I’ll never forget the first bass I ever caught. I was 10 years old, standing on my grandparents dock at Sandy Pond, New York when a 12 inch lunker hit my black jitterbug. What a thrill! It was 6 years later, when I was a junior in high school, that I caught my second bass. It was on a crawdad Hellbender crankbait at Lake Cachuma, California. It was at this time, at 16 years of age, that I really got into bass fishing. A late start compared to all the youngsters I meet these days.
My dad was a trout fisherman, so that was all I knew growing up. I can still recall the Saturday afternoon in February 1982 on Lake Cachuma when my best friend and I were anchored in the back of Cachuma Bay soaking cheese balls in hopes of catching a 12″ trout. We were about to nod off when a bass boat came roaring up to the shoreline next to us, threw their trolling motor in the water, and started down the bank throwing crankbaits. They caught two bass in no time. My buddy and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “that looks like a heck of a lot more fun than this.” We purposed at that moment to go bass fishing the following Saturday.
The next Saturday launched my bass fishing career. We showed up at the lake with our 13′ jonboat, powered by a 4 horsepower outboard. We had no trolling motor, so that day we took turns rowing while the other guy casted. I threw a crawdad Hellbender, and my best friend, Brad Sharpton, threw a frog colored Hellbender. We each took one bass that day, with Brad’s being the biggest. I didn’t care for that too much! I knew right then that I was going to be a competitive fisherman.
After about 5 trips to the lake with only oars for propulsion, we decided to buy a trolling motor. What a luxury! Brad and I started fishing every chance we had. Most all our trips were to Lake Cachuma, since it was closest to our homes in Santa Barbara, California. What great memories. I remember catching my first 7-pounder on Christmas Eve 1982 on a copper foil Bagley DB3. The same day Brad stepped on a rusty nail at the launch ramp what went clean through the sole of his tennis shoes, and had to be rushed to the hospital. I stayed at the lake and pounded them that day. It was sure fun filling him in on what he missed!
It was mid 1982 when I met my fishing mentor Bill Sedar, one of my favorite people in all the world. He was 68 at the time, retired and fishing Lake Cachuma all the time. He was a barrel full of fishing knowledge, and I was quite the sponge. He had taught me more about bass fishing than anyone, and I credit him with laying the solid foundation for my career as a pro bass fisherman. I have made a special trip back to Lake Cachuma to fish with Bill every year for the last 12 years. He has a special place in my heart.
I continued to fish every weekend through my senior year of high school. I fished my first team tournament that year, in January 1983, and my buddy and I blanked. He hooked one on a jigging spoon, but while playing it, his rod snapped in two and he lost the fish! What an inauspicious beginning to a tournament career!
I loved all sports as a kid, but by my senior year, I knew I wanted to be a pro bass fisherman. I can remember the day I told my dad I was going to be a pro fisherman. His exact words were, “oh no you’re not!” He is my biggest fan these days.
It was off to college that fall of ’83 at Oregon State, and I remember how mad I was when my dad made me sell my boat. He knew best. He knew I wouldn’t study much with a boat around. He promised me, though, that I could buy a boat the following summer if I got good grades in school that year. My G.P.A. hit a record level that next spring. I worked hard that whole next summer pumping gas and doing landscaping and by the end of summer had scrapped up enough money to buy a 16 year old 14′ aluminum boat with a 9.9 outboard. It was painted yellow. That summer I also bought my first car (I rode my bike to school all through high school and my freshman year at college.) It was a bronze colored VW Rabbit. I was stylin’; going down the road in my new rig! But I was so happy. Now I could go bassin’ anywhere, anytime.
My sophomore year of college was when I started fishing team tournaments. For the next 3 years I fished everything there was in the state of Oregon. I had a couple of different team partners in those days, Steve Kastanes and Jerry Harris. We fished the tournaments out of their boats, but I’d prefish like crazy in my little rig. We had quite a bit of success, won a few events and Jerry and I were the U.S. Bass Oregon state team champs in 1986.
By graduation in June ’87, I was ready to try my hand as a pro. My parents loaned me the money to buy a new 18′ bass boat (which I paid them back in full for within 2 years), and I had saved enough through college by delivering pizzas, serving ice cream, washing dishes and doing landscaping to buy a used van. After graduation I moved to Phoenix to be centrally located for the big western tournaments. My first pro event was the 1987 U.S. Open at Lake Mead where I finished 6th. I won $8,000, which helped bank roll me for a while.
I spent the next 3 years fishing everything I could get my hands on out West. I fished Red Man, U.S. Bass, WON Bass, Sun Country, All-Star, West Coast Bass and any other tournaments I could find. I hadn’t met Jill (my wife) yet, so I just traveled around from tournament to tournament. I pretty much lived out of my van those 3 years. I was so unbelievably focused back then. My life was simple. All I did was fish tournaments. I think I was fishing about 40 tournaments a year for those 3 years.
I always looked at that period of time as being similar to a minor league experience in baseball. I played everyday, got lots of experience, had plenty of success, and after 3 years felt like I was ready for the big leagues. In bass fishing, that means the Bassmaster Tournament Trail.
There are many things I will always remember about my Western days. One is the fact that I was able to win at least one tournament on every lake on the Colorado River chain. Those lakes are still my favorite places to bass fish, especially Powell.
But the best thing about living out West was meeting my sweetheart Jill. We met in Phoenix in January of 1989. Our first date was the Phoenix Open, and our second was a fishing trip to Bartlett Lake. She never lets me forget that trip to the lake. I put her in my boat, and proceeded to launch it by just backing down the ramp and stomping on my brakes. By the time I parked and made it back to the ramp, the wind had blown her 50 yards out into the middle of the lake. I yelled “come and get me.” She yelled, “how?” I said “just put the trolling motor down.” She said “what’s a ‘trolling motor?'” It turned into quite an event. The fact that there were about 5 other boats trying to use the same ramp didn’t help matters. I didn’t think she was ever going to talk to me again!
I fished my first Bassmaster tournament in April of 1989 at Lake Mead. I place 12th and caught the biggest fish of the whole event, a 5-12. She came out of the Virgin River, and ate a jig-n-pig.
In September of 1989 I drove from Phoenix to Clayton, New York, about 45 hours one way to fish my second Bassmaster tournament. This was the opener for the ’89-’90 season I bombed in that one, and got to enjoy a 45 hour drive home to boot! That was when I first started seriously thinking about moving to Texas to get closer to all the tournaments. A big decision, to be sure.
By August of 1990, I was ready, Jill and I had decided to move to Texas to pursue my career as a professional bass fisherman. It was a tough decision, and proved to be a pivotal point in my fishing career. Jill and I packed up our van and boat with all of our belongings, and drove straight to Rayburn Country, near Jasper, Texas. We could have gone anywhere, but had really enjoyed the people and the fishing in east Texas during previous trips to the area. We initially chose to live at Rayburn Country because of it’s proximity to Sam Rayburn Resevoir.
It was quite a transition from the desert to the East Texas piney woods, but we made it. No, we weren’t born in Texas, but we got here as fast as we could! We both love Texas. After 8 great years in the Rayburn Country/Jasper area, we moved to Tyler in February 1998. Tyler is a fantastic little city that has just about everything you would find in a big city. Texas has been a good home base for my tournament career.
Looking back, I have to say the move to Texas was a must to accomplish what I have as a pro bass fisherman. It was the right decision. All the big tournaments in the country are in the eastern half of the nation, and you just can’t fish them properly living west of the Rockies.
I have fished the Bassmaster tour for 10 years now, qualifying for the Bassmasters Classic every year but my first year. It’s been a good living. I really enjoy the fishing, but the people I’ve met, and the friends I’ve made across the nation has truly been the best part of the job.
Jill and I have two precious daughters now, Hannah and Bethany. They bring us such joy. They travel with me to many of my tournaments, which really is nice. Hannah really enjoys fishing. I love taking her. I have quite a few fond memories of fishing with her already. Like the time last winter when a big catfish pulled her little snoopy pole right out of her gloved hands and we could only watch in awe as the pole went down the grassy bank and disappeared out of sight into the water. I didn’t think she would ever stop crying! Or the time she bowed up on a big one in front of some teenage boys and yelled, “hey boys, look at me!”
Fishing is a wonderful sport.
People frequently ask me how long I plan on fishing tournaments as a career. I always tell them the same thing. I still love it, and plan on doing it as long as the Good Lord lets me