South Carolinian Michael Murphy took a significant step toward his goal of becoming a Bassmaster Elite Series pro when he claimed 10th place at Florida’s Kissimmee Chain during the first Bassmaster Eastern Open of 2018. He believes that his ancestors are responsible, in part, for his bass mania.
“In Ireland the name Murphy literally means ‘Seas Warrior’,” Murphy said.
While growing up in Plainfield, Ind., Murphy’s primary recreation was fishing and camping with his parents and grandparents on both sides of his family. Murphy’s mother, Nancy, grew up in Alaska where she fished for salmon. Her father, Gerald Penzenstadler, was stationed there while in the military.
The event that got Murphy into bass fishing happened when he was around 8 years old. He hooked a bluegill while fishing from a dock. Before he could swing the fish out of the water a bigger fish pounced on the bluegill and swam off with it.
“That made me mad,” Murphy said. “I wanted to catch that fish.”
Murphy learned from his grandfather, Herald, that the dastardly fish was a bass. Murphy’s quest to catch the bass was fueled by his father, Rick, who introduced him to the intriguing world of bass lures.
“What I really liked was that you didn’t sit and wait for a bass to bite,” Murphy said. “You had go after them. I never liked sitting as a kid. I was always running through briar patches.”
Much of Murphy’s early bass fishing knowledge came from reading Bassmaster Magazine and watching Hank Parker, Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston on television. Murphy’s bass knowledge expanded exponentially at age 10 when he became a member of the Indiana Non-Profit Bass Association, the club his father belonged to.
“A lot of those guys were seasoned veterans,” Murphy said. “I would listen to their stories and soak it all in like a sponge.”
During this time Murphy began taking notes of what he learned from other anglers and from his own fishing outings. He continues to do so to this day and has transferred all his notes to a computer. He can quickly reference whatever information he needs, including notes he took while fishing with the club.“A lot of the guys in the club were specialists,” Murphy said. “One might be really good with a jig or some other type of bait. After awhile I knew who was going to do well because of the conditions.”
That knowledge continues to help Murphy with his lure selection. Whatever bass fishing scenario Murphy must contend with, he recalls who in the club would do well under similar circumstances, such as, “Joe would catch them on a crankbait on a day like this.”
By his teens Murphy had developed into a capable bass angler. At age 17 he met Touchdown Lures owner Tom Moore at an Indiana sport show. The company molded soft plastic baits and sold them by the pound. Murphy began fishing with Touchdown baits and doing well with them.
“After awhile of me telling people about Touchdown Lures, Tom told me I could have whatever lures I wanted,” Murphy said. “He was my first sponsor.”
Soon Murphy was helping Moore sell his baits at sport shows. By working at sport shows and representing Touchdown Lures at tournaments, Murphy learned how work with the public and ethically promote fishing products.
After graduating from Plainfield High School, Murphy attended Purdue University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Purdue’s bass fishing team played a major part in Murphy’s decision to go there. He was president of the fishing team for three years, which allowed him to build relationships with people in the tackle industry.
After graduating from Purdue, Murphy became the national sales manager for SPRO. He would later become the public relations coordinator for Shakespeare.
Throughout this time Murphy also embarked on a professional bass tournament career. He has pocketed $200,000 fishing FLW events and more than $56,000 competing in Bassmaster tournaments, mainly the Southern and Northern Opens. He qualified for the 2007 Forest Wood Cup the first year he competed on the FLW Tour.
“I thought I was better than I was,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t ready for success. It kind of came too soon.”
Although Murphy makes no excuses, his roller coaster tournament career has been plagued by injuries. He has had to overcome surgery on a knee, a shoulder and a hip.
Today Murphy lives in Lexington, S.C., with his wife, Kristi, daughter Karina, 7, and son Lucas, 5. Both children are on a path to be sea warriors like their father.
Besides tournament fishing, Murphy guides for bass on Lake Murray, is a real estate agent for Lake Homes Realty and does marketing and lure designing for Reins and Ima. His long-term goal is to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“I love the people at FLW, but I think the schedule and the format of the Elites is more suitable for me and for who my sponsors are now,” Murphy said. "I am healthy, have matured in my fishing and feel much better prepared than I was 10 years ago."
Murphy’s sponsors include Falcon Boats, Reins Fishing, Ima Lures, Optimum Baits, Lew’s, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Talon, Mercury Motors, Sea Star, Costa Del Mar, Greenfish Tackle, Bass Boat Technologies and G2 Gemini Jerseys.