Editor's Note: Longtime BASS Senior Writer Tim Tucker was killed Monday, July 16, in an automobile accident near Gainesville, Fla. This was his final edition of Inside BASS.
CELEBRATION, Fla. Jimmy Mason is the kind of professional angler who is easy to root for and support.
The personable, easy-going Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Rogersville, Ala., is well liked by peers and fans who follow the sport. But in the struggle to make his mark on the most visible and prestigious level of professional fishing, Mason has endured a frustrating rookie season among the sport's elite.
"It hasn't gone as planned, obviously," said Mason, who is a guide on Alabama's Lake Guntersville when he is not competing in the Elite Series. "This year didn't start out like I wanted it to. It's been a little tougher than expected. But I'm hoping I can turn it around on the northern swing."
With three tournaments remaining, Mason is in 99th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with little chance at making his first Bassmaster Classic appearance. The top 36 in those standings will qualify for the 2008 Bassmaster Classic.
Mason's season began with disappointing showings of 104th and 105th at the first two Elite Series events, on Texas' Lake Amistad and the California Delta, respectively. He bounced back with a 45th at California's Clear Lake and nearly qualified for a top-50 cut with a 62nd at Clarks Hill. But the wheels came off completely as he finished 98th at his home lake (Guntersville), followed by a 77th at Smith Mountain Lake. Mason qualified for a cut with a 39th at Grand Lake, but his hopes of turning it around during the northern swing took a hit this weekend with a 107th at Lake Champlain.
Mason has put a positive spin on his season, preferring to use it as a learning experience.
"Before this season, the farthest west I had ever been was Sam Rayburn
(in Texas)," Mason said. "It was really cool driving across the country, driving across the desert and seeing things that I never had. Everybody should make that drive at least once in their life. It was a long drive, but it was very cool.
"I had never been to California. It was awesome. Clear Lake is by far the best lake that I had ever fished, both in terms of numbers and size. Every day of the tournament I caught at least 65 or 70 fish. During the tournament, I would have a limit every morning within the first 10 casts that weighed 17 to 19 pounds using a shaky head jig and Yum Houdini worm."
Mason's respect for the top Elite Series pros has grown this season.
"It's pretty incredible. They will catch them every day," he said. "I guess I didn't realize just how good they are.
"It's real amazing, especially how they utilize practice. We have basically 2 ½ days, and I think that's one of the things that separates the consistent anglers from the others — being able to most effectively use that practice time. When the tournament starts, they're fishing the right areas and the right ways."
ANGLER OF THE YEAR RACE.
After briefly giving up his lead in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., took back the top position on the strength of a second-place finish this past weekend at the Champion's Choice presented by Toyota Tundra.
Now trailing Reese by just 12 points is three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam. In third is California's Jared Lintner, nearly 100 points behind Reese but still within striking distance. The second-place showing was Reese's third since the 2007 Elite season kicked off with the Bassmaster Classic in February.
"I've always believed that the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title is hands down the biggest reward in tournament fishing," said Reese, 38. "That's my ultimate goal in tournament fishing, to achieve that title. I hope I'm able to get it. There's still 12 days of competition left and I hope I fish all 12 days. That's all I can do."
The Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year program is one of the most prestigious awards in the sport. The award, based on season-long performance, pays out $125,000 to the winner and $600,000 to the top 50 finishers.
ROOKIE BATTLE ROYAL.
Last season, Steve Kennedy ran roughshod over the Toyota Rookie of the Year field en route to nearly winning the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
This season, a good battle is shaping up as the race enters the home stretch with three tournaments remaining on the schedule.
Texas' Derek Remitz, winner of the season opener on Lake Amistad, is leading with 1,599 points. In second place is Casey Ashley of South Carolina (1,557) and Florida's Bryan Hudgins (1,446). Missouri's Scott Campbell and Matt Sphar of New York still have a shot with 1,404 and 1,401 points, respectively.
The Elite rookies have proved to be a talented crop with two victories among them. In June, Ashley won the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts, joining Remitz as a rookie Elite winner. The top prize for the award is $25,000.
DUCKETT'S NEW DEAL.
2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett has signed a deal with Toronto-based Element 21. This is the first foray into fishing for Element 21, a company best known for its golf products.
Duckett will be heavily involved in field testing all of e21's new rod lines. He also will provide technical assistance with other forms of advertising that e21 will pursue throughout the coming year. Additionally, Boyd will act as pro staff manager and will be involved in the selection of e21's pro staff.
Roland Martin, who leads in all-time career tournament wins, was recently asked whether he misses BASS competition.
"Sure, I miss it," replied Martin, who retired after the 2005 Bassmaster season. "I still have dreams and even nightmares about losing big fish and losing big tournaments like I always have. And I wish that I could be fishing the Classic again and some of the other big tournaments that BASS has.
"I follow the big tournaments. When they start talking about the real good fishing they had at the (California) Delta or at Amistad, I want to know about it. I don't miss the real tough lakes. I want to hear about the really good fishing."
Elite Series rookie Glenn DeLong II runs a boat wrapped to promote Jackson Geothermal, a major commercial well-drilling, pump servicing and water treatment company based in Mansfield, Ohio.
Also, the Ohio pro recently signed a deal with Franklin Electric, the world's largest manufacturer of submersible water well and fueling systems motors.
Elite Series pro Cliff Pace knew he was fishing on a renowned party lake years ago in his native Mississippi when he hooked into an unusual object.
"I caught a beer can on a Carolina rig," he recalled. "I was about 15 years old, fishing on a small lake close to my home."
"The can had a rusty spot in it, and I guess the way I was dragging my Carolina rig, it lined up just right to hook it there. I thought I had something good for just a second."
DID YOU KNOW?
And then there was one. When this weekend's Champion's Choice on Lake Champlain ended, only one pro remained who has cashed a check in every Elite Series tournament Jared Lintner. The California angler finished 15th, while Jeff Kriet's 99th-place showing dropped him from the exclusive club.
IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO...
Elite Series rookie Casey Ashley likely would be working in the industrial electronics field. The South Carolina pro attended Greenwood's Piedmont Tech before putting that career on hold. Ashley is also a talented singer and has performed the national anthem at Bassmaster Elite Series events.
THEY SAID IT.
"Probably Bassmaster Magazine. I don't read books. I'm consumed with fishing." Elite Series pro Jason Quinn's reply to the Daily Oklahoman when the newspaper asked him the name of the last book he had read
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BASS stages and sanctions bass fishing tournaments for every skill level culminating with the 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 530,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.