Elite Series bass pros don’t need an excuse to go fishing, but when it includes time with NFL players, it’s a bonus.
That’s one of the reasons six Elite anglers trekked to the Detroit area earlier this week to help Kevin VanDam with his 2013 Bass Pro Shops KVD Charity Classic. They – along with The Bassmasters TV host Mark Zona and B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis – were joined by nearly two dozen regional Michigan pro anglers to entertain sponsors and host 22 Lions players and coaches on Kent Lake located outside Detroit.
Corporate sponsors donated to the KVD/Lions charity to participate in a 4-hour tournament and spend the afternoon in the boat with a pro and an NFL player.
The Charity Classic is still in its infancy yet rapidly becoming a major event that bridges pro bass fishing with pro football players.
Elite anglers say the long haul to the Detroit area was worth the drive. It was a chance to help VanDam out for a good cause and an opportunity to practice on nearby Lake St. Clair, site of the Elite Series season finale, before heading over to the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wis. for next week’s Elite event.
Marty Robbins, for example, drove 15 straight hours with his family from Texas where he had just participated in a Skeeter Boat Owners Tournament.
For Robbins, his volunteer work gave him reason to spend some time in Michigan, take in a Lions’ practice, and hang out at KVD’s dad’s place with his family.
“Marshall (9) and Mitchell (7) are huge football fans, and we are going visit a Lion’s practice,” said Robbins. “Last year, we stayed at KVD’s dad’s place on a small lake, and the kids loved it. So, we’ll spend a day or so there before heading to La Crosse.”
Casey Ashley drove 13 hours to southeast Michigan and also practiced St. Clair afterwards before spending some time with Jon VanDam and his family.
“(Terry) Scroggins (who also participated) heard of a team tournament on St. Clair this weekend so we might just have to hang around and try to win some money,” he added with a grin.
Ashley said he didn’t know what to expect from the football players but was pleasantly surprised at how congenial they were. He fished with Lions tackle Riley Reiff, a 6-6, 313-pound second-year pro from the University of Iowa.
“He fished a little for catfish in South Dakota as a kid but was quick to catch on to bass fishing,” said Ashley. “A couple of guys from Anheuser Busch were our partners, and we were trash talking and having a great time. It was a blast.”
Chad Pipkens, who lives less than an hour from Kent Lake, had to drive from a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open practice in Virginia to Kent Lake for the charity event. When it was over, he returned to Virginia to resume his practice.
“I drove 13 hours and would do it all over if given the chance,” said the rookie Elite Series angler who partnered with McKinnis and retired placekicker Jason Hanson. “I’m a huge Lions fan; I watched Jason kick millions of field goals and saw Jerry catch just as many fish on TV. It was a thrill to share a boat with them.”
Even Mark Zona, a devout Chicago Bears fan, enjoyed time hangin’ with the Lions. He also participated last season.
“I’ve become a Lions fan all but two days out of the year – when they play the Bears,” he joked. “Seriously, I’ve become good friend with the Lions’ staff and some of the players. One thing I’ve learned is they’re just like the Elite pros – they’re gamers. They want to win regardless of what kind of competition it is, and some of them are darn good fishermen.”
Zona added that it’s a humbling experience to hang with athletes that build a career “around being perfect.”
“I’m not one to know much about that,” he said with a wink.