Bassmaster Mark Menendez Elite Angler has been fishing professionally for 17 years and qualified for five Bassmaster Classics. Mark, a fan favorite, has cashed many checks with his repeated top finishes. Bob Marley once said, “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.” I know this first hand and suspect many readers also do. Mark found out how strong he could be in September 2012 with his wife’s, diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Mark took a family leave from the Elite tour to be home with Donna and their two children, Caroline and Max. In March of 2014, Donna won her battle with pancreatic cancer by going to Heaven. Mark’s role in the family changed as he added many more hats. Those who know Mark knew his strength was as stoic as ever. When the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Tour started, Mark Menendez was back, and he was going to be an unseen force. Mark has cashed five checks in this year’s first seven events, is sitting 49th in the Angler of the Year points, and is craving the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.
While discussing the first event of the season, Mark admitted to a very tough start at the Sabine River in Orange, Texas. Mark said, “I didn’t know how to get there much less how to fish it, I did no research on the lake. I did ask Dennis Tietje if I should stick to the Sabine or move in the back creeks. I did what he suggested and stayed in the Sabine River. I didn’t want to be there; I didn’t want to fish; I was missing my biggest fan, Donna. I fished the first day for three hours without a single bite, so I started to talk to Donna. I reached for a rod with a tube, released the tube, and it fell into the water. With only a rod’s length of line out, a three and a half pounder ate it. Betsy, I am not that good to just drop a tube in the water and catch a fish. Donna put that fish on the hook for me, the rest of the afternoon was good fishing, and I had a limit.”
Mark caught limits each day, made his first emotional appearance of the tour, and left the Sabine River with a check. We talked about the adversity of the tidal waters the elites have fished thus far and Mark said, “Tidal water is hard. I don’t catch fish in tidal water. However, on the [California] Delta, this voice told me to fish through the tide. So I turned off my outboard, and I stayed in a productive spot I found. I fished out the tide and it worked well for me.”
Mark Menendez Elite Angler Returns
I asked Mark how he knew he was ready to join the Elite Tour again. He explained, “I came back on the tour for my sponsors. They stood by me and supported me fully for the two years I took off. I still worked and made over 100 appearances the two years I didn’t fish, but I could not have done this without my sponsors.” Mark, in talking about making the classic, “Sitting in 49th in the AOY points doesn’t completely rule me out of the Classic; I know what I have to do to get there. I want to be at the Classic this year; I want this for my sponsors. They deserve this Classic, and I want to give it to them.”
Mark expressed how losing his wife changed him in ways one wouldn’t think of. Saying, “You know, I had started to get cynical, but cancer taught me there are still great people out there, and many of those people are part of the fishing community. I received money, cards, and gifts from people in the fishing community I have still never met; they care that much about each other. I have boxes of cards my family has received from the best people; a lot of them I don’t know. Each person taught me there were a lot of good people out there. I was so appreciative to receive each well-wish and word of concern while grieving the loss of Donna.”
Mark said much of his strength this year came from a mix of his inner circle of friends, sponsors, family, and Max and Caroline (his children). Appreciatively Mark said, “Donna put a very secure foundation under our children, they have done very well. Max and Caroline carried me on their backs for four to six months after Donna’s death. I was a mess and my kids just amazingly carried me.” I asked about traveling this year after such a hard 2014; Mark said, “The California stint was very hard. For two straight weeks I didn’t get to spend time with the kids, I would get up and head to the water before the kids got up for school. When I came off the water in the evenings, the kids were already in bed. I hated that part of the tour this year. I know the children are in good hands with family, and they do very well; I have the hardest time.” Mark speaks highly of Caroline, “Caroline is a rock, she walked into the kitchen one night when I was having a breakdown, she saw me crying and turned and started to walk away. I told her it was ok, I just missed mommy, and it is okay to see daddy cry. She gave me a big hug, and as I watched her walk down the hallway towards her room, I could see her decompress. I can’t stress enough how much my kids have carried me and how they keep me going. I am so blessed to have Max and Caroline.”
I asked Mark how he balanced the tour life and home life. Mark said, “Once Donna and I were married, when I came home, I was home. Donna was a homemaker, and we decided when Caroline was born it was best for her to be at home. I need to say being a homemaker is the hardest job ever; I have learned that in the past two years, hats off to homemakers! I don’t fish, golf, hunt, or anything taking time from the family when I come home, I am just home. This was Donna and the children’s time, and it still applies. When I come home, I am cooking, cleaning, doing homework, running to baseball and soccer practice. I check emails, work, and make calls while the children are at school. Once they are home, it is all about family time. The quantity of my marriage to Donna was nothing like the quality of our marriage.” If you knew Donna and followed her journey, you know Donna had cancer, but cancer certainly did not have Donna. Donna was a towering strength who did not give up and fought like hell for her family. Mark said, “Losing Donna was the worst thing I have ever faced, and now I have to be a full-time dad. The pressure that once was there for fishing isn’t there anymore because fishing doesn’t matter in how the world turns. Being a dad and caring for my kids is most important. So now I think I can fish without pressure. The pressure I felt before was that I HAD to catch fish and HAD to be the best. I think the lack of pressure has helped me this year and will continue to help my fishing game.”
Mark Menendez has been an advocate for skin cancer for a number of years and has added pancreatic cancer to his advocacy. Mark has had several bouts with skin cancer and continues yearly checks. According to North Carolina Game and Fishing, one person dies of avoidable melanoma every 57 minutes. There are ways to protect against skin cancer when fishing. For starters, use a high-SPF water resistant sunscreen. Second, keep head and hands protected by covering them in UV protected gloves and face gaiter. Also, wear UV protection clothing and make an effort to get off the water during the high-exposure midday hours. If these guidelines are followed, skin cancer is very preventable. No one is immune to skin cancer. If exposed to the sun on a daily basis, it’s best to see a dermatologist annually. Lastly, have a doctor immediately check any changes in a mole.
Good luck to Mark and fingers crossed we see him at the 2016 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.