North Carolinian Rob Digh will be fishing the Bassmaster Opens Championship at Table Rock Lake, but it wasn’t an easy decision for him to do so. Digh is far enough down in the AOY point standings that he must win the Championship to qualify for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic and Elite Series.
Digh had also qualified for another championship scheduled for the same week as the Opens Championship. That event has the potential for a huge payday. The deciding factor was the lure of the Classic.
“One of my goals is to go to the Classic,” Digh said.
Digh’s road to this long-shot opportunity began at a young age when his father, Marshall, often took him fishing for crappie and catfish. His baseball and football coach, Don Cagle, introduced him to bass fishing in junior high school.
“Coach Cagle was a really big fisherman,” Digh said. “Sometimes he would bring his boat to school, and we would go fishing at Lake Norman after school let out.”
Norman was a 15-minute drive from school, and they would soon be afloat in Cagle’s 16-foot aluminum johnboat.
“Coach was a multispecies guy,” Digh said. “We might catch a few bass on topwater, then we’d go catch crappie with mini jigs and slip bobbers. After that we might throw Striper Swiper poppers in the evening for stripers.”
When Digh graduated from East Lincoln High School in 1989 Cagle had enough years in as a teacher to go for an early retirement.
“We both loved the outdoors and wanted to open up a hunting and fishing store,” Digh said. “I didn’t want to go to college and talked to my father about it. He said he would give me the same amount of money to go to college or to invest in a business.”
Cagle matched Digh’s funds and they opened Rob and Don’s outdoor sports store in Denver, N.C., the same year. Because one of them always had to be on hand to run the enterprise, it cut down on how much time they could dedicate to fishing.
Despite this Digh managed to compete in a few local bass tournament team trails, some regional FLW events and several Bassmaster Invitationals during the 1990s. His best Invitational finish was seventh place at Santee Cooper.
Four years after the store had opened, it wasn’t generating enough income to support both owners. Digh bought out Cagle, who went back to teaching for several years to increase his retirement benefits. They remain good friends to this day.
In 2000 Digh invested in another business, Proud Foot Outfitters, which provided deer and bear hunts in Saskatchewan.
“I ran both businesses for awhile,” Digh said. “I loved the outfitting business but the hunting was in October and November, and it hurt my fishing at that time of year.”
Digh sold his store in 2004 and invested the money into rental properties. This allowed more time for fishing. He qualified to fish the FLW Tour in 2008 and was leading the Rookie of the Year standings going into the final qualifying tournament, which was at Lake St. Clair.
He entered the tournament 23rd in the AOY standings, but was in 50th place when the event was over. He fell one place short of qualifying for the Forest Wood Cup.
“It took awhile for me to get over that,” Digh said. “I felt like I’d lost my opportunity. I fished some tournaments after that, but nothing serious.”
In 2010 Digh got his tournament mojo going again. He has since fished BFL, Costa and Bassmaster Open tournaments, plus B.A.S.S. Nation events.
“I’ve been to three B.A.S.S. Nation National Championships where I had a shot at the Classic,” Digh said. “I figure my odds get better every time I go.”
The 2018 Bassmaster Eastern Opens mark the first time Digh has competed in an entire Open series of tournaments. Should he win the Opens Championship, qualifying for the Classic will be the stuff of dreams. Joining the Elite Series would not be such a clear-cut decision.
“I don’t want to make a job out of tournament fishing,” Digh said. “I just want to do it for the enjoyment and for the competition that drives me. It’s almost like a stress reliever for me. And, I’ve met a lot of nice people over the years.”
Digh’s sponsors include Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Cashion Rods, Shooter Lures, Barry Sullivan’s Custom Lures, Denver Construction, Linerger’s Steakhouse, Brookwood Restaurant and anglerschannel.com.