The telephone conversation happened over ten years ago, but I still remember it well. Linda and I were living in Indiana at the time and our daughter Kristin had graduated from Clemson and was teaching first grade in South Carolina.
“So, I’m dating a new guy. His name is Anthony,” Kristin said.
“That’s a nice name. What’s he do?” I replied.
“You mean like commercial fishing?”
“No, he fishes in bass tournaments.”
“No, I don’t mean what does he do for fun on the weekends; I mean what does he do for a real job to pay the bills?”
“He fishes in bass tournaments.”
From that point on, the conversation just became more confusing, especially after she told me that he’d graduated from Clemson with a degree in mechanical engineering. Why would someone with an ME degree spend his time running from lake to lake trying to catch fish that don’t even taste very good? That question was answered a few months later in another conversation.
“So, how are you and Anthony doing?”
“Fine. He won a tournament last weekend in Kentucky.”
“That’s nice. Did they give him a new tackle box or something?”
“No, they gave him a check for $100,000.” Long pause. “Dad…what was that loud thump? Dad…are you still there Dad?”
So began my education in the life and career of a professional bass angler. Fortunately, I’m a quick study. It didn’t take long for me to become familiar with names like FLW, Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Lowrance and Humminbird. I learned that a shaky head wasn’t a goofy toy figure glued to the dashboard of a car and that finesse fishing didn’t involve having a diplomatic discussion with a fish about whether he’d be willing to hang out in your live well until after the weigh in. Mostly I learned that, while fishing is a relaxing hobby for many people, for professional anglers it’s a physically and mentally demanding sport. Anyone who doubts that should try casting a fishing rod seven or eight thousand times over the period of a four day tournament or bruising their kidneys while driving a bass boat around a white capped lake in the middle of February. Let me know when you can move again.
As young as he is, Anthony is one of the elite veterans of his sport. Over the years I watched as he earned a good living, won tournaments, became Angler of the Year and ranked as one of the top ten anglers in the world more than once. But, as in most sports, there is a balance and not every year can be a runaway success. So I also watched as the inevitable challenging years came and went. Those times are the ones that test a man’s character and this is one of those years.
Anthony has had a professionally devastating start to tournament season. Much has been written about what happened and I’m not going to go into all of the details here. John Johnson, senior editor at Bassfan.com, wrote an excellent article that explains what happened. The gist of it is that Anthony inadvertently broke a pre-tournament practice rule in January. When he realized his mistake, he self-reported the infraction and FLW tour officials had no option but to disqualify him from the first tournament of the year in February on Lake Okeechobee in Florida. As Johnson points out, the DQ means that Anthony has almost no chance of qualifying for the championship tournament this year, a tournament that is going to be held on his home lake in South Carolina. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Athletes, pro or amateur, are an odd lot. While their potential performance is based on talent and experience, the execution is just as closely tied to their mental focus. Bass anglers are no exception to that rule. Anthony has said on many occasions that, for him, 90% of his performance is based on attitude. I’ve seen his intensity while he’s fishing in a tournament and I have no doubt that’s a true statement.
The key word in John Johnson’s article is almost. Anthony has almost no chance of qualifying for the Forest Wood Cup tournament. As Anthony said in an interview after the DQ, “To make the Cup Tournament, I’d have to have a run better than I had in 2006 when I won Angler of the Year.” For a lot of folks, that realization would be a disheartening prospect. I think it was for Anthony too, for a time. But, once he processed the anger and disappointment, I saw the look in his eyes as the fire inside began to build and anger and disappointment morphed into courage and determination.
I don’t know if Anthony will overcome the challenge of starting out the year two hundred points in the hole. If he does, this will be a tournament season that people talk about for a long time. If he doesn’t, it won’t be for a lack of resolve or tenacity. However the season ends, Anthony will walk away stronger than he was when it began. That’s the way it is when you compete using the strength of your heart and the measure of your character.
So I was thinking that, of all years, this would be a good one for Anthony to have a theme song and I put together a short video. The music was written and performed by Jess Moskaluke. If you want a copy of the song, you can get it on iTunes or at Amazon. The video clips however, are all pure Anthony. Crank up the volume a bit and give it a look. While you’re watching, check out the intensity in Anthony’s eyes and tell me whether you think he’ll make the championship. I wouldn’t bet against it.
Pssst. Hey Anthony, c’mere. Just between you and me…I think it’s time for you to kick a little ass.