This was the first time I had stepped into a room filled with the 56 Bassmaster Classic anglers. The first time I had met most of them. The first time I actually sat and talked with some of the greatest fisherman to compete in the waters of the tournament world, and it ROCKED! I felt quiet small in that room with the greats. As I skimmed the room looking for the anglers I had time slots to interview, I saw Iaconelli, Evers, Hackney, Tharp, Palaniuk, Wheeler, Elias, and the list goes on, but I was on a mission with questions.
I sat down first with Jacob Wheeler, the youngest angler in the Classic this year. Jacob Wheeler is very well versed and really has his focus set on his career and I can’t see him allowing anything to stand in his way.
BS: Do you think being the youngest angler fishing the Classic is an advantage or disadvantage?
JW: “When you are young, your circulation is better than older guys. My mental outlook is what my advantage is; I take it event by event.” Jacob continued, “I have won a lot of big events in my short career; All American, Ultimate Match Fishing, FLW Cup. You are fishing to win, you go into these events and you see that target and go for it. I can’t think about the next event. I have to think about this tournament and what I need to win it. My mentality is to win.”
BS: Who will win the tournament?
JW: “The guy winning will be the most versatile and trusts his gut feeling. The weather is going to be constantly changing, you can’t think, ‘I am going to fish this spot with this lure’, that approach will not win. You have to change with the conditions and gut feelings; the winner will earn this title. It is going to be fun, but hard. I am ready to get out there and get at it. It’s not about media, it’s not about anything but winning this title and I am ready to do it.”
BS: In one word, describe yourself on the water.
BS: When you were a child did you say I am going to fish the Bassmaster Classic?
JW: “Yes! When I was in second grade, on career day I was a professional fisherman. I have always wanted to do it and I have never deviated from it. I just love it, I eat it up, and I live for it. Work ethic wise, I want to be the first to the ramp and the last out of the water. I am not a sore loser, but I want to know I did everything the best I could to win.
Next up is David Walker; I was excited to sit down with David for two reasons. One, he has really worked hard to get where he is; which is a far cry from the factory job he walked away from to fish. Two, I interviewed his wife and was curious how their answers matched up.
BS: How did it feel to walk down the cereal aisle and see your face on a box of Wheaties?
DW: “That was hilarious; I’ll tell you what I did. I went and got a shopping cart and filled it full of them. It was 1999, my first full year, the guy I stayed with was with me, and we filled the carts full of the cereal. I put as many as I could in that buggy, this was before all the social media and stuff. I still have some of the cereal. There have been two of us who have made the Wheaties box, Denny Brauer and me.”
BS: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
DW: “Oh everyone would want fly. As a fisherman though, the coolest superpower would be able to see through the water. You could see in water and know everything happening down there. Man, you would be site fishing at every event.”
BS: Who was the first sponsor that took a chance on you?
DW: “Ranger and Evinrude, I have been with them ever since. They were the first two companies to put faith in me.”
BS: If you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would your younger self?
DW: “Start earlier! When it comes to jumping into the tournament scene, I started way later than any of these other guys. I didn’t know what a tournament was when I was 20, no concept of what it was or how it worked. I was mid 30’s when I started.”
BS: Tell me something your fans probably don’t know about David Walker?
DW: “Umm, I was born in Detroit, Michigan.”
BS: What brought you to Tennessee?
DW: “My mom and dad were both from the mountains of Kentucky and where a lot of my family is from, so we would go back and forth there. For me, Kentucky was too rural, but I love the mountains. When I am traveling home and I see the mountains, I always feel like I am home.”
BS: Describe yourself on the water in one word?
DW: “oh geesh, stubborn.”
BS: If you weren’t fishing, what do you think you would be doing?
DW: “I’d be working in a stupid factory and hating every day of it.”
BS: What keeps you focused when you are on the water?
DW: “My love of fishing is what I focus on the most. To just go out and catch the fish is what I love to do. My wife and girls are my solid foundation.”
BS: How do you stay such a dedicated father when you spend so much time on the road?
DW: “When I come home from a tournament and I unhook the boat, it stays that way. I go straight to the girls and do what they want to do. I make American Girl dollhouses and bunny pens, whatever they want to do. When it comes closer to tournament time again, the girls help me organize tackle. They know what it is about. I want them to appreciate why I am gone so much, instead resenting me and thinking I just want to fish. I want them to see it is not just about fishing and they know that. They are never upset about it and know I am coming back.”
As the bell rang, letting me know my time with David Walker was up, I moved to the next angler. I sat down with Chris Lane from Guntersville, Alabama. Chris won the classic back in 2012 on the Red River. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Chris because he seems so energized and gun-ho, but what I got was the opposite. I sat down in front of a family man who cares deeply for his community, but still has a fun side to him.
BS: Last year at Lake Dardanelle, when your boat was lost due to fire, you fished the rest of the tournament out of a borrowed boat and borrowed tackle, how do you stay focused?
CL: “That was a very difficult event. When it comes to stuff like that, and situations distracting you from the job at hand, which is to go catch fish, it’s hard to catch fish on a competitive level. I think to myself, there is nothing I can do about it right now. There was a boat there, my brother gave me some rods, all of the fishermen were fantastic to give me equipment and I went fishing. I remember that day very specifically, it was probably one of the hardest days I have ever had fishing.”
BS: Tell me about your annual fish camp.
CL: “Yes, we have 150 kids; we have a cut off number so we gear it towards the smaller ages now, like 10 years old and under. I get a kick out of it. The kids get to come up on stage, many times it is the BASS trailer, and say this is the first fish they ever caught.” Chris went on to say, “It is a good family fun time on Guntersville. My whole family comes. My brothers and their families, along with other professional fishermen attend. We teach kids the basics from tying a knot, to putting a worm on a hook and watching the bobber go down. To me, it is just the one simple thing that might get a kid into bass fishing.
Chris continued to talk explaining that he’ll see kids that participated in the fish camp that are now fishing opens as co-anglers, “… to see one in Bass Pro now that has fished a Southern Open as a co-angler, (this is the 9th season) they tell me thank you, which is rewarding. But the bad part, it means I am getting old. My brother runs a huge high school event down in Florida and I go down to that. To watch the age group that I deal with go into high school and now into college fishing is amazing–bass fishing is phenomenal.”
BS: Rodney Clawson is a songwriter and one of your close friends, he wrote your entrance song, but also there is a song and a video done about the song and your family, is that how you all are off camera too?
CL: “(breaks into song) ‘I’ve got southern comfort running through my veins, my mama was the wind, my daddy was a train, it’s the second coming of the midnight rider’… that is exactly how we are as a family.”
BS: So if you could have any superpower, what would it be?
CL: “I am not really a superpower kind of guy, but if I could be the Incredible Hulk (that was my hero) and help people that would be cool.”
BS: If you weren’t fishing, what do you think you would be doing?
CL: “Sales, I did sales for 13 years, outside sales, a lot of cold calling. I loved it, that’s what I would be doing. I am not a sit behind the desk kind of guy.
BS: Tell me about the rivalry between brothers in the Elites?
CL: “The 2008 Classic was our first together, I was very competitive at that point and Bobby did very well in that tournament. I was happy for him, but being competitive I wanted to win and Bobby kicked my butt. I think of the past five years, the camaraderie between Bobby and me on and off the water has become more of the type thing where we want each other to do well. If there were anything we can do to help the other out, we would do it. It is a different type of competitive now. The one thing I think we have come together on is we don’t really share spots. We fish so much alike, we grew up fishing together, ultimately sharing spots would hurt us.”
Next I walked up to the front of the room, this was the interview I had been waiting on since I knew I was covering media day. I was getting ready to sit down with Kevin Short (K-Pink), a hero for me and not because of his fishing so much, but because of the type of person Kevin Short is on and off the water.
BS: Back in April 2014, while fishing at Toledo Bend, a tornado rips through your hometown, taking your home and your father’s home. Tell me how you remained this positive and stoic man who could still focus on what is important in life; no life lost. You also were able to focus on fishing while rebuilding back in Mayflower, Arkansas?
KS: “It is a lot easier to wallow in self-pity, it is the path of least resistance, but what a lot of people don’t know is that wasn’t the first bad thing to happen to Kevin Short. There were several hurdles in my life I have had to overcome. It was like, ‘yeah, house is gone, big deal’. It is a big deal, but I can promise you it is not as bad as losing a 19-year-old daughter. As a parent, nothing can get any worse. If you can overcome that and persevere, everything else is just peanuts. Even before that, I lost my mom. When I was two, we were in a car accident. Of course I don’t remember it, but there was a period in my life when I didn’t understand why I lost her. There was a time when I was mad about losing my mom. But I think, ‘why am I still here?’ What am I supposed to be doing, there has to be a plan for me. It was a bad situation, but it wasn’t going to break Kerry and me, it was just a house and we were okay.
BS: Because you are one of the most fun loving guys, I can get by with asking this question of you and honestly, I was dared to ask and I can’t pass up a dare (K-Pink interjected “this is scary”). Boxers, Briefs, or Commando?
KS: (laughs) “Depends on the situation, actually I wear boxer-briefs most of the time unless the mood hits, then on occasion, it is commando.”
BS: If you could have any superpower what would it be?
KS: “I would read minds, (my eyes get big and I laugh), no, no, let me tell you why. On those days when I am having a hard time catching fish, I would like to know what they are thinking.”
BS: Tell me something fans don’t know about K-Pink.
KS: “Years ago, I used to be one of those crazy guys that would go out and climb ice in the winter, that is what we did, we traveled all over. There is a lot of ice that forms in southern Colorado and we would go out there and climb ice. Like rock climbing on ice, I never broke anything either. A lot of these guys in here are bitching and whining about it being cold and I am like, this ain’t cold, when it is 10 below and you are hugging an icicle, that’s cold.”
BS: What keeps you focused on the water?
KS: “What I need to do to get the next bite. When I pick up a rod and start fishing, everything I do is focused on what I need to do to get one more bite. It doesn’t stop until I put the boat back on the trailer.”
The next angler, people either totally love him or they don’t. I made my way over to the flat bill cap wearing, flip turning Mike Iaconelli. Mike was sitting there with a very content look on his face and ready to speak to the folks at media day. He immediately introduced himself and we shook hands. I have to admit, I really wanted to ask him to do a back flip off the table, but was too scared to ask, he might have said yes!
BS: Tell me about The Ike Foundation.
MI: “The Ike Foundation is something we have been thinking about for a lot of years and it has finally materialized. We are working with a lot of charities and existing foundations. My wife (Becky) and I wanted something we could really stand on, that is important to us and it was like automatic. When we starting thinking about this, it was like, it has to be about getting kids fishing, so that was our mindset. Over the last 5 or 6 years we finally knew what we wanted to do with it, it is a 501c foundation, we have multiyear plan. The first year we plan to get equipment, lightly used equipment, to existing kids groups. It started with us; we had tackle in the garage that had not been touched in 10 years. We thought; let’s get this in the hands of those kids. Phase 2 (year two) is getting companies involved to come in and donate product and distribute it to existing kids groups. Year 3 is getting groups started in areas that don’t have groups started, that part is really exciting. Our real focus is to get kids fishing in places where kids don’t normally fish. That is really our mission statement. In South Florida, kids fish all the time. But Chicago, Philadelphia and a lot of urban areas in different parts of the country are where we want to be. Places where fishing is not a hot ticket item. There are kids who have never experienced it and our goal is to get those kids fishing.”
BS: So how do you get kids fishing in areas, like inner cities, where there are not lakes?
MI: “Most cases there are places to fish; we learned that with “City Limits”. Almost every city we visit has some kind of fishery…” Mike continued, “There are parks with ponds. Take New York City for example, Central Park is loaded with largemouth bass. So, to let these kids have this experience we started researching this about a year or two ago. We started cold calling clubs and asking them what they needed? What is the biggest help, besides monetary, we could bring. The clubs all said they needed equipment; rods, reels, line, hooks, tackle, etc. They would have 30 kids signed up for summer class, but only have 10 rods and groups have to share them.” Mike continued, “When the career is done, sponsors are done, you can look back at this and know you made a difference and continue to make a difference. It is such a great feeling you can hang your hat on.”
It was a great day covering this media day, I learned a lot about the anglers I watch fish on TV and also about the people they are off the water. The Ike Foundation is currently accepting donations of lightly used fishing tackle; if you would like to donate to the Ike Foundation please send tackle and/or a money donation to: The Ike Foundation, PO Box 818, Elmer, NJ 08313.
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