WADDINGTON, N.Y. — This time last year, Mark Menendez was ready to abruptly quit his lifelong career as a pro angler. After 27 years he was burned out. Ready to hang it up. He struggled just to express the following thoughts.
“I believed that I had weighed my last bass ever in B.A.S.S. competition. I was tired. I was pretty much buckled and done. I was spirit broken.”
That was at this very same St. Lawrence River, where he was interviewed for this story on Thursday at the Berkley Bassmaster Elite presented by Black Velvet. Menendez was struggling with a streak of poor performances. Then last fall he would reach the breaking point.
Menendez was torn between staying with B.A.S.S. or switching to Major League Fishing. He was not alone. Yet Menendez wears his emotions on his sleeves. His girlfriend Melissa knew he was in a downward spiral. The phone blew up with text messages and phone calls by peers attempting to coerce him away from B.A.S.S.
“Melissa asked me what were my options,” recalled the 54-year-old pro from Paducah, Ky. “At that moment a light bulb went off and I told her there was one option.”
Menendez picked up his phone and called B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin.
“I told Bruce that I was staying and that I would do anything necessary to help B.A.S.S. in retaining its stature,” he said. “Whatever credibility I had, every bit of allegiance I had, I was going to give it my all for B.A.S.S.”
He continued, “I told him that I was a Bassmaster for life.”
The conversation concluded and Menendez felt the entire weight of the world being lifted off his shoulders. And then the fun began. Menendez took a vacation for the first time in memory with Melissa. He enjoyed the fall and looked forward to the coming season. Meanwhile, he went back to work.
“I had multiple opportunities to be the keynote speaker at sport shows all over the country,” he explained. “My sponsors were happy, because I was a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, and in fact, they told me that’s why I got the bookings.”
The difference-maker for Menendez—and others who chose to stay—was the payout structure.
“It took the financial burden off us all,” he said. “It removed the mental pressure and has allowed me to fish with a more open mind.”
He continued, “Fishing is fun again. And what has been most amazing is the camaraderie between us all. What is so awesome about it is that everyone is here for the love of the game.”
Call 2019 the reboot of Mark Menendez. Menendez is experiencing a career renaissance that could be the very best of his 28 seasons on the B.A.S.S. circuits.
So far so good. Here are the top performances thus far of Menendez. A third place in February at the season opener on the St. Johns River. Sixth place in April at Lake Hartwell. A pair of finishes in the low 20s at Winyah Bay and Lake Guntersville. The sum of the whole is 11th place in the current Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
By Sunday, Menendez could be in an even better position. With only four events remaining, this week could very well be a turning point of his long career. Now in sight is a berth in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
And now in 21st position after Thursday on the same St. Lawrence River where he reached the low point of his career.
Sponsors seek out Menendez as a skilled marketer and loyal brand ambassador. Peers respect him for sportsmanship, mentorship and all-around steady demeanor. A student of the game. A master educator sought out by the media as providing how-to and know-how easily comprehended by the average angler. Menendez is the complete package and has been for decades.
And he is a darn good fisherman. After nearly 30 years everyone can have dry spells. Menendez has taken his share of lumps—personal and career—that he has weathered through the years. Menendez has five Classic appearances—the last in 2010—and three career wins with the last in 2009.
Menendez is also passionate about preserving the future of the sport. So passionate, in fact, that he has taken on a personal cause that poses a great threat to sport fishing. The well-documented spread of Asian carp is gaining more attention by fisheries managers and politicians. Menendez is doing his part to make a difference.
A congressional hearing on the growing problem in Kentucky and Tennessee drew a standing room only crowd. Menendez stirred the crowd with an emotional speech. He traveled to Washington to meet with congressional leaders and videotaped a public service announcement to call attention to the problem.
Menendez has one goal remaining for the year. He wants to complete his rebound season with what could be a career highlight.
“Fifty Bassmaster Classics. That is remarkable and I want to be there. B.A.S.S. is going to show out and I want to be there to compete, to be there for every moment of that historical event.”
Stay tuned. The reboot of Mark Menendez is fun for him, and will be more fun to watch it happen.