When Gerald Swindle speaks of the upcoming GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro Feb. 20-22 on Lake Hartwell, his tone is surprisingly one of anger.
He doesn’t talk much about catching fish.
He doesn’t talk about winning.
He talks about getting even.
“For me, this tournament is about revenge, plain and simple,” said Swindle, who’ll be making his 15th Classic appearance. “When we were on Hartwell for the Classic in 2008, I’m sure I wasn’t in the right state of mind. But I’m just as sure that I will be this time.”
No one could blame Swindle if his heart and mind were somewhere else during the 2008 Classic – and it certainly makes sense for him to feel like the tournament got the best of him.
As he made his first cast that year, his best friend, fishing buddy and brother, Tony, lay dying of pancreatic cancer back in Alabama. Concentration wasn't an option for an angler who's usually one of the most focused in the game.
“It was a low point for me personally,” Swindle said. “It was the most miserable tournament of my career – something I’ll never be able to forget.”
Swindle hit rock-bottom during that event when a 7-pound largemouth that could have put him in contention for fishing’s biggest prize slipped from his grasp.
“I was in tears when it happened,” said Swindle, who ultimately finished 21st in the 2008 Hartwell event. “My brother was on his death bed, and I knew right then and there that he was never going to see me win a Classic.”
Tony died just three weeks later, leaving a deep void in Swindle’s life and career.
After qualifying for the Classic from 2002-08, Swindle missed the championship in 2009 and struggled on the circuit just five seasons after winning Angler of the Year. But he’s qualified for six Classics in a row since then, including this year’s event which will bring him eye-to-eye with a venue he’s come to view as a nemesis.
“We’re all motivated by different things in different situations,” Swindle said. “When I get to Hartwell this time, I know what I’m fishing for.”
On his website, www.geraldswindle.com, Swindle says if he could take one person fishing – anyone in history – it would be Tony.
“We lost Tony way too young to pancreatic cancer,” he says on the site. “We fished a lot together, especially in those evening jackpot derbies. I’d give anything to fish another evening with Tony.”
Come Feb. 20, he’ll give Lake Hartwell all he’s got with Tony squarely on his mind.