As I waiting my turn to launch, I spied an old acquaintance of mine standing at the top of the launch ramp with tackle and rods in hand. As I swung my rig around to back down the ramp, I rolled down my window to bid greetings to “Crazy” Rick Melead. Without even returning the greeting, Crazy Rick said, “Are you fishing by yourself today?” I responded in the affirmative and he follow with “Do you want a partner? I’ll split the gas money with you.”
While there are those who may have been put off by Rick’s directness, I have known him for nearly my entire 25-year bass fishing career and know that Crazy Rick is simply, well, crazy, and that this is just the way that he is. Not being one to leave a guy who really wants to go fishing standing on the dock, especially a guy with the desire and enthusiasm of Crazy Rick, I told him to load his gear (all 15 rods and 200 pounds of tackle) into my Ranger 520 and off we went.
For those of you who have had the pleasure of fishing with Crazy Rick, you know all too well that he is quite a character and a real chatter bug. During the course of the day, we talked about anything and everything possible, while enjoying one of those great fishing days that Lake Oroville is famous for.
At one point during the day, Crazy Rick asked me if I had ever fished any B.A.S.S. Federation tournaments. I told him that I had not, primarily because I did not have any extra time to fish another tournament trail and that the odds of qualifying for the BASSMASTER Classic against hundreds of thousands of other Federation anglers was a total waste of my time and an impossible long shot.
Man, it was if I had pulled the rope on a chainsaw. Rick proceeded to tell me (with the enthusiasm that only he possesses) that I only had to fish against about 30 or 40 other guys on the regional level and finish among the top 20 to qualify for the State Classic, against about 80 or 100 guys at the State Classic and finish among the top 12 to qualify for Divisional Championship, be the top finisher of the 12 California anglers to qualify for the National Championship, and be the top finisher from the Western Division (about 12 guys) to qualify for the BASSMASTER Classic.
Needless to say, I, like so many of my friends and fellow tournament anglers, had no idea how the Federation worked and what it took to follow the dream of a lifetime. I was overwhelmed by the information that Crazy Rick had just given me.
Well that Oroville tournament came and went (I managed a 28th place finish and got a small check) and, when I got home, I began researching the Federation. I quickly discovered that there had been some ugly legal (money misappropriation) issues involving a former president of the California B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation and I quickly discarded any thoughts of fishing their tournaments.
Then, in January of 2003, while working the Pomona I.S.E. show, I met the tournament director for the newly established Region-7 of the California B.A.S.S. Federation. He acknowledged that there had been some serious problems with the California Federation, but assured me that those issues had been resolved and that Gary Bradford had taken over as the new president of the California Chapter. I have known Gary for some time and knew that he had a great deal of credibility in the bass fishing industry. I then checked out the 2003 schedule for Region-7 and was surprised to see that there were no conflicts with my busy schedule. After what Crazy Rick had told me of the Federation and of a chance to follow my dream of qualifying for the BASSMASTER Classic, I said “What the heck,” and decided to give the Federation a try.
The first event of the 2003 season for Region-7 was at Castaic Lake in March. Hell, even I can catch fish at Castaic Lake in March. Lo and behold, I won the damn thing by over a pound with a 4-fish limit weighing 14.01 pounds. Although it was very exciting to win my first ever Federation tournament, I was even more excited about how much fun I had fishing the tournament. I had a blast with my draw partner George Fedor and thoroughly enjoyed the genuine camaraderie and friendship among the entire field. It had been many years since I had this much fun fishing a tournament. And even though there were a number of very good anglers from the area fishing the tournament and the competition tough, missing was the vicious, cutthroat attitudes that have become all to common in today’s tournament competition. I knew right then and there that I was hooked on the Federation and began looking forward to (hopefully) qualifying for the State Classic to be held in October at my favorite fishery in the world, the California Delta.
The remainder of my inaugural season on the Federation tournament trail went rather well, with a second place finish and two eighth place finishes to add to my win. Unfortunately, I had to miss the final tournament of the season due to a very important business meeting, which took me out of the running for the Region-7 Angler of the Year title. I did, however, qualify for the State Classic, where I again experienced a great deal of camaraderie and friendship from fellow Federation anglers from throughout the state. Although my performance at the State Classic was less than stellar (very much so), the memories and newfound friendships will remain with me forever. And, oh, by the way, my second day partner at the State Classic was none other than (you guessed it), Crazy Rick Melead, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the Federation.
Although there has been only one Federation angler to win the prestigious BASSMASTER Classic in its 33-year history (Bryan Kerchal in 1994), this year’s Classic champ Michael Iaconelli qualified for the Classic through the Federation in 1999, where he finished in 6th place. Iaconelli isn’t shy to say that it was his Federation experiences that vaulted him into the pro ranks and helped give him the confidence needed to win this year’s Classic. There have been several other Federation anglers to garnish top 10 finishes at the BASSMASTER Classic over the years, as well.
For those of you who have never fished a Federation tournament, or for those of you new to our beloved sport that want to step into the world of bass tournament competition, I strongly recommend giving the Federation a try. Although Federation tournaments are draw type tournaments (i.e. non-shared weight tournaments), you will find that your partners are more than willing to help you catch fish. You can enter as a boater or as a non-boater (non-boaters are entitled to fish their water and to run the front of the boat for one half of the fishing day). The cost to fish these tournaments is minimal and requires membership in B.A.S.S. and the Federation. You must also belong to a B.A.S.S. affiliated club, of which there are many throughout California (some of which require no meetings or additional tournaments). You can get complete details about the California B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation and about the region and clubs in your area by going to the award winning California B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation website at: http://www.californiabass.org.
As for my future with the California B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation in 2004, I’ll borrow a quote from our newly elected governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back!”
Thank you for your time and always remember: “The shortest distance between two points is a reef!”