Over my 35 years of competing in B.A.S.S. tournaments, I’ve logged a lot of highway miles … hundreds of thousands, in fact. And through those travels, I’ve met some remarkable people — individuals who influenced my life and career.
Among them were other competitors, fans of the sport, people in the media and a slew of industry contacts. But perhaps the most important were some of the families I became acquainted with — people who opened their doors and welcomed me into their homes.
Some were brief encounters. Others developed into lifelong friendships. And those are the ones I would like to share with you now.
Among the first were Steve and Mary Porter of Okeechobee, Fla. They took me in early on and have followed me ever since.
I first encountered Steve back in the early 1980s, through the Red Man Tournament Trail. He was bigger than life and a dominant force on Lake Okeechobee. I remember him winning many of the tournaments I entered — at least it seemed that way.
He reminded me of the “Marlboro Man” — the chiseled cowboy used by advertisers to promote Marlboro cigarettes back in the day. Steve had the same rugged good looks, and he drove a big, black Ford 4-wheel drive truck with chrome rims and dark, tinted windows. Behind it he towed a matching 20-foot Storm bass boat with a Mercury Black Max on the back.
He was the epitome of cool.
Although I ran into Steve a lot in Florida events, it wasn’t until we reached the finals of the Red Man All American in Kentucky that we finally met. We had both qualified for the final in our division, and I narrowly beat him for the win. When the weigh-in concluded, he came out of his way to congratulate me. That’s when I also met his wife, Mary, who has to be the kindest woman on earth.
Since that time, we have become close friends, and I value their friendship. I learned a great deal from Steve, who some of you will recognize as the true innovator of the “Okeechobee Big-Bladed Spinnerbait.”