Virginian Rick Morris couldn’t have asked for better results when he competed in the 2017 Bassmaster Northern and Southern Opens. He won the final Northern Open at the James River, which earned him a birth to the 2018 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell. Morris also finished high enough in the Southern Open point standings to qualify for the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series.
For Morris, the Elite Series is familiar turf. From 1993 through 2014 he competed in every professional level Bassmaster tournament from the Invitational days to the Elite Series. It adds up to more than 200 tournaments, including five Bassmaster Classic appearances.
A back injury brought Morris’ tournament run to an abrupt halt. He took a hardship exemption from the Elite Series in 2015 that would have allowed him to return in 2016. However, he did not take advantage of the exemption.
“My daughter needed me,” Morris said.
In the fall of 2012 Morris took full custody of his 13-year-old daughter, Sabrina. While competing in the 2013 and 2014 Elite Series, Morris’ mother Pat Stewart and his significant other, Victoria McBride, helped with Sabrina. However, Morris found that the time away from home prevented him from being the father he wanted to be.
“I stayed home so I could concentrate on raising Sabrina,” Morris said. “I made breakfast, cooked dinner and went to soccer games.”
To supplement the income Morris generated through his company, RPM Custom Rods (founded in 2004), he began guiding on Virginia’s Lake Gaston, his longtime home water.
“To make a long story short, Sabrina graduated from high school and is getting high honors at North Carolina State,” Morris said with pride. “She’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.”
In January of 2017, while Sabrina was away at college, Morris headed to Florida to guide on lakes Kissimmee and Tohopekaliga. He often took clients fishing who were visiting Orlando to attend a business convention.
One of those clients, John Karafa, has become Morris’ primary sponsor for the Elite Series. Karafa owns Leebcore Services LLC in Williamsburg, Va., a full service general contractor and design-build firm. A fellow Virginian, Karafa had been following Morris’ Bassmaster career for years.
The sponsorship has given Morris’ return to the Elite Series a new mission in life. Karafa is a military veteran and his company does a great deal of contract work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the military.
“John has always been a person who likes to give back,” Morris said of Karafa. “He wants to help people who have fought for our country.”
Karafa has formed an organization called LLC Fishing for Our Troops. He has partnered with the USO to schedule fishing events for veterans at military bases around the country. Volunteers will provide boats for half a day of fishing and then the vets will be treated to live entertainment. A booth at the Hartwell Bassmaster Classic will have more details.
“Most of my new boat wrap is the American flag,” Morris said.
Some of the lettering on Morris’ rig will read, “Leebcore LLC Fishing for Our Troops.” The USO logo will also be displayed.
The sponsorship hits close to home for Morris, as his father, Richard, is a veteran who served in Korea. As a tad, Morris remembers fishing for bass with his father and his brother Ivan, who is seven years older. Morris’ initial outings were to lakes in upstate New York where the family lived. This is where Morris learned to fish with the original Rapala and what were then called “rubber worms.”
Morris’ family moved to Virginia Beach when he was 6 years old. He and his brother often fished nearby sand pits on farmland. They would later begin fishing B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments, which Ivan still competes in today.
In 1974 Ivan founded Glass Baron Inc., a successful company that continues to make handcrafted glass art figurines and jewelry. Morris began working for his brother part-time when he was 13 and continued to work at Glass Baron until he was 30.
“I was a master glass artist, and I trained people to do glass work,” Morris said.
In 1992 Morris entered his first professional Bassmaster tournament, a Bassmaster Megabucks at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. He competed as a co-angler and finished in fifth place. The following year he signed up to fish the Bassmaster Invitationals and never looked back.
“I calculated that I’ve driven a million miles while fishing Bassmaster tournaments,” Morris said. “That works out to about 5 1/2 years of my life sitting in a truck seat driving.”
Morris’ sponsors include Leebcore Services LLC, RPM Custom Rods, Mercury Marine, NorthStar Batteries, Power-Pole, Lowrance Electronics, Gamma Line, Uptown Graphics (boat wraps), War Eagle Custom Lures, Costa, Lew’s, Get Bit Baits, HydroWave, PAVE ALL, Falcon Bass Boats, TH Marine, Rayjus and Bass Boat Technologies.