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.
With a few hours between our arrival at the King Salmon, Alaska airport, and dinner at the Bear Trail Lodge, our hosts took me and Keith Combs on a tour of that portion of the Bristol Bay Borough. In other words, we headed 13 miles to the end of the area’s longest road, down to the borough seat of Naknek, which as of the 2010 census had a year-round population of 544, down from 678 in 2000.
We’ve reached peak velocity in the professional fishing world, with all three major tours holding events this week on three distinctly different venues – a TVA grass lake full of monsters, a southern smallmouth impoundment, and a massive river system that demands game day strategy as much as fishing skill.
In 2001, just after OMC (then-manufacturer of Johnson and Evinrude outboards) went belly-up, I was scheduled to spend a tournament practice day with Missouri pro Chad Brauer. As we trolling-motored away from the Jolly Roger Marina on the upper end of stumpy Toledo Bend, his father Denny yelled out, “Try not to break anything.”
Hope you’re not tired of my questions about the state of professional tournament fishing, because they continue to pop into my brain one after another after another. That may be because I spend a lot of time on social media, where the topic has been twisted, turned upside down and given an enema by hundreds or even thousands of fans.
The beauty of the internet is that it has democratized information, and of course this applies to the fishing industry. Whether you caught your first bluegill last week or you just cashed a second consecutive Bassmaster Classic check, you can learn in short order from a chair what took prior generations hundreds of hours on the water to figure out.
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.”
As year 13 of the Elite Series experiment commences, BASS has once again offered up one of my favorite photo galleries of the year, full side shots of all of the competitors’ boat wraps. Not many surprises – mostly endemics, related non-endemics, and related fields like oilfield supply companies – not a Tinder-themed boat in the mix, nor is there one touting the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
When I was 9 years old and my parents bought me my first subscription to Field & Stream, I was wowed by the idea that someone could get paid to write about fishing. At that time, unlike some of you, I had no clue that there was such a thing as a pro bass angler, so writers filled that aspirational target. I mean, come on, with a name like “Ted Trueblood,” more Hemingwayesque than that bestowed on old Ernest himself, how could the F&S scribes not inspire me to chase a life chronicling the outdoors?
If I’d had to guess which of the non-current Elite Series pros would have accepted the “Legend” invitation to rejoin the top tour at B.A.S.S., I wouldn’t have hesitated to answer “Roland Martin.” For reasons of his own, though, Roland turned down the spot and David Fritts accepted it. That surprised the hell out of me, because while there can be no doubt that Fritts was once a tremendous tournament angler and innovator, he’s been an afterthought for many fishing fans in recent years
I’m certainly not going to take away any credit from Justin Lucas. He found the best spot on the river last week and figured out the best way to catch the fish. But for a late game Herculean charge by Jason Christie to pull within four and a half pounds, he would’ve won by double digits. It was the second of what many informed observers expect to be many Elite Series titles in his career.
It sort of seems like ancient history, but it wasn’t all that long ago that the bass world was frantic about Powroznikgate.
For those of you who’ve forgotten, the Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament on the Niagara River was held in a bracket style format, with the winner getting an automatic berth in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic. Seven of the eight competitors had already more or less clinched spots in big rodeo, with Koby Kreiger being the sole outlier. Jacob Powroznik, Kreiger’s friend and roommate on the road, not only took a dive when he and his buddy were matched up, but he actually coached Kreiger through the process of catching a bass to beat him.