MUSKOGEE, Okla. — The Day Two weigh-in of the AutoZone Sooner Run came to a pause Friday as the entire crowd gave Guy Eaker a standing ovation on what proved to be his final day of fishing with BASS after a 35-year career as a professional angler.
"That man is the epitome of what a professional bass angler should be both on and off the water," said friend and traveling companion Paul Elias.
Indeed, you would be hard pressed to happen upon 70-year-old Eaker in anything but black slacks and black dress shoes, even on the hottest days.
The high temperatures may get to him more than it used to, but the reason he is walking away has nothing to do with his age. Instead, Eaker is heading back to his Cherryville, N.C., home to spend more time taking care of his wife, Pat.
The thought of this being his final trip across a BASS stage finally began to hit Eaker shortly after he took the short walk from the scales to where fans and media waited.
"I feel pretty down knowing this is my last tournament," Eaker said. "That has nothing to do with my performance. I went out and did what I thought I needed to do to make the cut and just didn't get any bigger bites."
Eaker was more down knowing how much fun he will be missing out on. The one principle he has adhered to his entire career has been to enjoy every day and every tournament. That is what he is able to look back on and smile — not tournament victories (1) or career earnings (nearly $700,000).
"I bet a lot of these guys haven't had as much fun out here as I have," Eaker said. "I've met a lot of nice people and enjoyed it."
Though Eaker improved on his first day's weight, his 22-pound, 8-ounce total left him in 68th place, well short of the top-47 cut that would have extended his career an extra day.
While he has said all season long that this would be his final year on tour, Eaker didn't actually make the absolute decision until the meeting on Wednesday night. Trip Weldon, BASS Tournament Director, came up to ask him if he was going to leave after this year.
"I've thought about it a lot lately," Eaker said. "I hadn't really made a decision until the night of the meeting when I finally told Trip I had made up my mind."
Eaker was unable to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic in his final season, but he still gave fans plenty to cheer about over the past few months. The biggest highlight for him was the monster bass he caught in practice at the season opener on the California Delta.
"That's a funny thing — my last year, I caught the biggest fish of my life," Eaker said. "When I hooked it Paul had just come around the corner and he said, 'What do you have?' and I replied, 'I don't know but whatever it is, it's big.'"
"Big" turned out to be 14 pounds, 1 ounce, easily the biggest bass of his life. Eaker had previously caught a 13-pounder, also at the Delta the last time the Elite Series visited, but this was a different beast.
Then, just upstate from the Delta, Eaker went out and turned in one of his best performances in almost 10 years by fishing a lipless crankbait in a small backwater area he shared with Bill Lowen.
With a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face, he swung large bass after large bass into the boat from the waters of Clear Lake, eventually finishing in third place, his best finish ever on the Elite Series.
"That was exciting," Eaker remembered with a smile.
As the weigh-in continued behind him, Eaker took a moment to sign what likely were his final autographs as a member of the Elite Series. Head held high, smile still crinkling the corners of his mouth, Eaker made his way back down the dock to trailer his boat, signaling the end for the man affectionately referred to as "The Senator."
"We get along so well, he's just a good man," Elias said. "I'm going to miss him."
We all will.