to an E.R. But he said it was getting better.”
That kind of toughness was nothing unusual for Cook.
Born in 1947, just after the end of World War II, Cook lived his entire life in Oklahoma.
After graduating from Oklahoma State University with a B.S. in zoology, he worked for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and Conservation as a fisheries biologist. B.A.S.S. tournament emcee Ray Scott often made a big deal over Cook’s status as a fisheries biologist when he walked across the stage at Bassmaster events.
It was on that stage in 1983 that a life-changing event led him to a full-time career in professional fishing.
Having already won a pair of regional B.A.S.S. events, Cook took first place in the 1983 Super B.A.S.S. event on the St. Johns River. The trophy came with a check for $100,000 – a gigantic payday for that era – and helped launch a career that would eventually land Cook in the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.
Following that victory in 1983, Cook became a force on the professional trail, notching three more victories with B.A.S.S. – at the 1983 Missouri Invitational on Truman Reservoir, the 1987 New York Invitational on the St. Lawrence River and the 1991 Bassmaster Classic at Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore, Md.
In the Classic, he held off hard charges from several other competitors, besting second-place angler Randall R. Romig by 3 ounces and third-place finisher Woo Daves by just 13 ounces.
Ken and his wife, Tammy, built their home on Tarbone Ranch in 1995 and began managing the property for hunting. Ken retired from professional fishing after the 2009 season. But he was still active with the ranch, offering guided hunts for whitetail deer, elk and trophy bison.
In 2005, Cook was selected by B.A.S.S. as one of the Top 35 anglers of all-time. He was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2010.
Cook was a 14-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier with 35 Top 10 finishes.
Current Bassmaster Elite Series pro Paul Elias, who competed many times against Cook on the B.A.S.S. circuit, remembered him fondly.
"Early on, after he won the Classic, I was booked at a boat show in his hometown in Oklahoma, and he called me up and offered for me to stay at his ranch. I took him up on it and had a great time," Elias said. "He took me down to quiet little creek on his property that was loaded with fish, in fact it was amazing. He said that he enjoyed fishing there because it was quiet and allowed him to reconnect with why he loved the sport of fishing. I'll never forget that."
Elias said Cook was important to the sport of professional bass fishing as a whole.
"Ken was one of those guys that every sport needs," Elias said. "He was always kind and respectful on the water. In fact, I don't remember ever hearing a negative word about the man. He was a fine, professional angler who complimented the sport in many ways. "I've always appreciated how he retired after a very successful career, and left a quality legacy - I hope I can do the same.
"You just never know when it's your time, he will be dearly missed."
Hunter Cook said his father's passing has been a shock for the entire family.
“He was still in very good shape, doing all of the things he loved to do,” Hunter Cook said. “He was elk hunting all the time. He was very healthy, never took medicine.
“It’s so hard right now to think how I’d like for his fans to remember him. For the moment, I just hope they know he truly cared about the sport of bass fishing.”
Cook was 24 days shy of his 69th birthday.