'Life experiences' with B.A.S.S. continue

'Life experiences' with B.A.S.S. continue
April 7, 2011

Recently, my daughter was trying to write an essay for acceptance into a scholarship hall at the University of Kansas. (Can someone tell me how I got to be old enough to have a son who is a senior in college and a daughter who is a senior in high school trying to decide what college to attend? But I digress.)

She seemed to be struggling, and I asked her what the essay was about. She said they wanted to know how her "life experiences" would contribute to the house if they chose to accept her. She said she didn't have any life experience. I said, "Sure you do!" I pointed out that she was raised in a very small town in Missouri and went to a school that was big on tradition. Then, after I took the job with B.A.S.S. and we moved to Florida, she had to make the transition to living in a big city and going to a big high school that was only a few years old. The school had very few traditions and, quite frankly, was not very good at anything. Over the years, the school has gotten progressively better at all aspects and the students have begun their own traditions. I told her she was part of that — and not a lot of people get to experience both ends of the spectrum the way she did.

She didn't buy it, and I probably wouldn't have at that age, either.

But, that got me thinking about my "life experiences" with B.A.S.S. I fished my first tournament as a 19-year-old in Concordia, Kan. I got a late start: We didn't have opportunities when I was young to compete in a Junior Bassmaster club or on a high school or college fishing team. That tournament I fished was a buddy tournament in which we kept all our fish from area ponds, and the team with the most weight won. My buddy, Jeff, and I won second place, and I was hooked! (Pardon the pun.)

That was 26 years ago. From there, I joined the Salina Bassmasters in Salina, Kan. I thought I was going to be the next Hank Parker; KVD had only fished a couple of B.A.S.S. events back then; I'm not even sure they called him KVD yet!

For several years, I tried to make it as a tournament angler, until I got talked into running for an officer position in our club. I quickly discovered that I enjoyed organizing and helping others enjoy this great sport almost as much as I did competing! (Notice I said 'almost.')

After a few years as a club officer, I decided I was going to work for B.A.S.S. one day. I ran for office on the state level and became the president of the Kansas Bass Federation. As the Kansas state president, I went through the sale of B.A.S.S. from Ray Scott to Helen Sevier and from Helen Sevier to ESPN.

Then my greatest life experience — with the exception of getting married and having two kids — happened, and I was given the opportunity to work for B.A.S.S. on the new Bassmaster Weekend Series. I moved from that small town in Missouri to Montgomery, Ala., and later to Celebration, Fla.

Along the way, I have had enough life experiences to write a thick book on. The one common thread in my life since I was 19 is B.A.S.S. Now, we are embarking on a new chapter with our new owners, Jerry McKinnis, Don Logan and Jim Copeland. I will tell you I am as excited about B.A.S.S. today as I was that day 26 years ago at that first tournament I fished, or as that day in August 2004 when I got the call asking me to come work for B.A.S.S.

I can't wait to share some new life experiences with this new ownership group, and I hope my daughter has as many great life experiences as I have had with this great organization.

Frank steals the show
Sept. 23, 2009

I sit here in the Atlanta airport, watching people hurry by to their planes, which I am certain will all be delayed, first because it's Atlanta and second because it is storming outside, a double whammy for this airport. There will most definitely be some upset travelers today. I hope I am not one of them, but I am not holding my breath. I have a four-hour layover. I don't know how I missed that. There are several flights between now and then to Orlando, but they won't put me on standby for an earlier flight because they can't separate me and my bags. This has happened to me several times in the past, and my bags have always made an earlier flight. Go figure!

There are always a lot of soldiers coming through Atlanta. Some are coming home and some are going back to duty. You can see it in their eyes which ones are which. One just passed me. She had a twinkle in her eye and a toy camel strapped to her camo backpack. She is headed home to someone special.

I just talked to another group. I could tell they were headed back somewhere. After talking to them a minute it was quite clear that they were very proud of what they do and would do anything for their country. It was just hard to leave loved ones behind. I thanked them and wished them well. I try to do that whenever I can.

The hustle and bustle has slowed. This is not good. No flights coming in means none going out. This could be a very long day.

I am reflecting on a very exciting week that I just spent at the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Mid-Atlantic Division Championship. We had the weigh-ins at a Cabela's store in Wheeling, W.V. What a great group of folks to work with. Special thanks to Joe McGurn, their events coordinator, who went above and beyond last week to make it a special event for our anglers. Fishing was very tough, though, which always makes it exciting. The anglers struggled to catch a limit of bass each day.

The eventual winner, Jeff Freeman from the Virginia B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, was the only angler to catch a limit each of the three days of competition. That was a feat in itself. Jeff is a great angler. He has been to several B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championships and all the way to the Bassmaster Classic through the amateur ranks, and now he has a chance to do it again.

To say that a couple of the Bassmaster Junior Divisional competitors stole the show on Friday, the final competition day, would be a huge understatement. First of all, John Duarte won the 11-14 age division of the Bassmaster CastingKids on Thursday afternoon, and then he won the 11-14 age division on the Bassmaster Junior Divisional on Friday. He will be competing for a national championship in both events in Tavares, Fla., at the end of October.

I don't know if Frank Appalucio is the next KVD or not, but you would have thought so when he weighed his fish Friday afternoon. He was the last Junior Bassmaster to weigh in. He was competing in the 15-18 age division. There were only six anglers behind him, all adults. He was not competing with them.

One young man, Keith White, the only other Junior Bassmaster in that age group to even weigh a fish, sat on the hot seat with a total one day weight of 1-4. Frank was the only one that could knock him off. When Frank came on stage with his fish, Keith knew his run was over and he congratulated Frank. All that was left was to put the fish on the scales.

Nine pounds, 12 ounces! That is what Frank's limit of bass weighed. The crowd went crazy, the adult anglers cheered. It was Frank's day.

Let me put this into perspective. Frank fished one day, and the adults fished three days. Jeff Freeman's largest limit of the week was 6-12, and he was the tournament champion. Frank's catch would have put him in seventh place out of 72 adult anglers! He caught the second largest bass of the tournament, and I thought he was going to win the Cabela's big bass award, too.

Frank is a very well-spoken young man from New Jersey. Once upon a time another Jersey angler named Michael Iaconelli made his way through the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation ranks. All I know is Frank stole the show.

How to join a club
Sept. 11, 2009

How do I join a BASS club? That is a question that I get quite often — or why should I join a club? The second question has many different answers.

You could join because you love fishing and you have a deep passion for competition. That is probably the first reason that comes to mind, and that is why I joined a club. I love to compete. I compete in just about everything I do, whether it is fishing or sports or mowing the grass.

My first taste of competition was a pond tournament that I teamed up with a co-worker to fish and we ended up second. I was hooked (pardon the pun) for life. That co-worker became one of my best friends and we fished a lot of tournaments together after that.

 I've made a lot of friends over the years — close, dear friends that I will have for the rest of my life. Why? Because we share a deep love for something — bass fishing. It just gets in your blood.

When I was in Wisconsin for their state qualifier and their banquet, I met a lot of people that live a long way from where I do but we still have a common bond, that love for bass fishing. At the banquet there was a group of guys that love to compete so much that they had a side bet. The person in their club that caught the least amount of weight during Day 1 would have to dress up in a Hawaiian grass skirt and a bikini top (these are guys, mind you) at the banquet.

The gentleman, and I use the term loosely, who lost really got into it. It was all in good fun.

I also met a young man, John-Paul Hey (pronounced "hi") who loves BASS fishing. He was a quiet kid, didn't say much. So, you ask, how do I know he has the passion? Because I found out the kid lives in downtown Chicago. He doesn't drive; I'm not even sure if he owns a car. When it is tournament weekend, he grabs all his rods and all his tackle and drags it down the stairs of his apartment, walks a couple of blocks and hops on the L train and rides it to the outskirts of town where the other guys in the club pick him up. Then they go fishing. That's how I know.

Can you imagine? I have a hard time carrying my stuff from the garage to the boat or truck, let alone down the stairs, up the street and on the train.

Conservation is another reason to join a club. Maybe you don't live for competition, but you love fishing and you want to protect the resource. Clubs do conservation projects, plant fishing structure and habitat. They also fight for anglers and boating access. They fight for our rights as outdoorsmen and women. The have letter writing campaigns to fight for or against legislation. They even go as far as going to the capitol to be heard.

Maybe you love fishing, but you love coaching or mentoring youth also. Clubs have youth projects where they teach kids all there is to know about fishing. They teach them knot tying, lure selection and presentation. They take them fishing and help out with fishing and casting competitions.

Does any of this sound like something you would love to be a part of? If so, click here to find out How to join a B.A.S.S. club.

We would love to have you as a member of the BASS Federation Nation family. I am sure that there is a niche for you in one of the 1,800 BASS affiliated clubs across the nation and worldwide!

Catching up!
Aug. 24, 2009

Man, time flies when you're having fun or just so busy you just get lost in where you are and what you're doing. When Ken Duke, senior editor of BASS Publications, asked me if I was ever going to do another blog, I didn't realize it had been two and a half months since I had written one. I have some catching up to do!

Since I last wrote, I have been to Greers Ferry, Ark., for the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Central Divisional, spent a weekend in Lacrosse, Wis., with the Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, ventured into Canada for the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Eastern Divisional and finally to the U.P. (that's the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) for the BFN Northern Divisional.

I will start from the beginning. We had a great time in Arkansas. Being from Kansas, I pronounce it just as it is spelled. I don't know where they came up with "Arkansaw."

Although we had a great time, I am quite certain it was the hottest, as in heat hot, tournament that I have ever taken part in. The temperature was in the upper 90s to low 100s the entire week without a breath of air moving. The fishing wasn't the best, but it sure made for some exciting finishes.

I met a young man, Andy Ortega, who was competing in the divisional championship in the CastingKids division. This young man decided a couple of years ago that he wanted to learn bass fishing, and he wanted to be like Mike (Iaconelli). His parents, who did not fish or know who Mike was, now own a boat and have done whatever they can to help this young man fulfill his dream. They also know everything there is to know about Mike and all the equipment he uses. Andy has all the same stuff now! He won the 7-10 age group and will be representing Texas in the CastingKids finals this fall.

From there I came home and took a week's vacation ... sort of. I umpired 29 baseball games that week at Disney. So much for relaxing during vacation. It was my choice, though, and I really did have a great time and got to see a lot of good baseball.

Next stop was Lacrosse, Wis., for the Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Federation Nation state tournament and banquet. The WBFN invited me up to emcee their state tournament and speak at their annual banquet. I got to mingle with a lot of grassroots members of the Federation Nation. These are our members on the ground that do all the legwork for youth and conservation projects across the country. Just about every state has a Federation Nation. I had a lot of fun up there.

Remember way back when I gave the Wisconsin Federation Nation president, Jeff Dyer, the nickname "Crash" for running into a barrier inside the arena at the Bassmaster Classic with one of the tow vehicles? Well, his members made a special helmet for him and, because I was the one who coined his nickname, they presented me with a matching one! You know what they say about payback.

From there I went straight to Orillia, Ontario, for the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Eastern Division Championship on Lake Simcoe. What a great place to have an event. After a few setbacks getting our equipment into the country (our live release truck and boat spent seven ours in an immigration lockdown lot), with the help of the Ontario B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, we got everyone in. Our driver, Eric Nichols, discovered that you can get a pizza delivered to the immigration lockdown lot.

I am a little disappointed in the Ontario B.A.S.S. Federation Nation president, Ken Hamilton, though. As I am driving from Toronto to Orillia at 100 KMH (KMH not MPH), I see signs for Casino Rama, a casino just outside where I am headed. Then, on the radio I hear that for two nights only at Casino Rama (just happened to be tonight and tomorrow night) at 8:00 p.m. in a 5,000 seat arena, KISS is playing! I nearly drove off the road.

I got to the hotel check-in and found out the shows were sold out. Do you think Ken had tickets for me? No. Very disappointing. KISS fans were all over the place. "Dr. Love" was cranking on some lady's car stereo in the parking lot. If I could have found a ticket that wasn't going to cost me $200 in U.S. dollars, Pee Wee would have been doing the briefing the next night. I'm sure he could have handled it.

I'm only kidding about being disappointed in Ken. They did a great job hosting this event. Fishing was great, the people were great and we had a great time. The only thing that would have made it better is having front row tickets to KISS — one of the greatest bands of all time — in a small arena! I heard they played for three hours. Unbelievable!

I'll talk about the U.P. in my next blog. Those Yoopers are a story all unto themselves!

Paris in the Spring
June 18, 2009

It's been a few weeks since I wrote my last blog. I have been traveling for a couple of weeks. The first week I was in Paris. I visited the Eiffel Tower, went to a winery for some wine tasting, explored the rolling countryside and sampled the city's restaurants and some of the night life. I also got to witness a slugfest put on by the best anglers in the world!

Did I mention I was in Paris? Paris, Tenn., that is. Yes, there is an Eiffel Tower in Paris, Tenn. It is quite a bit smaller than the one in France, I am told. I have not actually seen the one in France, but I am told it is much larger. The wine was good. I am not much of wine drinker but I learned about dry wines, sweet wines and dessert wines. I think if I was a wine drinker, I would prefer the sweeter wines.

The restaurants were OK. Paris, Tenn., is not a large city, so there was not a lot to choose from. I think my favorite was a place right in the hotel parking lot called "Ace's." The owner was from Chicago and everything on the menu had Chicago ties. The pizza was Chicago style. There were sandwiches on the menu that I didn't recognize, but Eric Lopez, who is a colleague that I work with who was raised in Chicago, says they were authentic. There was a lot of Chicago memorabilia; mostly White Sox stuff, which Eric loved since he's a Southsider. I didn't like it too much. I am a huge Cubs fan, and if you know anything about Chicago, you know the two don't mix. There was just enough Cubs memorabilia to keep me satisfied and not feel completely uncomfortable.

The owner was great and didn't rub it in too much when the Cubs lost. The bartender/waiter was a St. Louis Cardinals fan. That is even worse to a Cubs fan. How he got a job in a Chicago style restaurant is beyond me. He was great too as long as the Cardinals were winning.

The nightlife consisted of Matt's Pub and Restaurant. I went there twice. Once for lunch and I think the 12 of us that were there for lunch kind of overwhelmed the one waitress and one cook. It took a while to get our food, but it was good and the waitress was nice. I went back with the guys one night. It just happened to be Karaoke night. There were no American Idols at Matt's that night. After the Karaoke was over they did pass the bucket for donations so the DJ would stay and play on into the night. I don't know how much was in the bucket, but I am quite certain it was much more than 15 minutes worth. I think we got taken.

The tournament was a slugfest. Bobby Lane led the whole way for his first victory with a four day total weight of 97-9. But the highlight of the event may have been meeting Miss America 2004, Erika Dunlap. She sang the anthem on the final day. Wow, she can sing! I loved her version of the ending. I told her I may use it sometime. The only bad part about the week is I was there without my wife for my 22nd wedding anniversary, June 6, which is also National Donut day according to Don Barone.

All in all, Paris was good. I would like to take my wife to the real Paris for our anniversary some year to compare.

The following week we headed to Ft. Madison, Iowa. We stopped in St. Louis for a little Cardinals-Rockies baseball courtesy of Ben's friends in the Rockies organization. We cheered the Rockies on to victory. (Remember, I'm a Cubs fan and root for anyone the Cardinals are playing.) We arrived in Ft. Madison on Sunday night just in time to watch the Magic lose to the Lakers — not good.

Ft. Madison is a nice little town. The first thing we noticed was all the signs and marquees in the whole town had "Welcome Bassmaster" or "Welcome Elite Pros" or something along those lines. Very cool. Everyone in town was very nice.

The first day in Ft Madison we looked around town trying to find all the good places to eat and a cleaner to send our laundry to. We quickly found our favorite lunch spot, the Parthenon Diner. They serve great home cooking with a great salad bar, the best Gyros in town (probably the only Gyros in town) and free ice cream after every meal. I probably didn't need the ice cream but nevertheless I did not pass it up. No cleaners though. The only thing we found in town was a "washateria" (that's what Trip and Chuck call it) or a laundromat. So most of the BASS staff could be found in the laundromat attached to the BP station doing laundry that first day.

The whole washateria thing got us into a deep discussion about how things are said or what they are called. For example: What do you call the hand-held device that operates the TV? The "remote" or the "controller" or the "controls"? Brian, the husband of the aforementioned Miss America, says "controls" and it drives Miss America crazy. Not sure I would do that.

Has the mail come or gone? My wife will kill me for the mail one. I say the mail has come; she says the mail has gone. The town right next to Ft. Madison, Burlington, had two of my favorite things in the world — a minor league baseball team, the Burlington Bee's, (a low A farm team for the Kansas City Royals) and a Taco John's! We went to two Burlington Bee's games. One of the guys in our group even was given a ball. After a couple days of subtle hints he gave it to me so I could give it to my son who also loves baseball.

After the second Bee's game, I finally convinced the guys I was with to stop at Taco John's. They really didn't have a choice, I was driving that night. I had a meat and potato burrito and some Potato Ole's. Did I say I love Taco John's?

The event was another great tournament. It was no slugfest, but it was very exciting. We had our second first-time Elite winner in a row. Kevin Short bested 97 other Elite pros with a four day total of 43-3. Well-deserved, Kevin!

Oh, and I did get called out of the bullpen to sing the Anthem at the last minute in Ft. Madison, and I did use the new ending. Thanks Erika! 

We All Speak the Same Language
May 19, 2009

I just returned from the BASS Federation Nation Western Divisional held on the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities area of Washington (Pasco, Richland and Kennewick). It was another great trip out west. The fishing was great and the weather was nice except for Day 2 when it blew 40 mph most of the day causing us to cancel the day.

The Washington team dominated with 120 fish that weighed 304-04! That is a great average. Most were smallmouth, but we did have a few largemouth come across the scales, including the tournament's largest bass caught by Jerry Frahm from the Utah BASS Federation Nation team. They call him Frahmalicious in Utah. I didn't go into details of why. I am not sure I want to know that answer. His fish weighed an impressive 7-11!

The Bassmaster CastingKids competed on Thursday evening for a chance to move on to the BASS Federation Nation Championship (BFNC). Man, they can cast. There is absolutely no way I could compete with them. They are amazing. Payne Avera, a young cowboy from Reno, Nev., complete with pressed jeans and shirt, big belt buckle and hat, and a lucky flower in his shirt pocket, won the 7-10 age group with a score of 130. He says his dad is a cowboy. All I know is there was no one more proud in that room than his dad.

Well, Kiana Clark's dad of Richland, Wash., might give Payne's dad a run for his money on who is more proud. All I know is both their families were very excited. Kiana advanced to the BFNC for the fourth time from the 11-14 age group. She has won the Championship twice already while competing in the 7-10 age group!

Then there were the Junior Bassmasters that competed on Friday right along with the adults. It won't be long before these kids — young men and ladies, really — will be competing for those adult spots on the state team. You adults out west better watch out because here they come!

Advancing to the Bassmaster Junior World Championship (JWC) from the 11-14 age group was Nick Jacobi from Centennial, Colo. He weighed in four bass that totaled 5-8, just edging out Tyler Rollman from Murray, Utah, who had 3 bass that weighed 5-0.

The 15- to 18-year-old group was won by Jake Cook from Kennewick, Wash., with five bass weighing 14-4, just 1-9 ahead of his nearest competitor, Josh Creamer from Brush Prairie, Wash. (representing Ore.).

One thing I noticed this past week is no matter how old or young, whatever race or color or even those with disabilities, we all speak the same language when it comes to this sport we love. Those kids don't talk or think much like me for the most part. They don't listen to the same music as most of us adults.

Notice I said "most" adults. I am a lot like the kids in the music department, which drives my crew (especially Pee Wee) and a lot of the other adults crazy when I am playing Metallica, Nickelback, The Offspring, Disturbed, etc., in the morning. I don't, however, know much about 50 Cent or FLO-RI- DA (pronounced Flow-Rye-Duh, I'm told) or what they sound like. I know it is rap. I listen to rap occasionally, but I couldn't tell you who I am listening to. I definitely don't know how they can concentrate on fishing with all that hair in their eyes, or how they get a hat on with all that hair sticking out, but they do.

And that is my point. When they come across that stage, we all speak the same language. I understand them when they say the caught all their fish on reaction baits in 5 feet of water on rock, or they were dragging tubes or flipping Sweet Beavers. They thank their sponsors and parents and become very articulate in what they are saying. We speak the same fishing language.

This brings me to J.D. Wood. I met J.D. four years ago in Umatilla, Ore., at the Western Divisional, and to say that he left a lasting impression on me would be an understatement. J.D. is from Montana. J.D. is a great fisherman and a great person. J.D. always has a smile on his face, and you can tell he really enjoys this great sport of ours. J.D. has been to three of the last four Western Divisionals, so he must be a good fisherman. I don't know how old J.D. is, but I would guess he's in his early 20s.

J.D. is deaf, but you would never know it unless you were trying to speak to him. Every angler that I have ever talked to that has fished with J.D. has always said he was one of the best partners they have ever fished with. When I met him in Umatilla, his mom was there to sign for him, and she went with him pretty much everywhere except on the boat.

He brought in a largemouth bass that day. It weighed 7-7. He was very excited. He led his team for a while, and he had the big bass for a while. It didn't hold up, but he was still excited. After the weigh in, I felt a tug on my shirt. He wanted to tell me how he caught that fish. Mom wasn't around, and I know absolutely nothing about sign language, so he did his best to tell me.

He made a half circle motion with his hands and then brought one hand to his mouth and made a talking or chomping motion with his hand. I wasn't getting it. He pointed at a tree, made a falling motion like the tree just fell, then an overlapping motion with his hands and arms and the chomping with his hands again. A beaver hut! His eyes lit up, that was it. Then he made a pitching motion as if he pitched a jig underhanded with a fishing rod into the beaver hut. He made a motion like the rod was pulled down and then he set the hook and fought the fish to the boat.

He had another good event this week. His mom was not with him, and I know it had to be tough on him with no one around that could sign, but you could not tell. He caught an 8-pounder off a bed during practice, but that is another story for another time. He would have made a run at his team championship, but when he got to the verification table on Day One, he handed his bag to Pee Wee and began to count on his fingers until he got to six.

Sounds good — six fish — but the limit was five, and he knew it. And per BASS rules Pee Wee had to take out his biggest fish, and it was not counted. It was a 4-pounder. He was still smiling though. I know I am not supposed to root for any particular angler, but I sure would like to see J.D. fishing the Bassmaster Classic some day. His is a great story.

There are many others out there just like J.D., and this brings me back to my point: We all speak the same language when it comes to fishing.

Prom Shoes
April 30, 2009

I have been "batching" it the last two weeks. Not really — my fifteen-year-old daughter has been with me. I have been taking her to school everyday; she's too cool to ride the bus, besides it's kind of on the way to my office.

I took her to her last softball game the other night. They lost in the first round of districts. They had a good year and should have a great year next year.

I have been picking her up the last couple of nights from her dance team tryouts. I think they are going well, and she should make the team again. I cook her supper, do laundry ... all normal stuff while mom is away at a couple of BASS tournaments in a row.

Then she asked me to take her to get prom shoes. She said she knows exactly where to go, they are cheap and this won't take long.

Yeah right. This is outside the realm of things that I would normally do. All that other stuff is pretty normal, but prom shoe shopping?

Before we go any further, you have to know how we got here. She is fifteen and going to prom? I didn't go when I was fifteen (sophomore).

Wait a minute, yes, I did. I can't use that against her.

What completely untrustworthy boy is she going with? She is going with a group of girls — nine I think! OK, no boys. This is good, but nine girls going stag? No one went stag at my prom. That was totally un-cool. OK, I know these girls — never late getting home, no alcohol or drugs that I am aware of ... a good bunch. She can go. She already bought the dress I find out. That was $140.

Where is the prom? At a resort or restaurant/ballroom type place. What happened to the junior class decorating the gym and the sophomores serving dinner after that the dance was held in the gym? That's how we did it. She thought I was crazy and that was the lamest thing she had ever heard of.

It was cool. It was a challenge to do it up better than the junior class before you did. Lame she says. So she has to buy a prom ticket for $55 (also free in my day), already bought a dress, the girls want to do the limo thing. Her share is $20. She needs $40 to do her hair and $40 for nails and $30 for spending money and $20 for her share of the hotel room....

Whoa there, sister! Now I'm leaning towards not allowing her to go. Are you serious, $40 each for hair and nails? Apparently this is true according to the ladies here at the office. Some pay more than that. We debated all of this for a couple of days, especially the hotel part, and came to the final compromise that she could go but she was not staying out all night in a hotel.

I say compromise, it was either that or she gets none of the above. She agreed.

Now back to the prom shoes. We drove to the store that she knew she would find the perfect shoes and they would be cheap. I had my doubts. I was right.

In one store ... nothing. To the second store ... nothing. This was going to be a long evening.

We drove 10 miles to the next store. They had some great shoes. The problem was they were all priced between $60 and $150. This may not seem like much to you, but for a shoe that will be worn only a couple of times, it is a lot.

"Check the clearance room," I said.

"Clearance rack shoes? We will never find anything there," she said. After picking up several pairs and showing them to her, hoping these would be the ones so I could get home and watch 24 (by the way, Jack is not doing well since infected with a bio chemical agent), I saw them.

They had to be the ones. They were perfect, in my opinion — goldish tan with small silver sequins and what appeared to be a 2 1/2-inch heel.

I said "What about these?"

She rolled her eyes because I know nothing, and then I saw it, a little tiny smile. "Oooh, they're Nina's," she said — whatever that means. She tried them on.

The heel cannot be more than 2 1/2 inches tall or her dress would be too high off the ground, she told me. I told her to ask the lady. The lady said they were 2 1/2 inches. Perfect.

I asked the lady how much they were, and she said $30. Sounds good to me. Let's go. I think that was record time. Three stores in an hour or so, dad is happy, daughter is happy and maybe she even realized dad doesn't have half-bad taste! Next year though, it's moms turn to shop for the prom shoes.

Best Day Ever
April 20, 2009

I had a great day fishing yesterday. I went to a small pond by my house and walked the banks. I caught 25 bass, several over 4 pounds. I caught one that was over 6 pounds and sent a picture and a text of it to a buddy and my brother. After that I texted my brother every couple of fish or so. He thinks he can outfish me, so I like to shoot him texts of all the fish I catch.

My best five fish would have weighed around 30 pounds. It was a great day. After the 20th fish, I decided to make a few more casts before heading home. That was a great decision on my part.

I cast into a brushpile with my green pumpkin Senko, and a fish bumped it. I set the hook and knew it was a good fish. Then it jumped, and I new it was a great fish — quite possibly the 10-pounder that had eluded me thus far in my fishing career. After a fight of what seemed to be 20 minutes but was really just a couple of minutes, I was able to get the big bass in. I didn't bring my scale, so with one hand holding the fish in the water, I dialed my wife on my cell phone and asked her to bring my scale. She was there in less than five minutes. I told her I didn't think it was as big as I had originally hoped, but I put it on the scale and it hit 10 pounds.

YES! ... No, it settled in at 9.7 pounds. Not the 10-pounder I had hoped for, but a personal best nonetheless.

I released her and watched her swim away. I caught a few more smaller bass, and that's when I said to myself as the day was ending, "This was the best day ever." As I was driving home, though, I wondered if it really was the best day ever.

I got to thinking that I have said those words a lot times over the years. March 15, 1985, in the mountains of Colorado was the day that Valerie and I became "promised" to each other. How many of you guys out there can remember the day you and your wife became officially boyfriend and girlfriend? Impressive, huh? Maybe not, but I was 19, and I thought that was the best day ever.

I said those words on June 6, 1987, when I married my beautiful wife. I also said those words on March 15, 1989 and again on July 7, 1993. Those were the days my son and daughter were born.

I remember sitting on the bank of a creek at the Exline Company farm with my Grandpa Stewart and catching bullhead after bullhead and thinking this is the best day ever. I also said it when my Grandpa Sims gave me a .22 rifle for Christmas. A few years later I got a mini bike for my birthday, and that was the best day ever. Or was it the day my son got a scholarship to play football in college and saved us thousands of dollars. Surely that was the best day ever.

Maybe it was the day I got my dog, Torda, or the day I got my pony, Peanuts. How about the day I was given my first car of my very own by my Aunt Connie. I believe it was a 1973 Gremlin with a bashed-in fender, but I loved that car.

No, it was the day my buddy Jeff asked me to fish with him in a local pond tournament, and we took second place. I was hooked on this bass fishing thing from that day on. That was 23 years ago. Maybe it was the day, several years later, that my buddy Jeff and I finished first and second at the Kansas Mr. Bass tournament on Hillsdale Lake. (I was the one in first.)

Come to think of it, I have had a lot of "best day evers." To answer my own question, "Is this really the best day ever?" I think I need to separate fishing from the other stuff. I think it probably was the best day ever — "fishing" — but maybe not the best day ever.

As I grow older, if I am lucky, I will keep having those "best day evers."

April 13, 2009

I am just getting back to work after a nice relaxing Easter weekend. I hope you all had a nice Easter. I was thinking yesterday about the tradition that we have started — my wife, daughter and I — of going to Easter Sunrise service at Sea World. The three of us went last year and when my daughter asked if we could go again this year, it became a tradition.

This is not really a new tradition for our family. I remember getting up very early, taking blankets and going to Brown Memorial park just outside of Abilene, Kan., to watch as some young men and women acted out the Easter story — the one found in the Bible, not the one about the Easter Bunny.

But that was not all of the tradition. The night before, my sister and two brothers and I would build nests out of clothes. Any clothes would do. Sweatshirts, jeans, socks, etc. We would build the nests somewhere in the house. Behind the couch, in the kitchen or in the TV room, anywhere would do as long as it wasn't too close to my sister's.

My nest was always way better than my siblings'. Sometime later that night, the Easter Bunny would find the nests and fill them with Easter eggs, candy, some kind of toy (like a PEZ dispenser — that's a toy and candy all in one for those of you that don't know) and always a big chocolate bunny. I'll have to tell you about the chocolate bunny, a knife and my leg sometime.

My son is in college and my daughter is a sophomore in high school so we don't do the nest thing anymore, but I was glad when my daughter wanted to go to sunrise service this year. I think we will continue that tradition. I hope when I have grandkids — quite a while from now — that their parents will teach them the Easter nest tradition.

Everyone has traditions that they hope will never end. They may change a little because you move or the kids grow up. But some will end by circumstance. When we lived in Missouri, we would always go to a certain Christmas tree farm to cut our own tree. It was cold — sometimes it snowed — and we would walk around, find the perfect tree, cut it down then drag it to the road where a tractor and hay wagon would pick us and the tree up. They would take us to the big red barn and while we drank hot chocolate they would prepare our tree for the trip home.

It just isn't the same here in Florida. My brother and his family drive from Kansas City all the way out to Colorado to go up in the mountains and cut their own tree. This became a tradition for him when my family moved to Colorado after I went to college. The 4th of July celebration/cookout/fireworks was always at our house in Missouri because we lived in a small town where you could shoot fireworks.

My wife's family has a family reunion every summer in western Kansas, and this is where the tradition of several-of-the-"outlaws"-go-golfing-and-are-gone-way-longer-than-the-elders-of-the-family-would-like tradition started.

The point is we all have traditions that we really enjoy. Some traditions have been left behind; some have stayed constant — like my mother-in-law's German potato salad — and some have faded and then come full circle and came back into our lives.

These are the ones I really enjoy, like my daughter asking if we can go to Easter sunrise service at Sea World.

Southern Division Championship
April 6, 2009

As I sit here in the Raleigh-Durham airport waiting for my plane to board and watching people go by (one of my favorite things to do when I am traveling), I am reflecting on what a great week I just had at the BASS Federation Nation Southern Division Championship.

I arrived in Weldon, N.C., from the airport in Raleigh last Monday after a 1 1/2-hour drive that actually took three hours due to the 100 yard stretch of highway they were working on that had 20 miles of barrels marking the single lane that was open.

I know that doesn't sound great, but it gets better. I began scouting out all the good places to eat. Scouting the eating places is always first on the list of things to do when arriving in a new location. I certainly do not want me or my staff to be undernourished while trying to stay on top of our game.

If you look at my picture at the top of the blog, you are probably thinking, "Jon, you must be at the very top of your game."

I couldn't believe there was no local home cooking cafè to eat breakfast at, so it would have to be Cracker Barrel each morning. After checking into the hotel and scouting the eating places, I drove the 30 miles out to the lake and the boat ramp where the weigh-ins would be taking place.

Pee Wee and Eric were already there with the BASS weigh-in trailer and the live release boat. They had most of the weigh-in site set up and were ready to stop for supper, so we dove back into town and ate at Ralph's BBQ Buffet.

I would never eat at a buffet if I had any willpower. When it comes to food, I have none. It was delicious. The next day we went to the lake, finished the set up of the weigh-in area then came back into town for the registration and tournament briefing.

At registration I met with the representatives from the Halifax County CVB, our local host. What a great group of ladies. They were genuinely excited to have the BASS Federation Nation anglers in town. Then the anglers began to arrive to get checked in. I saw a lot of new faces this year mixed in with several old and familiar faces.

Big John Hendry is one of those familiar faces. He is a giant of a man — about 6 feet, 10 inches tall and 280 pounds, I would guess — but he is one of those guys that would do anything in the world for you. All you have to do is ask. There are a lot of those in the Federation Nation ranks but Big John stands out, for obvious reasons.

The next morning was the first competition day. We left the hotel at 5 a.m. to prepare for the 6:45 a.m. launch. Launch was flawless. Everyone was excited about the prospect of a great day on the water. Later that afternoon after the weigh-in, the 12-person Alabama team found themselves 13 pounds ahead of the North Carolina team. We ate at the Great China Buffet that night (no will power, remember).

The next day was basically the same except that the North Carolina team had a huge comeback and was leading Alabama by 15 pounds. That evening we held the Bassmaster CastingKids Southern Division Championship. This competition is a contest between each of the 7 state champions in the 7-10 and 11-14 age groups in which the kids flip, pitch and cast for the chance to represent the Southern division in the finals this coming fall.

Let me tell you what, these kids are focused and intense. I learned three things from this competition: (1) These kids pour their heart and soul into being the best they can be; (2) I am quite certain Crystal Culley could put that jig anywhere she wanted to on a bullet; and (3) CJ Guest does a great Lebron James dance when he wins a competition!

We ate at Wings and Rings that night. The final day of the BFN Divisional found the Junior Bassmaster state champions joining their respective adult teams. Although they were fishing for the same chance to advance to the Junior Bassmaster finals, their weight for the day would have a factor in determining how the adult teams finished. They were all 14 person teams now.

I will tell you they were just as intense as the adults that morning. They were ready to go. I even played the music they requested that morning to get them "pumped up" ... like they needed that. I will tell you most of the old timers did not enjoy the music that morning. Most had never even heard of Disturbed or Silverchair. But they were not complaining come weigh-in time. Out of 16 Junior Bassmasters that were fishing, 14 caught fish and contributed to the adult team's success. This was no easy task as 30-mph winds battered the anglers most of the day.

I haven't figured the percentages yet, but I bet the catch rate of the kids was as good as, if not better, than the adults on that final day. It was a great day, and to see and hear the kids talk about their experience that day is almost indescribable. I believe that most of the boat captains had a life changing, eye opening experience as to what is coming up in the ranks of the clubs for the future.

The future is bright. These kids are great. They fish well, dress well, speak well and did I say fish well? Watch out KVD! What a week! Where did we eat Friday night? Wings and Rings. I am an expert on wings, and, as you can tell, they must have been great if we went back two nights in a row.

Oh yeah, the Alabama team came back and beat the North Carolina team by 5 ounces! The Alabama kids contributed almost 9 pounds of that. What a week!

March 26, 2009

This blog thing is tougher than I thought it would be. I thought I could just sit down and start typing and it would all come to me. Not so much. I don't know how these people do this every day, even hourly. Maybe it will be better when I head out on the road next week to Roanoke Rapids, N.C., for the first of the six BASS Federation Nation Divisionals of the year.

These can be watched live online on Bassmaster.com (shameless plug). I am sure I will have numerous great stories to tell once I get back out there. I can't wait to get back out there. I am not an "office" type. I need to be outdoors. Just a few more days! But what about now?

The question is what does the reader on Bassmaster.com want to read about? I could talk about all the small ponds that are available around here to fish, and that last night I was just thinking to myself as the sun went down and I was making my last few casts, that I can't remember the last time I went fishing and got skunked. I was about to do just that. The mosquitoes were coming out. I didn't have much time left before they carried me away. It was getting dark and 24 was coming on TV in a few minutes.

By the way, how does Jack get himself in so much trouble and still save the world? But I digress.

As I was thinking "This is the night. I'm not going to catch one," a fish took a swipe at my Senko. I missed her! I threw back in there, and she made another swipe but missed again. One more time I tossed the bait back in there. She got it this time. A 3-pounder and the streak — I'm not really sure how long — remained intact, and I made it back in time to watch 24.

Now Jack has been exposed to a biochemical agent. It doesn't look good. But I digress again.

Maybe visitors want to read about the economy? I doubt it, but maybe. Tough times are affecting everyone and how they think and the choices they make. The other morning when I got to my parking space here at work I noticed that two other very manly men and I were all climbing out of our little bitty economy cars. It was quite funny. They had left their Ford Expedition and Chevy pickup at home, and my Tundra was home in the driveway, as well. I told them that I didn't think I would ever see the day that three manly men like us would all drive the wife's cars to work on the same day, and our manly trucks would all be at home.

What is this world coming to? Right now I'm sitting here writing this blog and eating a sandwich that I packed for lunch. I used to go out two or three times a week for lunch. Not anymore. I pack a lunch every day now. I used to have a big bass boat, and now I have a pond prowler.

Am I enjoying life any less? I don't think so. I am loving life. I have a great job, a great family and great friends. I wouldn't change much. The point is, times are tough but you don't have to stop doing what you love or enjoy. You just might have to reevaluate how you do it. Take the small car, or the pond prowler. Run that trolling motor more and the big motor less. You get more fishing in doing that anyway!

Ahhhh Florida!
March 16, 2009

"Do you enjoy living in Florida?" That is probably the second most asked question of me right behind, "How do you like working for BASS?"

The answer to the second question is very easy to answer. How could I not like working for BASS? I absolutely love what I do. I can't even call it a job because I love it so much.

The answer to the first question is a little more complicated. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a small town kind of guy. I was raised in the small town of Solomon, Kan. (pop. 1,500), went to a small junior college and got married in the huge metropolis of Salina, Kan. (population 40,000 — that's huge to me).

I raised my kids in Alba, Mo., pop. 475. That's right — 475.

Do you see a pattern here? I am definitely not big on the city life. I now live in Kissimmee, Fla., really a suburb of Orlando. Population ... I don't know ... a couple million maybe. One thing it isn't is a small town.

However, as I check the weather reports on this early March day from all those places above that I really miss, I am glad to be here. Every one of those places are cold today, some are even getting some snow. I absolutely do not miss that. So as I take my lunch break and leave the office for a little fresh air and head to a nearby downtown Celebration lake for an hour of relaxing bass fishing, this is when it hits me.

There are things about every place I have lived, that I love. I love that Solomon is where I grew up and had a chance to play sports and sing and do things that I never would have been able to do in a big city. It was easy to make the football team when every available guy played and there were no cuts.

Salina is where I joined my first BASS club. I love the pheasant hunting in Kansas, too.

Alba is where I watched my kids grow up and coached and learned about being a dad. I miss the late spring and fall in Missouri.

That brings me to Florida. What I love about Florida is the warm weather of the winter and spring ... and bed fishing. There is nothing like bed fishing. Monday I went downtown with a couple of co-workers over the lunch hour because it was a full moon, no wind, bright sunny skies and 78 degrees. It was perfect for bed fishing. And when we got there, we were not disappointed.

This was the second or third wave of bedding bass for Florida. There were beds with fish on them everywhere. There was a bed about every 10 to 20 feet. Most of the fish were all in the 1- to 2-pound range — bucks. We were able to each catch three or four bass during our lunch hour. We went back during the lunch hour each day this week and everyday the bass on the beds were a little bigger. The females were moving up.

Yesterday I caught one that was a little over 6 pounds, and Chris Bowes had one on about the same size. Chris caught one last month on the same lake, on his lunch hour that he estimated to be around 10 pounds! So, needless to say, we are looking forward to the next couple of lunch hours. This is why I love Florida. There are not too many places where you can go out on your lunch hour and maybe catch the fish of a lifetime, but Florida is one of those places.

Ahhhh Florida!

The Yellow Hats
March 2, 2009

If you ever get a chance to be around the service yard of the Bassmaster Classic early in the morning or out back of the arena just before the boats roll in for weigh in — or for that matter at any one of our BASS events — you will probably see a bunch of hearty souls wearing yellow hats running around. Who are these people?

I call them "Yellow Hats," of course! In my opinion they are one of the most vital parts of the engine that keeps the Bassmaster Classic and all of the other BASS events running smoothly. They are volunteers, mostly from the local Federation Nation, but some from all over the country.

This year we had people like Roy Rypma from Kansas, Jeff "Crash" Dyer from Wisconsin, a couple of guys from South Carolina that helped out last year at Lake Hartwell and had such a good time they decided to make the drive to Shreveport. Plus there were lots of volunteers from Louisiana and the surrounding states.

They ride with the anglers and act as referees. They drive camera boats for the ESPN TV crew and media/photography boats for our editorial and communications departments. They hook and unhook boat trailers. They drive through the arena and sometimes leave with nicknames that will stick with them for the rest of their life, such as the "Crash" in the middle of Jeff Dyer's name above.

Then there is the ultimate Yellow Hat, James Person from North Carolina. The Bassmaster Classic held in Shreveport was his 14th Classic in a row. He and his wife make the trip every year, no matter where it is, just because he loves BASS and the Bassmaster Classic. He comes on his own dime, takes vacation from work or time off from being retired, I'm not sure which. He is always on time to every meeting — usually early — always willing to go out with any angler at all, and I have never heard a cross word out of his mouth.

If asked why he comes year after year, James will just tell you that he loves it! Now the interesting part is that James rode with Boyd Duckett a couple of years ago, and guess what? Boyd won the Bassmaster Classic that year!

Guess who James rode with on the final day of this year's Bassmaster Classic. That's right ... Skeet Reese! Now I know that this may seem like a coincidence, but I would imagine that he has ridden and observed for a lot of Bassmaster Classic champions over the years and, like not shaving or wearing the same socks if you're on a winning steak, it seems to me that if I was one of these guys that haven't won the Classic yet and I was reading this blog, I would call dibs right now on a "yellow hat" named James Person for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, Ala. You know James will be there!

Finally, I just wanted to personally thank all of the "Yellow Hats" for a job well done at the 2009 Bassmaster Classic. We couldn't have done it without you!

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