Every single day I give some thought to how lucky I am to be competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series, that my job is fishing for bass and for all of the great friends I’ve made competing over the years. Many of these friendships start in the bag line behind the stage where anglers wait with their fish for their turn to step up, talk to Dave Mercer and have their fish weighed.
Typically we’re in the bag line for around 10 minutes, and it’s often one of my favourite parts of the day. You never know who you’re going to be standing next to. Whoever it might be, we all usually have some kind of conversation, most often about the days fishing, sometimes its about a sports event from the night before, sometimes it’s about a mutual friend, it could be anything. It’s usually where many of the relationships between the anglers start.
The most memorable bag line event for me happened at this year's Elite event at Lake Chickamauga. At the Day 3 weigh-in, I ended up standing next to Gerald Swindle, and it was pretty much a 10-minute comedy show. Brock Mosley and I kinda kept him going, and it made my day. I had never met Swindle before this season, but all year he’s been friendly to me, always offering up a “Hey Gussy, how’s it going?” He’s exactly the same behind the stage as he is when he gets up there with Mercer.
Earlier in the season at Lake St. Clair I got to mingle with Rick Clunn, which was awesome. Clunn loves to talk fishing and is always willing to share his thoughts on different situations. He also has the best stories from his storied career. I have to admit I’m regretful that I didn’t get a photo with him behind the stage. He has all the respect in the world from me so I definitely want a photo with him. Hopefully I can catch up with him at Lake Fork for a picture.
Luke Palmer is a dude from Oklahoma, around my age and as it’s worked out, we’ve been next to each other several times this year. I really enjoy chatting with him. We always talk about our day and then whatever else is going on in our respective lives. I’d consider him a good friend now that I can call on anytime if I need help with something while we’re on the road.
For the most part, the entire group of anglers on the Elite Series is a great group. If you have a bad day, like on Day 2 at St. Clair when I failed to get a limit, guys like Clark Wendlandt, who was in the midst of a great tournament and season, say things like “happens to all of us buddy, you’ll get’em at the next one." If you have a good day, even the veterans like Matt Herren will tell you “good job.” He even came and checked over the 9-pounder I managed to wrangle up at Santee Copper. It was pretty cool. He’s a guy that I’ve followed in this sport for many years so it felt good to get a pat on the back from him.
You get to see the character that some of these guys have as well. At the first tournament of the season on the St. Johns River, Taku Ito walked off the stage on Day 2 after weighing in a solid catch. He was going to make the Day 3 cut and was obviously pretty happy. I don’t think at that point he really knew any of the other anglers, but when he came off the stage and walked past Brandon Palaniuk, Palaniuk made a point to give him the thumbs up and say "good job." I was just watching from a distance and could see Itu light up with the praise from one of the best in the sport. I met Palaniuk in the bag line as well, and he’s exactly in real life how he is on camera, a likeable, good dude.
As a fan of the sport, I really enjoy all of these moments. Hopefully you all enjoy this kind of behind the scenes stuff.