ESPN2: Unlikely pair hook more than bass

Editor's note: Watch "BassCenter" for a tribute to the late Tom Mann, a bass-fishing legend and an entrepreneur who had a dramatic impact on the industry. ESPN2's "BassCenter" re-airs at 5:30 a.m. ET on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Brett Smith is like many other 11-year-olds.

He loves to play, laugh and have a good time, especially while hunting and fishing.

But as viewers of ESPN2's "BassCenter" will see on this BASS Saturday at 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. ET, the Williamsburg, Va., boy, differs from his pals in one very significant way: he has battled a deadly disease and he's beaten it.

And he's conquered it thanks in part to his Christian faith and a unique friendship that he shares with BASS pro Woo Daves.

"Woo is a really nice guy," Brett said. "He's a ton of fun to hang out with and a good all-around guy.

"He fishes pretty good, too."

Indeed he does. Daves has made a habit of fishing well over the years since joining the BASS Tournament Trail, marching to the winner's platform five times including at 2000 CITGO Bassmaster Classic in Chicago on Lake Michigan.

But Daves, a Spring Grove, Va., resident, also has made a habit of helping out people who are in need, people just like the young Smith.

So it comes as little surprise to those who know Daves well that when asked in July 2003 if he would be willing to meet Smith, a young boy who was battling Hodgkins lymphoma, the Virginia bass legend readily agreed.

"When they came over, Brett had just had a treatment the day before," Daves recalled. "When he walked through the door, his eyes were as big as saucers."

But not for long, as the pair quickly discovered their shared love of bass fishing — and a good laugh.

"We started talking about some tackle that he had just bought," Daves said. "He pulled out some Zoom Worms and Mustad hooks. I told him those were good choices.

"Then he pulled out a Kevin VanDam spinnerbait and said, 'What do you think?' I took it and threw it in the trash and said, 'You don't need that!'

"Of course, I was just kidding."

Brett and his family stayed at Daves' home for about an hour that evening as Daves showed the lad his fishing trophies, his collection of whitetail deer mounts and his pride-and-joy kennel full of rabbit-hounding beagles.

As they prepared to depart, Daves issued a heartfelt invitation.

"I told him I'd take him fishing sometime," Daves said. "I told him to give me a call about the first of April."

Smith and his father, Robby, did just that. The result, aside from an epic day of flounder fishing, is an inspiring friendship that appears ready to last for a couple of lifetimes.

And it's that friendship with a courageous little boy battling a terrifying disease that has let the elder Smith know that there's far more to Woo Daves than a collection of fishing tackle and trophies.

"I thought that if you had won the Bassmaster Classic, you'll be real popular and would probably not have a whole lot of time for stuff (like this)," Robby said.

"But he's definitely just a good old boy just like me," he continued. "We hit it off. He's just a nice guy."

A nice guy, that is, who does more than just talk about helping people in need — sometimes including those that he's never even met.

That was evidenced a number of years ago when Daves was interviewed following a close runner-up finish in the Classic.

"There was a guy actually watching on TV when I came in second," Daves said. "He was an alcoholic and his family was all mad at him, and he had decided to kill himself by jumping off a Mississippi River bridge."

Until, that is, the man saw Daves' television interview.

"When I was on stage, I gave praise to the Lord for my wins, my wife, for everything," Daves said. "He watched it on TV. He didn't know me, but said if a fisherman could get up there on national TV and say something like that, then he could turn his life around.

"He went home, got down on his knees in the driveway and asked the Lord to forgive him and asked his wife to forgive him."

A few years later, Daves met the man whose life he had helped to change without even knowing about it.

To this day, Daves continues to use his angling abilities to help others.

Proof of that can be found in his involvement with the Pro-Am Teams' Piers for Handicapped Fishermen program and the hosting of the Hopewell, Va., Optimist Club's kids fishing tournament for nearly a decade.

It also can be seen in Daves' work with Super Kids, a program that works to assist mentally challenged adults and youth in South Hill, Va., something that Daves describes on his Web site (www.woodaves.com) as his "proudest accomplishment."

But in Robby Smith's eyes, not to mention the eyes of his wife, Kerry, and daughter, Brook, the proof of Daves' desire to help others is found in a professional angler who has done it all but still has the time to take an ill young boy fishing.

Today, with Brett Smith's illness now in remission, Daves continues to take him fishing … and deer hunting …and rabbit hunting … and … well, you get the picture.

"How can you not like somebody like this," Robby Smith asked. "He's stayed faithful to Brett as a friend. In fact, on Christmas morning, he called to see what Santa Claus had brought him."

"We have a lot of faith in the Lord," he continued. "We've had a lot of prayer. We've had a lot of friends. And all of that has helped."

Today, Brett is an energetic young man who dreams of one day bass fishing for a living himself and using that influence to help others, too.

He hopes to emulate his angling mentor and friend Daves, who, by the way, doesn't shy away from the concept of being a positive role model in the lives of young people.

"Maybe you don't think you ought to be, but you are," Daves said. "A lot of kids are looking up to you.

"If God has granted you the talent to do whatever you're doing, then you ought to give back."

And that's exactly what Woo Daves is doing: giving back in the only way that he knows how — by helping others.

ESPN2's "BassCenter" re-airs at 5:30 a.m. ET Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.