Ghosts of Past Potomac Rodeos – 1994

[The Bassmaster Elite Series is coming back to the Potomac River for the first time since 2008. This one has special meaning to me not only because I will be working the event for B.A.S.S., but also because it will take place on what I consider my home waters. The next few blog entries will chronicle some of my experiences at past B.A.S.S. events on the Potomac.]

If I hadn’t attended the 1994 Bassmaster Maryland Invitational on the Potomac River, this blog might not exist.

I don’t remember why I was home from law school on a mid-September weekend in 1994. Maybe I’d traveled for a job interview or simply to escape the grind of Con Law or Trusts and Estates. I must’ve seen something about the tournament in the newspaper and decided to venture about an hour away to Smallwood State Park to see the final weigh-in. Although I’d been to the festivities for the Bassmaster Classic in Richmond four years earlier, this would be my first regular season event.

I had to park in an overflow lot, which directly conflicted with my assumption that the tournament would be sparsely attended. Indeed, it was tough to find room anywhere near the stage. What surprised me more, however, was how down-to-earth the competitors were. I stayed for a while after the event concluded and watched as big name anglers like Roland Martin and Woo Daves signed one autograph after another, taking time to engage with their fan base. I’d been to countless NBA, MLB and NFL games and I’d never seen anything like it.

Afterward, I wanted to express how impressed I was by the whole experience, but I didn’t have a likely audience. I didn’t know any serious bass anglers, and I doubted that anyone in my law school circles would be anything but snarky about it. Fortunately, there was this new thing called “electronic mail.” The law school had given us each an “e-mail” account and encouraged us to check it out for important and not-so-important news. Those of you who know me today as someone who can’t live without his smartphone might be surprised to learn that I never checked it. They could’ve expelled me from school or given me a huge award, and if the notification had come electronically I never would’ve known. Between classes my classmates would bum rush the hallway computer terminals to check for messages and I would either take a power nap or grab a snack. Now, I finally had a use for this technology – I’d reach out and commend B.A.S.S. for my enjoyable time at the tournament.

I never really expected a response to my email, but I got one from B.A.S.S. media relations manager Ann Lewis, who thanked me for attending. I responded to her reply and she wrote me again. I’m sure she was busy, but her customer-friendly attitude was consistent with what I’d seen at Smallwood. She really humanized the organization and over the next 8 or 10 months went out of her way to encourage me to get more involved in fishing. Along the way, she encouraged me to contact Bill Roberts, a Washington attorney who was also a topflight bass angler. I contacted Bill, and like Ann he went out of his way to bring me into the fold. One day shortly after I moved back to the area in 1995 to study for the bar, I answered the phone and was greeted with, “I bet you’re tired of studying for the bar and you’re ready to go fishing.”

“I don’t know who this is,” I replied. “But you couldn’t be more correct.”

Bill became a fishing mentor and was a groomsman at my wedding. Twenty-plus years later we talk about the law very rarely, but we talk about fishing several times a week. We traveled together to fish B.A.S.S events at Minnetonka, Toledo Bend, Guntersville and the Cal Delta. He also introduced me to many bass pros, including David Wharton, Terry Baksay, O.T. Fears and Denny Brauer. When I started to write for various fishing publications after the turn of the century, each of them encouraged me, served as valuable resources, and in some cases sent work my way. I never could have gotten a toe inside the door that easily without those introductions.

While I might’ve ended up writing for Yamamoto and B.A.S.S. even had I not attended a weigh-in back in 1994, my path to those opportunities was clearly made much more direct as the result of that one afternoon. Oh yeah, Larry Lazoen won.