The quiet comeback belongs to Charlie Ingram. The 58-year-old Tennessee pro retired after fishing a Tour event on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga in 2001. During his 20 years on the BASS circuit, Ingram enjoyed a stellar career that included four victories, eight appearances at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, prize money in 173 events and total BASS career earnings of more than $300,000.
Ingram's hottest season came in 1984, when he won three BASS tournaments. He won two consecutive events, placed high in the next two competitions and then added a third title. When he retired in 2001, it was to focus on his long-running (14 years) Fishing University and Hunting University television shows. But he credits much of his success on television with the tournaments that gave him his start.
"I like being back here," said Ingram, cheerful despite a miserable cold front that decimated the fishing at last week's tournament on Smith Lake. "BASS is where I made my name.
"I like the things that are going on. You can now fish the Tour and be over with it in about three months - before turkey season gets here. So I just decided to recommit and see what happens. I'm not saying I'll do it every year, but right now I'm excited about it."
Ingram hasn't enjoyed a great start in his comeback. He finished 106th with 14 pounds, 3 ounces in the season-opener on Florida's Harris Chain before struggling to catch one small bass en route to placing 128th at Alabama's Smith Lake.
HOW TOUGH WAS IT? The final numbers tell the story of how brutally challenging last week's Tour stop on Smith Lake proved to be: The 157 pros struggled to catch just five five-bass limits and a total of 357 bass weighing 923 pounds, 2 ounces. The average bass (which was 16 inches or larger) weighed 2.58 pounds.
In other words, the entire field averaged slightly more than a two-fish catch over a four-day tournament, or 5.8 pounds of fish per angler.
A FISH OF A DIFFERENT COLOR. Bassmaster pros Stephen Browning and Gerald Swindle plan to take their act to a different tournament scene in the lull between the Tour season and the Classic. They plan to be try their hands as partners for The Redfish Cup on ESPN.
"Right now we're high up on the waiting list," Browning said. "We're looking forward to fishing them.
"We think that the redfish tournaments are going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. We just figure if we jump in on the front side of it, that's a lot more crossover publicity we can get. Plus, it's a team tournament. We don't ever get to fish any team tournaments for big money and it's going to be a lot of fun. We just thought it would be a good direction to go, and we're going to give it a whirl."
Browning sums up the total experience that his team has when it comes to chasing redfish:
"Probably between the two of us, we know they're shallow-water fish and we feel like we can probably catch them. That's about it. We've caught them down on the Delta in New Orleans (while practicing for past Classics). I've caught them on purpose when they came up schooling on the Delta. And that's about the extent of Gerald's experience, too."
BUSCH SHOOTOUT UPDATE. The buzz is growing among Tour pros who hope to be among the 13 anglers to qualify for the $160,000 Busch Shootout Tournament slated for Sept. 18 on a mystery lake. The potential field of anglers is made up of daily Bush Heavyweights, who bring in the largest sack of fish during a competition day at Tour or Elite 50 events.
In September, the pros from that field with the 10 largest single-day catches will join the owners of the largest catches in the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship presented by Busch Beer (John Murray), CITGO BASS Federation Championship presented by Busch Beer and CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer in a one-day tournament that gives $100,000 to the winner and $5,000 to the other 12 competitors.
Right now, these are the pros atop the standings: David Wharton, 26-7; Jason Quinn, 24-14; Greg Hackney, 16-0; Marty Stone, 15-13; Scott Suggs, 13-12; Bud Pruitt, 13-10; Edwin Evers, 8-5; and Charlie Weyer, 8-0.
DID YOU KNOW? Fifty percent of all BASS members participate in tournaments.
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Missouri pro Stacey King will be 55 on Feb. 22. Florida's Charlie Younger turns 52 three days later.
IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO... After winning the Tour stop on Smith Lake, Charlie Weyer might decide to quit his day job. The 34-year-old California pro is a part-time caterer in Hollywood. In fact, Weyer had been working on a movie shoot with Keanu Reeves just before heading to Alabama. "I can't believe all these people want my autograph," he said. "I'm used to seeing actors sign all the time, but this is unbelievable."
THEY SAID IT. "I want to say one thing about him. When he won the Classic, I was one of the ones that said we'll look back 15 years from now and he will be the one who changed the sport. Dynamic personality. Dynamic individual. He's the one who carries the flag for us for a while. He's a great champion." Florida Tour winner Marty Stone praises Michael Iaconelli.