Without enough sponsorship support and getting no takers from corporate America, the 30-year-old Texas pro did what he had to do to join the Bassmaster Elite Series: He took out a bank loan and invested in himself … without hesitation.
“I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by,” said Rogers, who is in Del Rio, Texas, this week on the big-bass waters of Lake Amistad with 105 other top fishermen preparing for the much-anticipated Bassmaster Elite Series season opener.
“I’m looking at it like any other business opportunity. If you’re fixing to buy a restaurant, you’ve got to come up with the money and hopefully you do well enough to pay it off. And that’s how I’m approaching this.
“To me, it’s a great opportunity. It’s going to be kind of tough. But as long as I stay on top of it, everything will be fine.”
Rogers qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series after just two seasons in the big leagues of bass fishing. He has cashed a check in 16 of 37 BASS events and earned $37,012. Rogers operates a Skeeter-wrapped boat; his other sponsors are Cassity-Jones Lumber Yards, Wave Worms, Yamaha and Mike Craig Ford out of Gilmer, Texas.
“I’m really excited about the Elite Series,” he said. “I think this is going to tell the tale as far as the future of this sport. If this thing can kick off and do like we think it might, I think a lot of good things are going to come our way.”
SWINDLE’S FANS. A sign of the times — and just how far the sport of bass fishing has come — could be evidenced by the apparel of two young fans at the recent CITGO Bassmaster Classic who had traveled to the Kissimmee, Fla., championship from Connecticut. The girls were wearing replicas of Gerald Swindle’s CITGO tournament jersey with “I Love Gerald Swindle” written in black marker on their faces and foreheads.
“I think it just says a lot about where we’re going,” the Alabama pro said as he signed autographs for the girls. “I fished my first Classic in ’98, and when I came in to the coliseum I did not see one fan with a sign rooting for a particular angler. They rooted on bass fishing.”
“Now when you come in to the coliseum,” Swindle said, “you look out in the stands and you see, ‘I Love Reese.’ You see, ‘Go Mize.’ You see, ‘Ike Rocks.’ You see fans following an angler, and I think that’s what it’s going to take for this sport to go to the level where everybody wants to take it.”
“I’ve always said that to build a good empire, you have to have a strong foundation,” Swindle explained. “Like these girls right here — that’s the youth. That’s who we have to reach. That’s my job; I want to attract younger people and do my part for the sport.
“When I leave this sport, I want to be recognized as the guy that worked to do his part and see it grow, because I love it and I want all of the people coming behind me to have the same opportunity that I had.”
BIG WINNERS. During Bassmaster Classic week, six Federation Nation conservation directors received the first BASS Federation Conservation Award for their division, as chosen by BASS Conservation for their achievements. The awards were presented to recognize sustained contributions to bass and aquatic resource conservation and the future of fishing.
The award was an etched, crystal obelisk engraved with the BASS shield and the inscription, “2006 BASS Federation Nation Conservation Award.”
The winners were: Ron Gilworth of New Mexico; Tim Cook, Texas; Vern Wagner, Minnesota; Jim Howard, Alabama; Bill Reichert, Pennsylvania; and Wil Wegman, Ontario.
The awards were presented by Noreen Clough, Chris Horton and Ray Scott at a reception for the BASS Federation Nation conservation directors, state fish chiefs and federal partners. The reception was sponsored by the American Sportfishing Association and BUSCH.
WEIRDEST CATCH. Out of all the pros who were asked to name their strangest catch, Michael Iaconelli - ranked third on the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index - might have the most unique story.
“I was fishing a club tournament and it was all small boats — johnboats and trolling motors only,” he recalled. “I was getting ready to move to another spot, so I reached back to turn the trolling motor on and, as I did, I kicked one of my rods over. Being a poor kid at the time, I just instinctively jumped for the rod. But I forgot that the trolling motor was on.”
“So the boat went on without me. It was spring and the water temperature was below 50 degrees. It was a serious threat,” Iaconelli said. “It was a pretty good swim. About halfway to the bank I’m getting tired and I’m nervous now. I had my club jacket on with the BASS patch and my name on it. So I shed the jacket and made it to the bank, exhausted.
“I was fishing another tournament there about two years later. I’m out in that same area cranking when I set the hook on what I thought was a fish. Then it felt like just another piece of brush. I’m reeling and reeling it until I finally got it in. I had hooked my jacket two years later. All of the stitching was gone, but it was faded enough that you could still see my name on the jacket. That’s a true story.”
DID YOU KNOW? Luke Clausen traveled farther (2,872 miles) to the Bassmaster Classic in Kissimmee than any previous Bassmaster Classic winner.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO … Bassmaster Classic contender and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Scott Rook would likely still be working in a tackle store.
“That’s a hard question to answer because all I’ve ever done was fish,” he said. “When I was in my early 20s, I took a job in a tackle store so I could be around fishing more.”
THEY SAID IT. “I know my boundary. I’m a realist. I think I’m a decent amateur, but, good heavens, nobody understands how great these guys are more than I do. I just so appreciate what these guys are able to do. Like this morning: a delay because of squalls coming through, the wind comes out of the north blistering, they’ve got a rainstorm that’s blowing parallel to the ground. And these guys are still catching fish. It’s an amazing thing.” - ESPN Classic anchor and veteran sports broadcaster Ron Franklin, an avid angler who once hosted a television fishing show, was asked during the recent Bassmaster Classic if he ever dreamed of qualifying for the Classic.
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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.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208. To join BASS, call 1-877-BASS-USA or visit www.bassmaster.com.