Episode 10 “Bass Pros”
Stories from a Game Warden
Disclaimer: All names have been intentionally changed.
I grew up as a die-hard bass angler and a huge fan of the sport of bass fishing. I had two career aspirations, a career as a professional bass angler and secondly as a State Wildlife Officer (Game Warden). During the 80’s, professional bass fishing wasn’t what it is now, and there were very few examples of successful bass pros making a living in the fishing industry. I chose to become a game warden but remained a huge fan of professional bass fishing.
Over the years, when the Bassmaster tournament trail came to down, I was like a kid in the candy store. It was a dream come true to meet with and talk to bass pros during my job as a game warden. Most encounters were amazing and left a long-lasting impression on me. There was also an occasional negative encounter along the way. Here’s an example of each.
I was on water patrol on the Harris Chain of Lakes when I stopped to check a man fishing from a bass boat on Little Lake Harris. As I pulled up to him, I immediately recognized him as one of the biggest names in the sport. I was a huge fan of his and used his signature line of rods. I checked his license and safety equipment and then chatted with him for a while. We talked for close to an hour as he was fun fishing and not competing in a tournament. He asked me about the fishing in the area. I recently fished a little hidden canal off the lake during my day off and had done really well so I shared my experience with him. He said that he was going to try fishing in the canal, and he took down my phone number.
Several weeks later, I was shocked when the pro called me. He thanked me for telling him about the hidden canal and he told me that he caught a 10 lb. bass in the canal on a white spinnerbait. He asked if he could give me a signed signature series rod when the Bassmaster tournament trail returned as a thanks for telling him about the canal. I checked with my supervisor who said that I could accept the rod from the pro as I didn’t do anything that I wouldn’t normally do for any other angler. It was a great rod, and it was a great experience meeting and getting to know one of my favorite bass pros.
The Bassmaster tournament trail had an event in Florida, and the pros were practicing on the Harris Chain of Lakes. I occasionally worked the practice period to check pros’ licenses and to answer any questions about boating wake zones and restricted areas. I sometimes encountered a pro practicing without a valid fishing license as some pros forgot to purchase their fishing license until the pre-tournament meeting (the night before day 1 of the tournament).
I stopped to check a pro fishing on the south side of Lake Eustis. This pro was fishing his rookie year and I didn’t know it at the time, but he became one of the biggest names in the sport of professional fishing winning several millions of dollars over the years.
As I pulled up to the pro, he spun around quickly, then threw his rod to the floor of his boat. Before I could say a word, the pro started screaming at me at the top of his lungs. He yelled at me that I shouldn’t waste my time checking bass pros and that all pros have valid fishing licenses. I explained that I had checked a pro earlier in the day fishing without a valid license. He cut me off and said that I was harassing him. I tried to calmly explain the reason for the stop and that I would be quickly out of his way as soon as he calmed down and allowed me to conduct my inspection. He didn’t want to hear any of what I had to say and cussed me out as bad as I’ve ever been cussed before.
Because of how he was reacting to my stop and that he wasn’t listening to anything that I had to say, I did what I had to do in order to control the stop. I SLOWED WAY DOWN! I moved and spoke at a snail’s pace. It drove the pro crazy. He finally calmed down enough to realize that the easier that he cooperated with me, the quicker that I would get out of his way. I finished up the stop without observing any violations and went on my way.
For many years, the pro was my very least favorite professional angler even though he became one of the biggest names in the fishing industry. I really disliked him until years later I gave him the benefit of the doubt. As I’ve gotten older and matured, I figured that the pro could have been having a bad day or was going through something tough in his life just prior to me checking him. I met him years later and we laughed about our previous encounter. He profusely apologized for his actions! He later turned out to be one of the nicest guys!
Everyone has good days and bad days too, even Bass Pros!
By Steve Wayne
About the Author:
Steve Wayne has spent 30 years as a Fish and Wildlife Officer in the state of Florida. Steve has worked in various roles and locations throughout the state and has promoted to the level of Area Captain supervising 30 officers in 3 counties. During his career, Steve was selected as the State Wildlife Officer of the Year and 16 years later was selected as the Statewide Investigator of the Year by both his agency and from the State Law Enforcement Chief’s Association. In 2019, Steve was part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Port Investigations team which received national honors as Team of the Year.