“I was overwhelmed. I had hoped to do well, but I didn’t go into this expecting to win,” said Dave Andrews, who has been fishing Bass Federation Tournaments for nearly 25 years, since the age of 14.
Meanwhile, during those years, Andrews married Kathleen and they had two sons, Liam, 6, and Owen, 3. He also has built a substantial career as a research scientist with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in Andover, where — like most weekend anglers — his time off is limited to three weeks of vacation and a few personal days.
Andrews is a very introspective, deliberate and thoughtful guy. He’s forthright and articulate and knows a lot about the process and politics of competitive bass fishing from the ground up. And, he doesn’t have a poker face. So it was pretty easy to see the consternation on his face as the Fox Sports Network cameraman recorded his surprise, come-from-behind victory in The Bass Federation National Championship. The program aired May 27.
Andrews entered the final day of competition on Lake Wylie in Charlotte, N.C., in third place, about three pounds behind the angler who had led the two previous days. Andrews fished the tournament as the Northern Division champion, advancing through a series of state and regional events. Though he lives in Massachusetts, he fishes with the New Hampshire State Federation because that is where he started and feels most comfortable.
“He’s one cool customer,” commentator Charlie Evans said of Andrews, summing up his win. “He was able to get his bait where others could not because of his superior casting ability.” Evans is also president and CEO of FLW Outdoors, which is sponsored by Wal-Mart.
Although he considers himself a power fisherman, a la Kevin VanDam, covering lots of water with jerk and spinner baits, Andrews patiently skipped under docks with a whacky-hooked finesse worm. He put together a three-day total bag of 41pounds, 4 ounces for first place. He won just about everything he needs to become a tour pro — use of a boat and truck, complete with a wrap sponsor, plus automatic spots in the two top tournaments for this year, paid entry fees for 2008 pro tournaments, $10,000 cash, and more.
The package, valued at $100,000, is the result of a commitment FLW Outdoors made to the federation of weekend anglers when they switched allegiance about 18 months ago from the Bassmaster-ESPN competitive bass tournament circuit. The FLW’s focus on the federation — a supportive backbone and spawning ground for the numerous FLW professional angler series and a receptive audience for sponsors — is unprecedented. The telecast of the championship was extremely well done. For example, a live video feed from the tournament and weigh-in resulted in a shot of Andrews receiving his award flashed on the giant news screen in New York City’s Times Square, and allowed his friends and family to watch events unfold live on their computers.
“You win a big tournament, and usually that’s it. But this isn’t the end, it’s the beginning,” Andrews said. “It’s unique and very neat to be the first one. Wherever I finished, it was a memory to last a lifetime. If fishermen are not in the TBF, they’re missing out.”
Andrews took some time after the tournament to review his situation.
“I was both excited and dreading a conversation with my wife. But, I wanted to do this right,” Andrews said. “My wife has been very supportive of my bass fishing, but this was a lot to ask of her — can we skip the family vacation next year? Can I be gone a lot next year?”
Things went well with his wife and his boss at Wyeth. Andrews will combine vacation and unpaid leave to fish the two top tournaments this year and a minimum of four pro tournaments next year.
“I’m very intent on making this a positive experience, but I want to make sure it doesn’t take a drastic toll on my family or my career,” Andrews said. “Fishing as a pro takes an unbelievable toll on you. I would have to do some unbelievable things on the trail before I would consider leaving my job.”
So far, so good. Andrews finished 21st last weekend among the 54 qualifiers for the $1 million Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American on the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky., the first of the two tournaments in which he earned a berth with his win. He won $4,500.
The tournament is an important step for those wishing to become top FLW bass pros. The top prize was $100,000 cash and a spot in the $2 million Forrest Wood Cup — the FLW pro championship — to be held in August in Arkansas. Andrews will also fish that event.