Pros Turn Attention to Katrina Victims

Inside BASS

There have been many heart-warming stories about Americans coming together to help improve the lives of Hurricane Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast. And that includes the efforts of several CITGO Bassmaster pros.

Former CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Robert Hamilton was among the first to leap into action. Helping out was especially important to Hamilton, who recently moved from hurricane-stricken Mississippi to Nashville, Tenn.

“We started out trying to get boats in there to help rescue people (in New Orleans),”he said. “By the time we got a bunch of stuff ready from Mercury and Triton, (state and federal officials) didn’t want people going in that didn”t have a gun and a badge.

“So we shifted and started collecting money. Through the churches, we’ve raised thousands and thousands of dollars and bought all kinds of stuff with it. People have just come out of the woodwork to help, which is really cool. We’ve now taken five trailerloads of stuff down there with water, food and baby products. As things change, different types of things are needed.

“All of our stuff has gone to Mississippi. When we got the first truckload to Hattiesburg (two weeks ago), they said we were the first truck to hit the ground down there. I’ve been all the way to the beach where everything has just been leveled. It’s been real satisfying to be able to help out.”

Former CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle also launched an effort to make a difference. His relief endeavor was aimed at both rescuers and families in need.

Swindle solicited help from fellow pros Marty Stone, Kevin VanDam, Kevin Wirth, Stephen Browning, Scott Suggs, Kevin Short and Mike Wurm, as well as Loudmouth Bass” Mark Zona. Also helping were Steve Bowman, Jerry McKinnis and Tommy Sanders from the Little Rock, Ark., video production company JM Associates. Together, they gathered and delivered meals to the devastated city of Gulfport. Various family members and friends also joined in.

The core of the volunteers added a new dimension to the Angel Anglers program, a group of anglers who visit hospitals near tournament sites to cheer up patients.

Swindle, who has family ties to the storm-ravaged portion of Mississippi, and his hurricane relief volunteers quickly collected about $190,000 worth of food, new clothes and needed products.

In Gulfport, Swindle estimates that his group delivered two 18-foot truckloads of products and then cooked about 1,000 hot dogs and 1,000 hamburgers, which were eagerly accepted by firefighters and their families, National Guardsmen and other military personnel, Red Cross volunteers and others. The group worked about 38 hours with little sleep.

“I was really proud of the guys that went with me,”Swindle said. “I was remarkably impressed at the help that showed up. All I had was an idea, and a few phone calls and four days later, we hit the ground with 40 to 45 people helping. That’s when I realized how amazing the group of people is that I’m associated with.

“This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we”ll have to help people that really, really needed it.Ó

CASTINGKIDS. Some Bassmaster pros might be enjoying a hiatus from competition, but that’s not the case with budding tournament anglers.

The Bassmaster CastingKids program is in full swing throughout the country. For example, youngsters in Georgia have a chance to compete in five CastingKids events Saturday in Enigma, Gainesville, Vidalia, Hardeeville, and Martinez.

The CastingKids program has conducted more than 17,600 events in America and Canada involving more than 1.6 million youngsters since its inception in 1991. And more than $3 million in cash, prizes and scholarships has been awarded since that time.

PROUD WINNER. Less than a year ago, Kent Caulfield from Cherryvale, Kansas, had his name pulled from nearly 200,000 entries in a Purolator sweepstakes for a boat and truck. The lifetime BASS member was obviously proud of his good fortune and now is going above and beyond to promote the sport and its sponsors.

“I see how much sponsors do for this sport and it’s mind-boggling,”said Caulfield. “I don’t think BASS would be where it is today without the sponsors and I want to promote them to get people more interested in bass fishing.”

For the past nine months, Caulfied has taken hundreds of hours of personal time to drive the boat and truck to BASS Tour events, Federation tournaments, CastingKids events and the like using the draw of the sponsored rig to promote his newfound, unofficial “sponsors.”

“We couldn't have picked a more perfect winner,”marveled Purolator spokeswoman Jo Piland. “While most people would've taken their new boat and truck, potentially unwrapped it and disappeared every weekend to fish the days away, Kent decided to use the boat and truck to assume the role of ambassador for BASS, Purolator and the sport of fishing.”

In addition, Caulfield has taken the boat and truck to elementary schools to promote fishing and worked the Purolator booth at this summer’s ESPN Outdoors Expo presented by Under Amour at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh to promote the 2005 boat/truck giveaway.

A HELPING HAND. This month, BASS responded to call for assistance from the Watertown office of New York”s Department of Environmental Conservation. An Aug. 10 liquid manure spill in the Black River caused a major fishkill, wiping out 60 to 90 percent of the fish in about a 12-mile stretch of the water, according to Frank Flack, fisheries manager for the department.

Flack feared a significant amount of broodstock _ vital for next spring’s spawn _ died in the accident. Flack appealed to BASS, which was hosting a Bassmaster Weekend Series tournament nearby on the St. Lawrence River.

“BASS always is cooperative in its efforts to help fisheries conserve resources for both anglers and the general public,”said Noreen Clough, BASS Conservation director. “Both Frank and we knew this spill would have long-lasting effects and we hope this transfer of fish will help the population bounce back faster.”

In all, BASS transported more than 130 bass weighing between 1 and 5 pounds - all of the smallmouth caught in the tournament _ to Black River. DEC spokesman Stephen Litwhiler said he hopes the quick action might help the area repopulate quicker. ”We appreciate the cooperation of BASS in starting the restocking effort.”

WEIRDEST CATCH. While Tommy Biffle recalls with humor the weirdest catch ever reeled into his boat, his wife Sharon did not find it as funny.

“Sharon was fishing with me one time and we were flipping willows,” the veteran Oklahoma pro said. “She set the hook and a snake came flying out of the water. It was some kind of water snake about 4 feet long that had bit her craw.

“I thought it was pretty funny, but she was trying to throw her rod in the water. She’s deathly afraid of snakes.”

DID YOU KNOW? Last week’s BUSCH Shootout on Table Rock Lake in Missouri brings to mind the old days when the early CITGO Bassmaster Classics involved a mystery location. Can you name the last year that the Classic had a mystery format? (Answer: 1976).

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Tim Horton of Alabama will be 33 on Oct. 3. Mark Davis (42), Tony Couch (55) and Gary Klein (48) all share Oct. 11 as their birthday. Two days later, Marty Stone turns 40.

IF I HADN”T BECOME A BASS PRO: Florida pro Chuck Economou likely would still be working as an accountant in Michigan.

THEY SAID IT. “The question I get asked most often is, “How do I become a bass pro?” I remember seeing Rick Clunn being asked that same question 15 years ago on television, and he said a lot of has to do with how much heart you have and how much you really want it. A lot of people want to do it, but they don’t want to sacrifice everything for it. To be a full-time pro, you have to be completely dedicated to it. You have to have the heart and desire to do whatever it takes to make it.” Veteran Arizona pro Dean Rojas.