An open letter, a la Barone

Well, East Coast girls are hip,

I really dig those styles they wear ...

Dateline — Alabama, westbound.

I started and stopped this story a million times. All my intros were too ... something. Too sappy. Too obscure. Too inside joke-y. Too me, me, me.

So, instead, I’m taking Don Barone’s style and adjusting it to my own.

Barone takes the dramatic stories and makes them more dramatic with song lyrics.

Mine, though, is a goodbye letter with the only song going through my head as I embark out West, where everyone can make fun of my accent.

And the Southern girls with the way they talk,

they knock me out when I’m down there ...

When I first started at B.A.S.S. in the late 1900s (true, but still funny to say), Davy Hite was winning the Bassmaster Classic, Tim Horton was a rookie, and Kevin VanDam only had five wins.

My soon-to-be-former co-workers are taking my departure as an opportunity to make fun of my many embarrassments, like when I pronounced Ouachita O-wa-CHEET-ah or called Kevin VanDam Keith by accident.

I, however, am above talking about myself and would rather talk about the things that have inspired me over the last 17 years.

So — sappy alert — I do have to mention some of the hundreds of moments that have really meant something to me during my time here.

One was two years ago at the B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Divisional when Jon Stewart made a speech about Bryan Kerchal, the only B.A.S.S. Nation angler ever to win the Classic (back in 1994). What surprised me was the number of people who cried like it was yesterday — 20 years after his death. He meant so much to those people that it was like no time had passed since that plane crash. And that prompted me to spend the next 2 months interviewing people about what made him so special. And they all had plenty to say. I hope Kerchal’s memory continues to be honored for decades to come.

Another was when Polly Grigsby, Shaw’s wife, opened her home to all the B.A.S.S. staff after the sudden death of longtime Bassmaster writer Tim Tucker. All the pros were in the middle of a tournament and couldn’t be there for the funeral, but Polly was there for all of us — because no matter what your job is in the bass fishing world, we all consider ourselves part of one big family.

The West Coast has the sunshine ...

There have been so many things that have meant the world to me to witness.

A copy of Junior Bassmaster Magazine with a 13-year-old Bradley Roy on the cover still sits on my desk — and the poignant part of that is getting to watch him on the Elite Series, in a career launched by my comrades here at B.A.S.S. when he was just a child.

Similarly, Brandon Palaniuk’s sudden rise to fame on the Elite Series — only a year or two after qualifying for it through the B.A.S.S. Nation — makes me beam with pride that he came through our amateur program.

And when Paul Mueller got so freakin’ close to winning the Bassmaster Classic a couple of years ago, threatening a repeat of Bryan Kerchal’s win? Chills just thinking about it.

I been all around this great big world …

I’ve lived through three owners, five CEOs, two moves and six bosses.

I will remain forever thankful to Ken Duke, who taught me way more than I ever wanted to know about bass fishing stats; Dave Precht, who taught me in 2003 how to write a Bassmaster-worthy intro to a story; Noreen Clough, who taught me to never give up on anything; Angie Thompson, who was the first person at B.A.S.S. to agree with me that social media was not a fad and that we needed to dedicate time to it; and James Hall, who taught me to laugh at myself by constantly laughing at me. And of course, to my boss, Jim Sexton. (I have many more, but this is starting to sound like an Oscar speech and I hear the music starting to play me off stage ...)

I will always remember the contributions of the people who make B.A.S.S. what it is — and I don’t just mean employees. I’m including here the B.A.S.S. Nation presidents, youth directors and conservation directors who volunteer countless hours to teach people to fish, organize local tournaments, keep the waters clean and accessible, and be the voice of B.A.S.S. in the world.

I will never forget the friends I’ve made at B.A.S.S., those long gone and those who are still carrying the torch.

I also want to acknowledge the many pros who remember where they came from and won’t quit giving back, like Gary Klein, who waited around at the Bassmaster High School All-American tournament last year to be sure he got to be one of the pros who took a top high school angler out for a day on the water, or Chris Lane, who organizes his annual kids’ camp, or Mike Iaconelli, who collects tackle to redistribute to young anglers who can’t afford it.

We’re all fortunate to be part of a sport that brings families together, encourages adults to get kids involved, works to keep the resource healthy, and rewards camaraderie even during tough competition.

I wish they all could be

California …

I hate to leave. I really do. I will miss all the laughter (there’s so much, really), getting to know all the B.A.S.S. Nation anglers, seeing what Gerald Swindle is going to say on stage, doing Twitter chats with the pros — even answering all the mean comments on social media. (Yes, I will actually miss that — because even when you’re insulting us, sometimes you’re pretty funny doing it!)

But the U.S. Navy is calling my husband to serve on a base in California. (Go Navy!) So California will be my new physical home, but the bass fishing world will still be the home in my heart.

I give you all my best.