Murray makes his mark on BASS Tour

If you are reading this from a home or office west of the Continental Divide, chances are good that you are very familiar with the tournament exploits of John Murray. But he might not be as well known to fishing fans east of that locale.

That, however, is changing.

After years of being one of the biggest fishing stars out West, the 38-year-old Arizona pro's consistency is commanding attention on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer. By hanging among the leaders in the Busch BASS Angler of the Year standings, Murray earned his second consecutive trip to the coveted CITGO Bassmaster Classic Aug. 1-3 in New Orleans.

Who is John Murray?

"I'm a guy that fished the West for the last probably 17 or 18 years," he said. "Living in Arizona and Nevada, I've fished all of the circuits out there for years and fished Bassmaster circuit back in '92, '93, and then just got out of it. It was too expensive and too much travel. I didn't really have any friends fishing BASS, so I went back to fishing on the West Coast.

"Now that ESPN bought BASS and a lot of my friends like Skeet Reese are fishing back here, I decided to come back two years ago. It was really one of the biggest goals I had for years. I had never made the Classic, so I wanted to make the Classic. I gave myself two years to make it. I made it last year and this year is just a bonus.

"Last year was my first full year on Tour. I squeaked in (the Classic) 29th last year. It was one of the highest moments of my life as far as fishing career. I had a great experience at the Classic and ended up 14th. I'm excited about going back."

Murray has lost track of the number of western circuit tournaments he has won, as well as his numerous Angler of the Year titles from those circuits. Over the years he has won 30 prize boats and vehicles, and pocketed more than $1 million.

Competing on the Tour became the next logical career step for him.

"I've fished probably longer than most of the guys, but the West Coast kind of keeps you (somewhat anonymous nationally)," Murray said. "There's a lot of money to be won out there, but it's not the big leagues. It's like the minor leagues. So, coming back here with ESPN and everything, it changes your whole outlook.

"For a tournament fisherman, basically there's no growth out there. When I first started bass fishing, I didn't even know about the Classic. The goal in the West was to win the US Open. I won that twice and that was pretty much my highlight. The only thing left was fishing Bassmaster - fishing the big leagues - and trying to make the Classic."

Murray, who plans to compete in the Bassmaster Western Opens this fall, fished his first tournament at the age of 13

"I've never had a real job," he said. "I've always fished tournaments. And in the West you can fish 45 to 55 tournaments a year. You can fish every weekend, even during the week. You can fish a lot if you want and that's what I used to do. But you get burned out on the same lakes. I lived on Lake Mead seven years and got burned out on it. I don't have any motivation there any more."

Murray's goal during the 2003 Tour season was to catch a limit of bass on each and every competition day. That strategy enabled him to finish fifth in the Angler of the Year race.

"I started out the year to catch them every day," he said. "To be consistent. I never really took any big gambles or anything. I just wanted to catch fish every day. And you know it's just placing in the top 60 or 70 every time that keeps you in the hunt. So I've sort of been lucky that way - basically trying to keep floating as far as making checks every tournament is what my goal has been."

NO MORE LANGUAGE BARRIER. Recent Takahiro Omori, who recently wrapped up the CITGO Horizon Award, says learning to speak English has helped him progress as a tournament competitor. It also has made tournament life far more enjoyable.

The Japanese pro arrived in Texas in 1992 without being able to speak a word of English. He solved that problem by taking extensive courses at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.

"Just being able to talk to somebody has helped," Omori said. "I'm not trying to get some local information, but just talking to the other fishermen and have some friends instead of staying in the camper by myself. Learning English just to have the basic information.

"When I came here, I had to do everything on my own. I had to develop my own fishing style because I had no choice since I had to do everything myself. It took time, but now I have good sponsorships and good Tour fishermen friends like Gary Yamamoto and Ben Matsubu."

BERKLEY BONUS. You have to hand it to the folks at BASS sponsor Berkley. When it comes to marketing, they don't miss a trick - no matter how small.

A prime example: During the 2003 Tour season, the company provided its pros with a bag of tackle that they gave to their amateur partners each day. Included were several spools of the different brands of line that Berkley makes, as well as a variety of their Frenzy hard baits and Power Bait soft plastics.

"I think it's a good idea," said Oklahoma's Kenyon Hill, winner of the season-finale in Alabama and a Berkley pro. "It gets a sample of their products in the consumer's hands and it's also a good PR gesture. They're saying they appreciate their business and thanks for your support. It's a good way for the amateurs to try some new product. Line is a product that a lot of people get locked into and don't experiment with other types of line much."

DID YOU KNOW? In this year's Classic class, Homer Humphreys owns the distinction of having the longest path back to fishing's Big Show. The Louisiana pro last appeared in a Classic back in 1989. Florida pro Jim Bitter returns to the Classic for the first time since 1996, while Pennsylvania's Randall Romig's last Classic was 1998.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. New Jersey pro Michael Iaconelli and Chad Brauer of Missouri turn 31 on June 17 and 19, respectively. Western pro Ish Monroe will be 29 on June 20. Five days later Randall Romig becomes 53. Arkansas angler Ron Shuffield celebrates his 47th birthday on June 27, while California's Skeet Reese will blow out 34 candles on June 30.

IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO... Zell Rowland, whose participation in a BASS tournament led to a minimum-age limit of 18, has never held what he calls a real job. "I would probably be doing one of two things," the 46-year-old Texas pro said. "I love to build stuff, so I'd either be a home contractor or in the air conditioning filter business, which was the business my dad was in. My dad designed the first air conditioner filter, and it was a good business - it was the reason we were able to live the way we did and I had my first boat at 13 or 14. I worked in the business a little bit when I wasn't fishing a tournament, but it wasn't in my heart to do that."

THEY SAID IT. "You talk about losing fish. Go out here and fish for these spotted bass. I was having just a downright fit this morning. They fight like a bulldog. You ever wrestle with an old bulldog with a towel or a rope? That's the way those spots do." Like his fellow competitors, three-time BASS Angler of the Year Mark Davis left Montgomery with a begrudging respect for the spotted bass living in the Alabama River and Lake Jordan.