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Ken Cook says goodbye

The 2009 Elite Series will be the last for former Bassmaster Classic champion Ken Cook. Bass Communications

At the 2009 Classic, Ken Cook announced that the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series would be his last as a professional angler. After more than 30 years in the business, including the 1991 Bassmaster Classic title, he is calling it quits. Cook will be blogging his thoughts and emotions throughout season on Bassmaster.com and ESPNOutdoors.com.

How do I write the end? Not really the end, but another start to something else, another chapter.

I have come to a time, spot, place, in which I must make a change. I have made other changes during my life, but this one seems imminently more difficult than any of the others. Of course, the other changes also seemed this way at their times.

Nothing stays the same for long, but life changes are different. Different from changing vehicles, or moving to another town, they are soul stretching changes that define who we are and who we will become.

At the end of the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series, I will hang up my competitive fishing rods and stop trying to make my living in tournament competition. I didn't say quit fishing; just stop trying to beat everyone else at catching those little fish that make us all so crazy.

It's going to hurt, feel good and strain my personality to make this change. BASS tournaments have dominated my lifestyle for most of my adult life. Ever since I caught my first bass at age 8, I have been fascinated by and driven to "solve the puzzle" of catching more bass.

More bass than my friends, then more bass than the fishermen Ray Scott could assemble for a tournament. I have had some success at this effort and some failures, too. Many more unsuccessful efforts than successful ones I would say, but enough positives to make it seem fabulous as a whole.

I have learned a lot about fish and fishermen in those 30 or so years, and I hope that maybe I have helped some other anglers catch one more bass. Helping other fishermen understand our sport has always been important to me. It has always been important to me that my experiences and the information I gleaned be passed on to other anglers so that they might not make some of my mistakes.

As the 2009 Elite tour progresses, I have to explore my feelings toward this change. I need to understand this change and it will help me if I write about how it feels. Maybe by writing about how I got here and some of the important events that got me here, I can bring to closure this segment of my life and move onto what comes next.

What does come next? For me it is a number of things. Fishing for one. Tammy and I plan to fish for bass and travel to lots of other places to catch lots of other things. I will never get enough fishing. I love every part of it, the puzzle, the solution, the catch and all the rest. If my experiences can help someone else enjoy our sport, then it is important.

Hunting is another. It has always been an important part of my life. My college degree focused on wildlife management. I want to manage our Tarbone Ranch to grow big deer and other animals for the enjoyment of my family and others.

It gives me tremendous pleasure to see the light in a new hunter's eyes when they have the opportunity to participate in the harvest of a deer or turkey or whatever. This connection with nature is becoming too distant for far too many people. It is too important to ignore.

As the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series approaches, I have memories of my first BASS tournament. I have memories of my last tournament, too.

Between these two landmark events, there have been lots of high spots and low spots. I plan to re-visit some of these events to help myself and maybe you too, understand not only fishing, but also the emotions associated with winning and losing at life's endeavors.

I'm not using the word "retirement." That sounds too final. I'm calling it a life change because I will NOT retire. I will continue to live my life. I will continue to learn and hopefully I will continue to grow as a human being. It's hard to make this decision, but it has been hard to not make this decision for a couple of years now.

My body is changing. It hurts to stand all day. My financial situation is changing. My long-time sponsors are supportive of my efforts to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, their ability to be financially supportive has changed.

The difficult economic climate has created a huge gamble for me. My winning percentage has declined to the point where it is too much of a gamble to continue. It also hurts my feelings to struggle so often in the competitive arena. I want to win, not just compete.

I think I am looking forward to this year on the Elite Series more than any series in a long time.

I have a different outlook. There is no pressure. I don't have to worry about points toward making next year possible and financially rewarding. I only have to concentrate on enjoying each and every day on the water in competition.

That's the way it should be anyway, but making a career out of bass fishing means worry. Worry about making the cut. Worry about making the Classic. Worry about making next year's circuit etc. etc. etc.

This year, I have none of these worries. I only have to worry about enjoying the day, enjoying competition between the bass and me.

No worries at all.

Click here to read the next installment as Ken Cook blogs about his final season on the Elite Series.

For more information about Ken Cook's career and and his Tarbone Ranch, go to >KenCookOutdoors.com