During the 2013 Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake, Okla., Georgian Kendall Newson was called to the Bass Pro Shops/Nitro exhibit at the Tulsa Convention Center.
He wasn’t sure what to expect.
In front a crowd of cheering fans, he was introduced as the newest member of the Bass Pro Shops pro staff.
It was a heady experience for Newson.
“I felt like I was a rookie again being drafted by the NFL.”
Newson, a former professional football player, is striving to qualify for the Elite Series through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open tournaments.
His dream stems from a lifelong love of fishing.
Newson's earliest memories are of family fishing outings with his father, Lewis; mother, Lunell; and six brothers and sisters. His three sisters arrived first, followed by an older brother. Two younger brothers completed the Newson bunch.
The Newsons fished from the bank at Georgia ponds and lakes. West Point Lake was one of their favorite destinations. Crappies were high on the agenda, but they also fished for catfish and bass.
Newson's father taught him how to catch bass by casting a Texas-rigged worm parallel to the bank and crawling it through cover along the shoreline.
“I'll never forget the first time a bass hit that worm,” Newson says. “I was doing just what my dad was telling me.”
Close family ties and a passion for fishing are as essential to Newson's existence as the air he breathes. He has fished as often as possible throughout his life.
That has been challenging at times, due to his athletic career.
While attending Columbia High School in Decatur, Ga., Newson was an all-star on the football, basketball and track teams. When he matriculated to Middle Tennessee State University, Newson set receiving records for the Blue Raiders football team.
Even then, Newson's fishing addiction was common knowledge among his friends and fans. A school newspaper published a photo of him wearing a Blue Raiders jersey and battling a jumping football with a rod and reel as though the ball were a bass.
After graduating from Middle Tennessee in 2001, Newson embarked on a roller-coaster professional football career. It took him from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Tennessee Titans, European Football League, Miami Dolphins and through two stints with arena football teams.
While he was with the Dolphins, Newson met the late Billy Bob Crosno at the Bass Pro Shops store in Dania Beach, Fla. Crosno, a legendary south Florida bass guide and Bass Pro Shops staff member, competed in local bass tournaments.
Crosno introduced Newson to tournament bass fishing. They often teamed up and participated in nearby tournaments. Given Newson's competitive nature and his love of fishing, he was, and continues to be, hopelessly hooked on the sport.
In 2005 a right knee injury sidelined Newson. His football career wasn't going where he had hoped.
It was during this time that Newson made a life-changing decision. This happened while he was fishing from the bank with his brother Ron at an Everglades Wildlife Management Area called Holy Lands.
Although he had to lean on crutches, Newson and his brother caught more than 100 bass. The joy of that experience hatched a revelation.
“I remember that day clearly,” Newson says. “I made up my mind right then that this was what I was going to do with the rest of my life.”
A big part of that revelation was the need to give back. Newson knows many retired pros that give back by working with youth athletics. His goal was to give to children the things that he loves most in life -- family and fishing.
“It had been on my mind for a long time,” Newson says.
Four years later, Newson founded Teach A Child To Fish (TACTF). With the help of his parents, wife Tiffany, brothers, sisters and volunteers, TACTF has grown and introduces more children to fishing every year.
In 2012 TACTF hosted seven Youth Fishing Clinics. Each one attracted 20 to 70 children. At these events, the children are taught fishing fundamentals, such as casting and tying knots. They also fish, play games and picnic.
Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Police Athletic League (PAL) and other organizations often help at TACTF events. Newson ends each outing with a motivational speech. The children take home fishing tackle donated by Bass Pro Shops.
In 2012 Newson also made time to compete in the Toyota Bassmaster Weekend Series, qualifying for the championship and making “great friends.”
While attending a boat show in Atlanta, Newson met Arthur Bronson, founder of the International Federation of Black Bass Anglers (IFBBA) and told him about TACTF and his tournament fishing.
“One day I got a call from Art asking me if I'd like to come with him to a meeting at the Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield,” Newson says.
Bronson didn't have to ask twice. Newson brought his mother, father, wife and brother Keon with him. There, they met Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and several members of the Bass Pro Shops staff.
The folks at Bass Pro Shops were so impressed with Newson's commitment to children and his love and knowledge of bass fishing that they offered to sponsor him for the Bassmaster Opens.
Newson now fishes from a wrapped Z-9 Nitro that displays the TACTF and Bass Pro Shops logos. His first taste of big time bass fishing came at the Bassmaster Southern Open on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga in January 2013.
On the first day of that event, Newson retrieved Rat-L-Traps over submerged grass, a pattern that had produced well for him in practice. He stuck with it all day, but managed only two bass.
He switched gears the second day and fished a wacky-rigged Senko. Newson calls this fishing “funky style” because that's the name his 10-year-old nephew Jeron gave to the wacky rig after seeing it.
Newson twitched the "funky" rig over grass that topped out 2 feet under the surface and boated a limit that pulled him up to 75th place in a field of 193 boats.
“I probably caught 30 bass that day,” Newson says. “I had to weed through a bunch of small ones.”
He is fishing the Bass Pro Shops Southern Opens this season, plus a few Toyota Bassmaster Weekend Series events.
“Football is harder physically, but tournament fishing is harder mentally,” Newson says.
With football, you practice a game plan all week and usually stick with it throughout the game, he points out.
“You can work all week on a game plan for a bass tournament, but you have to be prepared to change at any moment,” Newson says.