The 29-year-old North Carolina pro had enjoyed a number of solid finishes in BASS tournaments before reconstructive surgery on his right elbow cost him the 2006 Bassmaster Elite Series season. And another recent surgical procedure will keep him on the sidelines for the 2007 season.
“I’m fine with it,” he said. “It’s just like tournament fishing — it’s been up and down. At first, I was obviously devastated to miss the whole ’06 season. You get back and feel great and you’re on top of the world again, thinking my arm’s just as good as it’s ever been. And then something like this infection or rejection happens. Then you’re back down again.
“At one point I was worried that I might never be able to use my arm again. That’s how bad it was. But now I’m looking forward to the ’08 season.”
The four-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier had his casting elbow rebuilt with the tendon of a cadaver soon after the start of the 2006 Elite Series. After rehabbing it for months, he felt a subsequent problem brewing in December.
“It was fine for a long time,” he recalled. “Back in October and November everything was going well. I was fishing more and more every day. It was built up to where I could fish an eight-hour day.
“But around December I started noticing a little pain and a little swelling. Then I saw my doctor the week before Christmas and he determined it was either infection or rejection.”
Surgery was immediately performed at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“They took everything out that they did in the first surgery,” Wilks said. “They took out the donor tendon that they had used for a ligament. They basically flushed out the elbow to make sure there was no infection in there.
Wilks received a good report when he returned to the clinic last week.
“The good news is the last surgery that they did was good. My doctor is confident that I will make a full recovery. I told him I needed to be ready by March of ’08 and he said there was absolutely no reason to think I wouldn’t be ready by then — even if we have to do another ligament reconstruction.”
Wilks won’t be idle during the 2007 Elite Series season. He recently created www.FishLikeaPro.com, which offers one-on-one fishing lessons with several Elite Series pros. And he will be doing promotional work for his sponsors.
“My sponsors have all been very supportive and understanding. We’re still talking about what we’re going to be able to do this year. I’m still going to be able to help them in a lot of ways.”
Meanwhile, Wilks is hoping to receive a medical exemption that will allow him to qualify for the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series and if the North Carolina pro can furnish the proper paperwork, BASS officials will grant Wilks the medical exemption.
BIG DEAL. Retired Bassmaster pro Roland Martin, winner of 19 BASS tournaments, was a surprise guest on the NBC show Deal or No Deal last week. He was introduced as a nine-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Martin arrived in a bass boat on the set to entice one of his fans to “take the deal.” The total deal was worth more than $100,000 to the contestant and included cash, a boat and a fishing trip on Lake Okeechobee with the legendary angler, but the contestant turned it down.
“It was a great experience,” Martin said. “They flew me out to Hollywood to tape the show. The guy evidently had mentioned that he loved to fish and I was one of his bass-fishing heroes.
“He didn’t know I was going to be one of the prizes. He almost took the deal, but it was still early in the game. It was cool being part of the show and then going backstage and meeting everybody.”
The show was taped in November and Martin was under a gag order until it aired.
BIG CATCH. Stephen Browning has been putting the off-season to good use.
The Bassmaster Elite Series pro recently went fishing on Arkansas’ Lake Monticello where he pulled in the bass of a lifetime from the cold (46-degree) waters. The largemouth weighed 12 pounds, 5 ounces, and was caught on a white Strike King Premier Plus spinnerbait with No. 5 willow-leaf and No. 3 1/2 Colorado blades.
WATER WORK. The lives of Jan Heavener and Marsha Gipson, pros on the Mercury Marine Women’s Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats, revolve around water.
In addition to their passion for bass fishing, both work for the U.S. Geological Survey as hydrologic technicians. Recently, their preparation for this week’s WBT season-opener on Lake Amistad was interrupted when their home state of Arkansas was inundated with rain.
“This was a major flood event because the ground was saturated from rains that occurred over the past weeks,” Heavener said. “We were called to work and had to put the fishing and being a pro on the back burner.
“Anytime we have a major event with heavy rains, we have to work extra hours. Marsha works in Water Quantity [amount of flow] and I work in Water Quality [what is in the water]. These two disciplines work hand-in-hand. Saturday morning our first stop was Lake Maumelle. Marsha measured the flow of the streams as I took water samples.”
WRAP RAP. Elite Series rookie Matt Amedeo of Ohio will be driving a Triton boat in 2007 wrapped to promote The Preserve at Pickwick, a 1,200-acre gated community on the shores of Pickwick Lake in Alabama. The development includes several bass lakes designed by BASS founder Ray Scott.
DID YOU KNOW? When Royce Dennington won the recent Federation Nation National Championship on Alabama’s Neely Henry Lake, it was the high-school science teacher’s first fishing trip outside of his of his home state of Oklahoma.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO… Elite Series rookie James Kennedy would be able to devote his complete attention to his job as a mobile General Motors technician in Lacombe, La.
THEY SAID IT. “I've known him since before he won the Classic, and he's really the same guy. He's still as passionate as ever about the sport and about pursuing his dream of being the best fisherman he can be.” John Crews praising fellow Elite Series pro Michael Iaconelli to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
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