Want to catch up on all of Ken Cook's blogging? Click here to start at the beginning and read Ken's first blog about his final year as a professional bass angler.
When you look back at life, the best things that remain are the memories. Trophies mark our progress as anglers or whatever craft we pursue, but it is the memories that matter. Memories you keep and memories others keep of you are true measures of a lifetime.
There are lots of memories in my past of fishing tournaments and other life experiences.
Here are some of the ones I will keep:
I remember being mad because I did NOT qualify for the Bassmasters Classic after winning the Bassmaster Chapter Championship on Grand Lake in 1980. It lit a fire under me to give pro fishing a go in the BASS Invitational circuit the next year.
I remember doing just that in the first year of trying: qualifying for the 1981 Classic on the Alabama River and finishing 12th. Stanley Mitchell won that event and I learned a lot about how to compete on the biggest stage in fishing.
I remember Tammy and I going to Florida a week after getting married and winning the 1982 Florida Invitational. It was a "Wow" moment, knowing I could compete on the biggest stage in fishing at the time. That was the beginning of our teamwork that allowed me to compete at the highest level.
I remember missing Tammy during my next trip to Florida in March 1983. I also will never forget that 8 pound, 4 ounce bass that pushed me over the top to win that event. But the best memory from that trip is making the phone call from that little phone booth on the street in Palatka telling her I had won and we could quit our real jobs.
I remember taking Jason with us to Florida for a tournament and going to Sea World and Disney World. That was a great trip. Another one was Jason with us while practicing for the Classic on the Arkansas River. He spent more time swimming behind the boat than fishing. He was a trooper. Still is.
I remember Tammy bringing Hunter and Tanner into our lives a little while later. She was good enough to deliver them between the tournament and seminar schedules. At three weeks old we had Hunter and Tanner at their first tournament.
Then there were the road trips with twins in a big basket traveling all over the U.S. They made quite a stir in their basket while we were eating at various restaurants and of course at the tournaments. Tammy always had plenty of other tournament wives to help her with them when she needed it.
I remember the tense moments waiting for Randy Romig to weigh in at the Classic in 1991. The feeling afterwards when we knew WE had won was and still is indescribable. That was a life changing moment for sure and the best thing was that we knew it at the time.
I remember bringing those winnings home and paying off the mortgage on our land that now has become Tarbone Ranch. Not long after that, we built our home in the middle of that magical place in the Wichita Mountains. It is HOME!
I remember granddaughter Rylee catching her first bass on our pond just last month. She even got her feet a little muddy and she hates mud.
I remember the moment last year when Tammy and I made the decision to quit the Elite Series after the 2009 season. It is a pleasant memory, another one that changed our lives forever. I knew then it was for the best and I know it even more surely now.
I will always remember the warm feeling I had last night when I received recognition for whatever impact I have had on the sport of bass fishing. Men do not often voice our feelings to each other about respect and admiration, but I felt it last night.
Having my whole family present last night put the icing on the memory cake. It made their support for my career in pro fishing tangible and more real than ever. I thank them for that. They have always been with me in my heart, but looking out and seeing them sitting there made it even more special to us all.
I remember waking up at 4 a.m. this morning and realizing I was not fishing the tournament today, not just today, but nevermore as an Elite Series competitor. I am OKAY with that.
I can forget some moments too.
I won't miss waiting through the weigh-ins to see if I had made the cut.
I will try to forget standing in the parking lot at Kentucky Lake the first time I missed the Classic cut in 1986 by something like 3 ounces.
That is what life is about!
In my life, the good ones far outweigh the bad, so I win the tournament of memories. At least, that is what I remember.