“I'd rather be dead than singing 'Satisfaction' when I'm 45.”
For a period of time, multiple bass pros from both tours in their early- to mid-40s consistently told me that they wanted to be done casting for cash full-time by the time they reached the half-century mark. “If I’m still out here on the road when I’m 50, chasing this dream, please shoot me,” one said.
That was a few years ago. As that crew has approached or passed 50, though, few have left the game. Mostly they’ve stopped talking about it. One told me that he now intends to be out by the time he’s 57, but I don’t think he even believed himself. No member of the new class of fortysomethings has told me of any plans to leave the game at a certain age.
That could all be because they no longer trust me to keep their secrets, but I think it’s probably because today’s 50 year old is for the most part not the 50 year old of yesteryear. Guys like KVD and David Walker and Skeet Reese and in better shape than the vast majority of 30 year olds from the early years of pro bass fishing. Historically, that’s why most bass anglers seemed to peak between 35 and 45 – it’s when the axis of maximum experience crossed the axis of physical abilities. Today, the decline of the physical ability axis doesn’t occur so rapidly, if at all.
I think there’s also a financial element to it. If you’ve survived this long and you’re still competitive with six figure checks on the line, there’s no real reason to exit stage left. What are you going to do, sell insurance or become a toll taker on the New Jersey Turnpike? The financial stakes are high, but so are the potential rewards.
The great news in all of this is that we’re closer than ever to being a meritocracy at the top level of pro fishing. We’re not quite there yet, and we may never be, but fewer and fewer tour-level anglers are there just because they have heavy financial backing, and fewer are leaving because it’s time to get on with their life’s work. If you’re still in the game, it’s probably because you can catch them, whether you just started shaving or you’re ready to collect Social Security.