The former Kentucky Derby jockey has signed on to fish the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, an 11-event premier tournament circuit offering more than $7 million to anglers.
The inaugural season of the Elite Series begins with the “Battle on the Border” on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, March 9-12, just weeks after bass fishing’s biggest event, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, kicks off the season Feb. 24-26, at Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla.
For Wirth, who has been a touring BASS pro since 1985, competing at bass fishing’s highest level is another step in a life filled with sporting superlatives. Growing up in a family that was always active in sports, Wirth won four national titles in roller skating as a youth, and then followed his family into horse racing.
As a jockey, Wirth competed in the ultimate horse race when he rode Mythical Ruler in the 107th Kentucky Derby in 1981. A collision with another horse ended his chances to compete in the Run for the Roses and nine months later, his promising career as a jockey was cut short when he suffered serious back injuries in a track accident.
Wirth soon recovered and it didn’t take long for him to find his way back to a childhood love: bass fishing. A friend asked him to fish in a tournament and Wirth knew he had found his next career.
The Kentuckian has built an impressive resume since then, qualifying for the CITGO Bassmaster Classic six times and finishing in the money 72 times in 137 BASS entries. He captured his sole BASS win in 1994 at Santee-Cooper in South Carolina, site of the Elite Series’ “Santee-Cooper Showdown” stop, March 30 - April 2.
During the off-season, Wirth has searched for new sponsors and is prepared to fish the entire schedule to continue his career in BASS-sanctioned events.
“That’s where my career has been for 20 years,” said Wirth, whose sponsors include Triton Boats, Mercury Outboards and Berkley. “They’ve just changed the playing field and I had to find a way to make it work. I’m going to go with whatever I can get done. It (the sponsor search) is still a work in progress.”
Fitting his quiet personality, Wirth takes a low-key approach to fishing, even when he’s going to a fishery he has never visited. “There are three or four locations on the Elite Series schedule that are new to me,” he said. “I try to get a feel for the poundage I’ll probably need there. If you go to a place with no knowledge of what weight is needed, you might be catching two pounders in practice and think that’s all you’ll need to be consistent, but at a place like Amistad, from what I hear, you’d be way off.”
Even though he has won at Santee-Cooper, Wirth said he won’t have an advantage when the Elite Series arrives on the Manning, S.C., waterway. “Every time you think, ‘this fits me here, this fits me there,’ it turns out that it’s the worst tournament of the year,” he said. “I don’t like to think that far ahead. I like to just take it one tournament at a time. If you go in with a closed mind, it can work against you.”
An open mind is what helps Wirth as he works toward a possible fourth sporting career as a professional golfer. He hopes to play on the Senior PGA Tour after retiring from BASS. “It’s a goal of mine to qualify,” he said. “I’ve got seven more years and I’ve worked hard on my game, my swing and other aspects, when I have the time.”
With his record of accomplishments in his three previous sports, don’t count him out.
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.
BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry’s widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.