RIDGELAND, Miss. – Before Mark Menendez left his family for Lake Dardanelle in 2009, his daughter Caroline, looked up at him and said, "Daddy I want you to bring me home a trophy." Fifty-five pounds, 7 ounces of Arkansas bass would make her wish come true.
This week, Menendez holds sixth place going into the final day on finicky Ross Barnett Reservoir with a total of 44-13. And it could be his 11-year-old son Max's turn for a blue Elite Series trophy.
Not only would this be meaningful for Mark, but also for his late wife Donna, who passed away in 2014 after an 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
"I'm telling you, her quality of life was fantastic, until the ending months ... Donna always wanted to see me at the top of the heap. And she was able to see that twice in our marriage," said Menendez, a three-time Bassmaster champion. "It would be significantly important to me to [win] so I could give a blue trophy to my son, too. That would be quite fulfilling for both of us."
When a family is struck with hardships, priorities are often shuffled and a new outlook on life is likely. That was the case for Menendez. He took a leave of absence during the 2013 and 2014 Elite Series seasons to care for his ailing wife.
"Things change, you certainly realize a new sense of what is important to you. Yes, fishing is important to me because this is how I make my living. However, the significance of a win, the urgency to win, or this being the most important thing in your life — if you have any sort of conscience — goes away. Because once put into perspective, fishing does not matter.
"The only thing that matters to me in my life are my two children now, and I have to be there for them. They have no one else. I'm the sole focus of their lives. I'm their mom and their dad."
With a 12-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, Menendez covers "both sides of the fence" when it comes to his fishing career and family.
"The fishing part of it is nowhere near as important to me as it once was. Once I put my Yamaha cap on and I'm on the water, well, that's all I think about then.
"But between point A and B, [my life] is all based on what Max and Caroline's needs are."
Not married until the age of 39, fishing Bassmaster events for nearly 14 years, Menendez focused purely on fishing.
"It was all I ever thought about, so it's a weird switch, but a very comfortable switch," he said referring to the last few years.
"[Now], I really appreciate the times when I make that good pitch, or I make that change and I catch a big fish that gets me into the Top 12, or earns me a check. You appreciate those moments a heckuva lot more, and I see that it's made me a more well-rounded person — and hopefully a better angler."
With the weather postponement Sunday, young Max will have to wait one more day to see if he can be the recipient of his very own Elite Series trophy.