In March of 2016, Kevin Hawk wrote a column for the Inside Line titled, “A Difficult Decision.” Less than six years earlier he’d stood atop the fishing world, hoisting a Happy Gilmore check at Lake Lanier to celebrate his victory in the Forrest Wood Cup. He went on to have a solid-but-not-exceptional career on the FLW Tour, and then in the Bassmaster Opens before qualifying to fish the Elites starting with the 2013 season.
In the article, he made clear that he’d reached a breaking point with professional fishing. He’d been beaten down by the tour lifestyle, the financial grind, and the failure to live up to his own expectations. “Despite my work ethic, focus, and drive to be competitive I have not finished higher than 71st in AOY points, I have not qualified for the Classic, or come close to winning an event spanning three seasons,” he wrote. “I realized I needed to take a practical look at my Elite Series career. I could easily continue forcing my way down that path I’m on but I know I may jeopardize losing the remaining winnings I have left from the Cup—winnings giving me the freedom to pursue bass fishing full-time.”
The realization that he wasn’t able to compete at that level couldn’t have been easy, and it had to be even harder to write about it, but he did just that. It was one of the bravest – and in my opinion, unlikeliest – things I’ve read in the bass press. I probably read more of it than just about any of you, and it’s rare that I see any of the pros just stepping back and assessing their faults and failures. Most of them have experienced incredible success at most or all of the levels they’ve fished, so when things don’t go their way, it’s easily explained as a “slump” or an “aberration” or a “temporary deviation.” They’re always just one four-day event from a win, which would mean being right-side-up financially and psychologically, even if the rest of the year has been a bust.
That’s why I was thrilled to see Chris Groh’s column on Bassmaster.com last week titled “Disgusted with my results,” in which he lamented the shortcomings of his 2019 Elite Series season. Let me clarify – I wasn’t thrilled that Chris had a poor season, but I was thrilled to see another angler taking ownership of those failure and addressing them forthrightly.
We hear all of the time that it’s “all about the attitude,” but as a fan – and I may be an outlier on this one – I don’t want all peaches and cream, unicorns and rainbows. The success stories are great, but as anglers — who fail much more often than we win — the struggles are more relatable. Even KVD, the GOAT, won less than 8% of the BASS tournaments that he entered, and finished in the top 10 about a third of the time. Someday we’ll have our Jim Bouton, and a “Ball Four” to tell the whole story, but until then we have to savor the little bits of honesty that show up now and again.
I’ve never been in the boat with Chris, so I can’t say for sure whether he’s the next KVD or the next also-ran, but he has my respect.