INSIDE BASS: TUCKER GIVES HIS CAREER A LIFT

Who says professional anglers aren't athletes?

Don't mention that theory to Mark Tucker. A former competitive body-builder, the 43-year-old Missouri pro can squat 350 pounds and leg-press 1,000.

Tucker, who finished second in the recent CITGO Bassmaster Tour event at Alabama's Smith Lake, retired from body building competitions about 10 years ago.

"As a body builder, you're either going to become a model or an actor," he said. "I wasn't good enough to be either, so I gave it up."

Noticing that he performed better on the water when involved in a regular exercise routine, Tucker resumed working out this summer. He has proven the validity of that theory by posting a pair of second-place finishes (the highest of his career).

At Smith Lake, Tucker awoke at 4 a.m. before each practice day to work out. He skipped the final practice round to spend the day in a local gym. That decision obviously paid off.

The two-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier, who is 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, has a non-tournament diet that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush: two chickens a day, a dozen eggs, a couple of turkey sandwiches and more.

PASSING ON. The fishing world lost two of its innovators, characters and friends on the weekend of Feb. 14th and 15th with the passing of Jim Bagley and Russ Bringger, both in Florida.

Bagley, 80, died of pulmonary fibrosis in Winter Haven. A member of the National Fishing Hall of Fame, he is best known as the founder of the Bagley Bait Co., which became world-renowned for its crankbait design and quality. Bagley was also a big friend and supporter of Ray Scott's infant tournament circuit and the pros that helped build it.

Bringger, 53, died in the company of his family and friends in his Pompano Beach home after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was one of Florida's most accomplished tournament pros and a frequent BASS competitor. In fact, Bringger won the 1986 BASS Florida Invitational on Lake Okeechobee. He was also co-owner of Gambler Worms and BANG fish attractants.

PICTURE THIS. Longtime BASS photographer Gerald Crawford received some long overdue recognition when he was profiled in an Orlando Sentinel story under the headline "He's Got a Picture-Perfect Job."

"Dress him in a battered Stetson, scuffed western boots and a Colt Walker cap-and-ball pistol and Gerald Crawford would be a natural character from Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove," outdoors writer Don Wilson wrote. "With his soft, understated drawl, punctuated by long periods of silence, and his weathered, bearded face animated by his continuously shifting gaze, Crawford gives the impression of someone used to spending long periods alone in often hostile environments."

Crawford, 63, was praised by several BASS pros,

"'Every time he comes around, I catch a big fish, so I love him,' Larry Nixon said. 'He knows exactly where you're going and never gets in your way. He's always 'Johnny-on-the-spot' for a good picture and never says anything to distract you - unless he's asked.'"

"'I love working with Gerald. I can direct him around and he's always courteous,' Roland Martin said. 'I have nothing but praise for him. He helped bring a new dimension to our sport,' Martin added."

Crawford, who has been photographing fishing tournaments for 24 years, told the newspaper, "I'm going to do this until they kick me out the door. These fishermen are truly friendly and appreciate what you do - it's like one big family."

TACKLE SHOPPING WITH THE PREZ. After a recent speech in Springfield, Mo., President Bush stopped at Bass Pro Shops for a little tackle shopping. He spent 40 minutes shopping and greeting customers. The bass-fishing president purchased a reel, line, two spinnerbaits and a pack of plastic worms.

DID YOU KNOW? Bass are caught in every state except Alaska (Hawaii has largemouth, smallmouth and peacock bass).

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Michigan's Marcel Veenstra will blow out 44 candles on Feb. 18. Missouri pro Stacey King will be 55 on Feb. 22. Florida's Charlie Younger turns 52 three days later. Nine-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Roland Martin, the grand old man of bass fishing, will be 64 on March 1.

IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO... Fishing is in Scott Rook's blood. In the rare days he spends off of the water, he is manager of a Little Rock tackle store.

THEY SAID IT. "I tell you, it's tough to be competitive, to be at the top level. It's physically and mentally draining to try to compete at this level. When you're not doing well is when it gets real tough to go through those emotional ups and downs. I just have a hard time imagining myself doing this for another 20 years. But I'm not close to giving up." 2001 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion and three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam.