SCHULTZ: Ken, how long have you been fishing the BASS tour?
COOK: Although I fished a couple of years before ’81 on a part-time basis, I qualified for the (BASS) Classic in ’81 and ’82, and I quit my real job in March of ’83, right after winning the Super B.A.S.S. tournament.
SCHULTZ: Super B.A.S.S. was the predecessor to the MegaBucks tournament, which in turn preceded the B.A.S.S. Majors.
COOK: Basically, it was the first time Ray Scott decided to give somebody $100,000 for (winning) a fishing tournament. I think there were 250 entries at $1,250 each, which was a lot of money in those days. I won it, and most of the purse was cash. That win made it possible for us to start fishing full time. We’ve been touring around the country for 24 years now. Feels like a long time! (chuckles)
SCHULTZ: It’s been a productive 24 years. You’ve won a (B.A.S.S.) Classic, a Super B.A.S.S. and you’ve qualified for a bunch of Classics and your name is a household word among bass fishermen.
COOK: I’ve been going at it a long time. You have to have some success to survive otherwise you won’t be around for long. It’s been good. I’ll never complain about it. It’s what I wanted to do and if you’re making a living doing what you want to do, it’s a good thing. (smiles)
SCHULTZ: You mentioned (Super B.A.S.S.) was $100,000, primarily cash. Up to that point, most of the tournaments were paying the winners with merchandise along with a little bit of a cash supplement.
COOK: Right. There was a boat and trailer valued at $18,000, plus $82,000 in cash. That’s what it amounted to, which was about four times my salary at the time, so it was a pretty easy decision. I’d wanted to quit my fisheries biology job for years. It was a great career, and I liked my job, but I’d fished my whole life, and competitive fishing wasn’t an option when I got out of college and went to work. It sort of developed while I was working for a living, and I became aware of it. I realized that would be an even better way to make a living; catching fish instead of counting them.
SCHULTZ: And by counting them, you’re referring to creel studies and that type of research?
COOK: I was a fisheries management biologist. We surveyed public waters with a number of techniques to gather information on the populations of fish and then tried to make the fishing better. That was our (goal), to find out if there was anything wrong with a fishery and improve it. That’s basically what a management biologist does. We sampled all of the other parts of the fisheries in Oklahoma, and not just bass.
SCHULTZ: Would you say your background in fishery biology has helped you competitively?
COOK: I’ve probably been asked that question more than any other since I started fishing for a living, and the answer is always yes! Anytime you can learn something about your opponent, in this case fish, it’s helpful. Information is always good, but it’s how you use it that matters. I think it has helped me understand the role of bass as top predators in their environment, and how they relate to the other species in that environment.
It’s helped me make biologically-sound decisions on how to catch bass. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you try to put too much logic into fishing, and it just doesn’t fit. Bass aren’t human, but we sometimes try to make them think like we do, and that just isn’t the case. Biology gives me a good sound basis from which to work.