Tom Hamill was a little-known truck driver until he was kidnapped by insurgents April 9th in Iraq and made a dramatic escape three weeks later. Hamill, 44, drove over from Macon, Miss., to watch the festivities of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer event.
His left arm still in a cast following surgery for a gunshot wound, Hamill was brought up on stage and had the national anthem dedicated to him and the military serving overseas. He later helped present the trophy to winner Mark Davis.
"I got to meet him and shake his hand," reigning CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle said. "Dude, that was very moving to me. Very humbling.
"This man is shaking our hands and saying, ''I'm really glad I got to meet you guys. I really wanted to come see all you guys fishing.' But we're thinking, ''No, we know you're the hero.' So it was very humbling for me to stand before him and see how modest and how down to earth he was. He's just a guy that had got in a bad situation and got out of it.
"When you see a guy like that come out to a fishing tournament and go around shaking everybody's hand and see him lighting up, I think about how our sport touches everybody. There is something about our sport that relates to everybody out there because most everyone has fished or likes to fish. They've kind of got that little tie."
FISHING FANS, PART 2. The Clarion-Ledger's outdoors writer Bobby Cleveland highlighted a family of fishing fans that took advantage of the Elite 50's unique 7 p.m. weigh-in time. .
Cleveland wrote: "It worked for Bev Thomas, 52, of Columbus, a widow who took her two fishing-crazed sons (ages 12 and 14) to the weigh-ins Wednesday and Thursday and planned to return Saturday
"I got two boys who love to fish, and their dad had gotten them interested in the sport before he died two years ago," said Thomas. "We lived in Alabama then and he took them to a couple of weigh-ins and they got all kinds of autographs. This gives me a chance to get into something they like."
TV TIME. You can catch part one of the Elite 50 action on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway on the CITGO Bassmasters television series this Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET.
FEDERATION FISH. At the recent CITGO BASS Federation Championship in Tulsa, the Keystone Lake bass were the main attraction - before, during and after the tournament.
"Department biologists along with Oklahoma Aquarium biologists held all of the first day catch from the tournament in large circular quarantine tanks for one week following the event," reported Gene Gilliland, senior fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department and a BASS club member. "The good news is that each one of those fish lived and was released back into Lake Keystone.
"This just shows that proper fish handling can result in excellent, even 100-percent, survival rates in a bass tournament."
Gilliland added that you don't have to be a high-stakes tournament angler to practice proper release techniques.
DID YOU KNOW? Most fishing fans know that Bobby Murray won the inaugural Classic in 1971, but only diehard followers of the sport can tell you that legendary angler Tom Mann was the runner-up.
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Alabama pro Dalton Bobo will be 47 on May 30, while Zell Rowland also turns 47 on the same day. Fellow Texan Harold Allen will be 59 on June 2. Tennessee's Jack Wade becomes 48 on June 8.
IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO. Florida pro Terry Seagraves would likely still be employed by Sherwin-Williams Paint Co. as a district manager.
THEY SAID IT. "I think it's a good move in giving access to more people, but I hope the fans understand something. It does make it tough on fishermen. The crowd comes out here expecting to see us all carry limits of big, heavy bass to the scales like they see on TV." Two-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Davy Hite on the Elite 50 circuit's unique 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. fishing day.