Tucker the Kingmaker

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As part of the organization’s 50th anniversary, B.A.S.S. has provided me with an opportunity to investigate and write a series of “Where are they now?” articles chronicling important players from our history. I started with “Randy Dearman and the Birth of Braid” and next I talked to Joe Thomas about his iconic collaboration with the late Tim Tucker entitled “Diary of a Bass Pro.”

I started getting paid to write around the middle of the last decade, just a few years before Tucker’s unexpected death. Even 11 years later, his death saddens me, not only for his family and his fans, but also because I never got to hash out the world’s problems with him on the phone or at a Classic. Based on what I’ve heard from friends like Alan Clemons, we would’ve had some knockdown, drag out discussions, and I would’ve loved every minute of it.

For a kid growing up without any fishing role models, no one to guide me directly, no internet and minimal fishing coverage on television, I had to get my fix from the written word. That came from people like Tucker, and Steve Price, and Louie Stout and Don Wirth. I devoured their every word, and even though I had no place to use a jigging spoon or a Magnum Hellbender or a trout-sized Sassy Shad, they painted a picture that led me to believe that one day I would. They were the lifeline to this world that I didn’t know anything about except that I wanted to be a part of it.

By the time I first remember seeing Tucker – at the 2005 and 2006 Classics, in Pittsburgh and Orlando, respectively – I sensed that I’d have some opportunities in writing, but didn’t really know how to pursue them. I didn’t have the balls to introduce myself at those venues, but I did exchange emails with him in October of 2006, just 10 months before his fatal car crash. He was generous with his time, words and energy, and also characteristically blunt with his advice.

I still have those emails, and writing this article made me look back on them. It’s over a decade and well over a thousand articles later. Those articles have paid for multiple boats and trucks, thousands of worms, and more importantly they’ve put me in the boat with anglers including Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Aaron Martens, Rick Clunn and Keith Combs. As a result of my writing career, I have had opportunities that Pete the random bass club member would never have been offered. They make every late night at the computer and every freezing cold day in a boat watching other people fish worthwhile.

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I have developed friendships, as well as just working relationships, with some of my subjects, but Tucker took it one step further – he actively mentored some of the younger anglers. He was, in short, a kingmaker. Of course Joe Thomas is one example, but there are others. When I worked with Mike Auten, he told me several Tucker stories from early in a career that had an influence on his progress. When Tim passed away, Timmy Horton wrote movingly of how Tucker had taken him under his wing when he was new to the tour, young and broke. My friend Scott Secules went to Anglers Inn El Salto with Tucker several times in the early 90s, and based on the stories I’ve been told he always brought a young pro or two like Skeet Reese with him to get them some media coverage and to impart some lessons. He wasn’t just writing about them – he was shaping them and in turn shaping the sport. Not coincidentally, all four of those anglers I mentioned have had lengthy and profitable careers in this industry. Skeet won a Classic and Horton was the AOY, but the other two, with no formal media training, have gone on to long careers as outdoors television gurus.

Never having gone to journalism school or taken a single journalism class, I don’t know if that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe writers are just supposed to be potted plants, observing and listening to what goes on around us. After all, reporters report – they shouldn’t become the story – but Tucker was a larger-than-life character who wanted to leave his imprint on the sport that he clearly loved. Did he overstep his bounds at times? I don’t know. I do know, however, that while writing a well-constructed and well-received article gives me great satisfaction, the greatest thrills I’ve gotten as a fishing writer have come in other forms. When an endemic company comes to me and asks whether they should sponsor a particular angler, that makes me happy. When a pro who I’ve respected for decades asks me for advice on how to deal with a particular situation, I’m amazed. When I get an email, text or phone call from a young pro or a fledgling company thanking me for the media coverage, and telling me that it benefited their career, I feel like I’ve done something meaningful.

It’s not necessarily about being part of the story, but what I took away from the tales the anglers told me about Tim Tucker is that everyone in this industry – whether you’re a monster personality or a meek one – can leave an imprint, and mold the next generation in a way that makes the game better for everybody.