Over the course of the past 30 years, I have had a chance to compete in more than 200 Bassmaster events, including nine Bassmaster Classics and numerous Bassmaster Megabucks events.
Some were more memorable than others for various reasons, but the one that stands out so far in my career with B.A.S.S. is the 2004 Bassmaster Elite 50 event on Lake Dardanelle.
For those who do not know, the Bassmaster Elite 50 Series was basically the precursor to the current Bassmaster Elite Series.
For two seasons, B.A.S.S. held the Elite 50s which were comprised of the top 50 Bassmaster pros, based on a combination of point standings and all-time money winners.
It was not my finish in this event that made it my favorite all-time tournament, but it was the tournament itself.
Jerry McKinnis wanted to create an event/circuit that would truly elevate the sport to the same level as other mainstream sports in the United States … and he did just that.
The energy of this event was like no other where I had competed.
We had a social event at the JM Production headquarters with the Governor of Arkansas and other state dignitaries.
Jerry’s close friend coach Bobby Knight was the keynote speaker at our tournament briefing. The event took on the energy of a big-time sporting event and not a traditional bass tournament.
In the Elite 50 circuit we also had different tournament hours — 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. This was one of my favorite parts of the tournament as it allowed fans to come to the weigh-in under the lights and be part of the event. I have always thought getting up at 4 a.m. to fish tournaments was ridiculous.
This was also the first event where B.A.S.S. had a loudspeaker and sound system on the dock. It was used to play music and to recognize and give a brief bio of all the anglers as they took off in their boats each day. Since then, this routine has become a fixture on the Bassmaster tournament trail.
All of these factors combined with it being a no-entry fee event, where every angler was guaranteed $5,000 for competing, made it — in my opinion — the finest Bassmaster event I had ever fished.
It was all about the vibe and energy, and unless you were there, it is hard to convey in writing how magical this was.
If you ever run into an angler who participated in this event, ask them what I mean by this.
After the Elite 50 Series ended, I made the worst decision of my entire tournament career — to turn down my Bassmaster Elite Series invitation in 2006 and leave the Bassmaster Tour to fish the FLW Tour. I kick myself every day for doing that.
At the time, many of us were forced to choose B.A.S.S. or FLW based upon sponsor alignments/decal requirements at the time.
My intuition shouted at me to stay with B.A.S.S., but the financial reality/sponsor alignments at the time forced me to make the move.
It was a terrible decision on my part and became moreso as each year passed.
But as we all know, hindsight is 20/20.
I am grateful to be back with B.A.S.S. for good. Where I belong.
And I will be working as hard as I can to get back the opportunity I had in 2006 to compete on the Elite Series.
Thanks for reading everybody and if you get a chance, follow my quest to return to the Elite Series by subscribing to my YouTube channel. Thanks.