In most sports, you are either done in by a gruesomely Theismann-esque injury or by a coach who cuts your underperforming butt and sends you back to bagging groceries or (if you’ve had a little more success) to a life of leisure and autograph signings. [The one exception to this seems to be heavyweight boxing, where fighters are never really retired, they’re just waiting between fat-free infomercial grill inventions for another payday].
Fishing doesn’t have that clear cut endgame. While some anglers disappear suddenly and others fade away gradually, many more hang on long past what might reasonably seem to be their expiration dates. It’s hard to leave if it’s the only thing you’ve ever done, and even harder if you think that you still have more in the tank. Unlike other sports where your speed or jumping ability might go and doom you to the sidelines, physical abilities have comparatively less to do with fishing success.
That’s why it was cool to see Tim Horton win at Okeechobee. At one time, Horton was the brightest light in fishing, winning AOY his rookie year and then qualifying for 10 Classics in a row (plus an 11th in 2012),
And then it stopped.
Not only had he not made a Classic since 2012, but he hadn’t really threatened to win an Elite event in a number of years. Prior to Okeechobee, his last victory came 10 years ago. He remained in the game with TV and the occasional decent finish, but he was no longer a consistent headliner.
He’s not alone. Brent Chapman, the 2012 Angler of the Year, made seven consecutive Classics from 2008 through 2014, and hasn’t been back since. Kelly Jordon made four in a row from 2001 through 2004 and five more from 2007 through 2011, and hasn’t been back since. Rick Clunn, one of the greatest of all time, hasn’t fished the big dance since 2009, and until he won last year at the St. Johns looked like he was on the slow McFly’s-kids-in-the-Polaroid fade to retirement.
My point here is not to pick on those guys, but to celebrate their achievements and to question why the sport can be so streaky. Sure, they might have physical ailments or family issues or business concerns that affect their performance, but it’s not like they’ve forgotten the knowledge and skills that got them to that point. Nor does technology pass them by – the likes of Horton, Chapman, Jordon and Clunn are no doubt using the best gear that money can buy. So why do star anglers get on a long term bad beat and what does it take to get off that track? I suppose if I could isolate that and bottle it, I’d run the most popular concession on tour.