Their life partners, that is. Their wives.
Winner Mike McClelland said Stacy, his wife of three years, helped revive his career. The 37-year-old Arkansas pro scored back-to-back Bassmaster Invitational victories early in his career in 1996, but retired from the BASS wars in 2002 for two years.
“I went through a tragedy in my life four years ago and she absolutely has been the biggest supporter that I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “My wife is the reason I’m fishing again.”
McClelland, who was divorced, lost both his ex-wife and daughter in an automobile accident. ”It just pretty much took the wind out of my sail. I tried to maintain fishing. A lot of people didn’t know about it, but it was one of those deals that I didn’t want a lot of people feeling sorry for me. So I didn’t talk a lot about it.”
While grieving his loss, McClelland worked for two years as a sales representative for Champion Boats. He said it gave him the opportunity focus on something other than fishing and the tragedy and allowed him time to rebuild his life. “I owe a lot to Champion and Mercury because they have been with me from day one,” he said.
Mike and Stacy have melded their families - they have three sons - and everyone now spends considerable time fishing and hunting together. Stacey joined Mike on the Bassmaster stage after he won.
“My wife absolutely loves to fish,” McClelland said. “She has supported me 100 percent without knowing what it’s like to experience a win. I’m so glad she got to experience it with me.”
Randy Howell owes his upcoming sixth Classic appearance to his wife Robin. After missing the 2004 Classic by a mere two points and missing the 2005 edition by just two spots on the 2005 Elite 50 circuit, the Alabama pro was ready to give up on making the 2006 world championship. The only remaining opportunity was through the Opens.
“I was so mentally drained and frustrated after the Elite 50 in Wisconsin,” Howell said. “We’d been on the road for seven weeks and I just wanted to go home. I didn’t even want to fish the Opens.
“But on the 20-hour drive home, my wife talked me into fishing West Point (the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open season-opener) because it was my last shot at the Classic. She urged me not to give up. So we went home and regrouped, and I went to West Point with just one day of practice and did well enough to make the Championship after three tournaments.
“Everything has happened little by little — it’s like fate and destiny.”
CLASSIC BLESSING. Chad Brauer of Missouri, who captured one of the final Classic invitations by finishing third in the Open Championship, has mixed feelings about qualifying for his third world championship.
“My wife has been rooting for me and against me this week,” he said. “We’ve got our third baby due around March 1, so that’s going to put us in a tight squeeze between the Classic and the baby. That’s been a sore subject at home.”
Delivering a baby at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic (on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., Feb. 24-26, 2006) would be a first for the event.
FIRST SHOOTOUT PRO. Somewhat overshadowed by his wire-to-wire victory was the fact that Mike McClelland became the first qualifier for the 2006 BUSCH Shootout.
McClelland’s five-bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 12 ounces on Day 1 was the largest of the event and earned him a spot in the Shootout. The BUSCH Shootout, its date and location have not been announced, awards $100,000 to the winner.
RECORD ROLL. When Michigan’s Kevin VanDam set a new largemouth record for Lewisville Lake during a CITGO Bassmaster Elite 50 event last June with an 11-pound, 13-ounce beauty, he had no way of knowing that it would launch a record-catching spree on the Texas lake.
The lake record was broken for an amazing third time since VanDam’s heroics when local angler Jon Babich caught a 13-pound, 10-ounce largemouth recently. Babich gave the fish to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center’s Budweiser Sharelunker Program, where it will be bred to produce more record-setting bass.
WEIRDEST CATCH. Like many anglers, Pete Thliveros remembers a tournament when a bass actually jumped into his boat.
“I had that happen two times, actually,” said the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Florida. “I had one in Lake Dora that jumped into the boat during a club tournament and landed in my net.”
Thliveros released both bass.
DID YOU KNOW? The final invitation to the 2006 Classic will be awarded on Jan. 21, 2006, when the winner of the inaugural ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series National Championship will be named. The event will be held on East Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO … Open Championship semifinalist Steve Kennedy, who will compete in the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, might still be working as a mechanical engineer. The 36-year-old Auburn, Ala., pro did computer design work for several companies while fashioning a fishing career.
THEY SAID IT. “I’ve been out here 13 years now. I started when I was 18 or 19. So I’m a young veteran, I guess. Guys still think I’m young, but I feel like I’m as old as the rest of them.” 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro Randy Howell, 32.
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