BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Eighteen years.
All those weekends on the water, in tournaments, in practice. All those days when he had some downtime while serving with the Indiana state police. All those rides home from the lake.
That's how long Terry McWilliams of Greenfield, Ind., has been pursuing his dream of competing in the Bassmaster Classic.
This weekend on Lay Lake, he'll realize that longtime pursuit when he and 49 other anglers try to win the prestigious championship.
"'I've been in 10 Northern Divisional championship, three national championships and now the Classic," he said. "Anything I do from here is a bonus. I can't wait to get started."
McWilliams qualified as the winner of the Northern Division berth during last month's Bassmaster Federation Nation championship on Neely Henry Lake. He did it with a simple setup he calls his "stupid tube," which is nothing more than a soft-plastic tube on a Bite Me jighead.
"I caught them in practice on it and I plan to do it again," he said. "I had a decent practice but things are going to change this weekend and the guy who makes the right changes and decisions will have a shot at winning.
"I think I have as good a shot as anyone here of winning it. There's fish out there and I just need five a day. I'm going to put my ol' stupid tube to work and see what happens."
McWilliams tabs the Ohio River as his favorite tournament spot, although he's fished all over the state. He's a member of the Cataract Hawg Stickers Bassmaster Federation Nation Club and in the last year has started a guide business on the White River.
"I retired last January (2006) from the state police and started guiding on White River," he said. "It has some pretty good smallmouth fishing and I got a jet boat to run the river, which is about 2-3 feet deep in most areas. The jet boat ride is part of the fun. I guide from Waverly to Noblesville, but have had some good trips even in downtown Indianapolis.
"That's pretty neat, and as far as the fish, they're mean and fun. My retirement is enough to keep my wife and I alive, but the guide business is what keeps me in fishing. I enjoy guiding and teaching people to fish, seeing them catch fish. I enjoy it as much as catching them myself."