Nation: Thankful for a borrowed boat



Danny McGarry from Ontario fishes with the Quinte Bassmasters.

MONROE, La. — Danny McGarry thought the hardest part of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship would be figuring out the bass bite on the Ouachita River.

He certainly didn’t figure his biggest hurdle of the event would be getting into the U.S. just to compete in the tournament.

But there he was, at the shared border of the U.S. and his native Canada, trying to convince federal agents that he needed to get his 21-foot Triton into the country to compete in the championship tournament that began Wednesday here in north Louisiana.

McGarry, a 24-year old resident of Newcastle, Ontario, said an agent at the first border checkpoint he reached waved him through, but indicated he’d have to answer a few quick questions before crossing into America. The next official he encountered, the one who did the questioning, wasn’t as understanding.

“She said it wasn’t essential business for me to come into the States,” McGarry said Wednesday after Day 1 of the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.

“I told her I had already crossed the border three times during the summer with the boat to come fish the (Bassmaster) Northern Opens. I had the same letter from B.A.S.S. I did then, saying I was coming down to compete. But she wasn’t hearing it.”

McGarry drove nearly five hours home, where he promptly packed his tackle and other gear into suitcases and booked the first available flight into the U.S. Even so, he still had no boat to use in the Nation Championship where more than $96,000 and three berths into the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk are up for grabs.

Enter Blake Sylvester, a Louisiana-born angler who fished his way into the 2021 Classic with a second-place finish in the 2020 Nation Championship. Sylvester was having dinner in Baton Rouge last week with some fellow anglers, including Josh Cotier, who he befriended when they fished in last year’s Nation Championship on Alabama’s Pickwick Lake.

Cotier also is friends with McGarry and over dinner, he relayed the story of his Canadian friend being stopped short at the border.

Turns out Sylvester had a spare boat he was willing to loan McGarry and two days later, he trailed the Blazer 625 Elite on the four-hour drive to Monroe. McGarry wouldn’t arrive in Monroe until a day later, but Sylvester left the boat in the parking lot of McGarry’s hotel without even having met him.

“He wanted to pay me to rent it, but we didn’t worry about that,” Sylvester said. “I guess it was right timing. I had the extra boat. He needed a boat. People in the B.A.S.S. Nation, we take care of one another.”

This time last year, fortune was smiling on Sylvester. He parlayed his second-place finish at the Nation Championship into a deal with Skeeter, which gave him a boat to use during the 2021 Bassmaster Opens. He had high hopes for the season, but his good luck went south and his best finish was 47th in an Open on Virginia’s James River in May.

“I had what was my best year of fishing in 2020 followed by what was probably my worst year of fishing,” he said. “But being able to help someone gives me a good feeling. And who knows? Maybe I can get some good karma going.”

Though he didn’t qualify for the 2021 Nation Championship, Sylvester will drive to Monroe again Thursday night. He’ll get to meet McGarry for the first time and he’s hoping a host of friends make the cut and fish for a spot in the next Classic.

McGarry finished Day 1 in 40th place in the boater division, with four bass weighing 5 pounds, 5 ounces, putting him a full 14 pounds behind the Day 1 leader.

That leaves McGarry with plenty work to do if he’s going to fish another day on the Ouachita, but anything’s possible, and the past week’s events proved it.

“Everyone I’ve met in the States has been amazing to us,” McGarry said. “And what goes around comes around. Maybe someone needs some help one day and I can help them too.”