Fishing & Boating News

Fishing the Legends

The Bass Pro Shops Tracker Legends Pro-Am Tournament

by: Mike McBurney,

(Tuesday, March 16,1999 - Tyler, TX) Recently, I was fortunate to get the call most serious weekend anglers yearn for. I had been selected to participate as an Amateur in the Bass Pro Shops Tracker Legends Pro-Am at Table Rock Lake, Missouri. This angling adventure included an expense paid stay at Big Cedar Lodge, two rods and reels, a tackle box full of baits, a Stearns life vest, special Tracker Legends Tournament apparel, and a day in the boat with one of the "Legends" of the sport of bass fishing. Like the commercial says, "it just doesn't get any better than this". My friends at The World Of Fishing have asked me to share some of my trip with their readers.

First, let me say my hat’s off to Johnny Morris and the staff for creating an unmatched outing for the Pros, the non-pros and the families of both. I have traveled quite a bit, but no fishing related lodge is quite as impressive and fully appointed as Big Cedar Lodge at Table Rock Lake. The lodges and rooms are really an experience as well as a place to stay. In the evening, I enjoyed slowing down with a cup of decaf in front of the massive fireplace.

When we arrived on Wednesday, the Tournament staff presented the Amateurs with the previously mentioned "Christmas comes in March" package of goodies. Even the baits in the new tackle box must have been carefully selected by experienced Bass Pro Shops personnel with our Table Rock fishing in mind. I packed quite a few of their selections into my limited arsenal (Amateurs were limited to 5 rods/reels and one medium size tackle box). Later that afternoon, we watched the on the water "Nitro Skills Competition" which was a casting/flipping contest for the Pros. The Finals included Shaw Grigsby, Jay Yelas, and Tommy Biffle in a winner take all rod to rod battle. While maneuvering the boat along a course marked by buoys, casts were made to various small targets which resembled logs, bushes, docks, and other objects bass fisherman actually cast to in a typical day of fishing. The angler who hit all the targets in the least amount of time would be declared the winner. Judges signaled a hit by sounding a whistle and the angler moved on to the next station. In a tight competition, Biffle won by only five seconds to claim the top honor and First Place $10,000 prize. Yelas finished second and Grigsby third.

That night after the pre-Tournament meeting and partner pairing drawing, Johnny Morris and family hosted a fantastic dinner at the Four Star "Worman Restaurant" at Big Cedar. Wives/guests of the 30 Pros and 60 Amateurs were included which made for a very enjoyable social atmosphere for some interesting Pro-Am fishing discussions. It was here that Denny Brauer was discussing his upcoming "rematch" with David Letterman.

My draw was Tommy Biffle for Friday fishing, so I spent a good bit of Thursday in Springfield at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. This was my first trip to BPS. What a place!! Spent hours taking it all in. The annual Fishing Extravaganza was going on so most major manufacturers had a booth with all their latest. The 1st day weigh-in started about 4:30 and went past 6:00 primarily because of the entertaining antics of BASS founder and emcee Ray Scott. With filming going on for the BPS TV show, Ray made every fish into the bag a big production. Some nice fish were weighed including a beautiful string by Tom Mann Jr. which included smallmouth, spotted, and largemouth bass. After the first day, Charlie Ingram had the lead, but the red hot Denny Brauer was only .82 lb. back, so Ingram must have had a sleepless night with a $50,000.00 1st Prize on the line.

Returning to Big Cedar about 10:30, I prepared my tackle for my day on the water with Biffle. Biffle had a tough day on Thursday with only one fish. He told me we were going to run a long way to try to catch a 25-lb. string. I planned my clothing carefully and I'm certainly glad I did. On a 34-degree morning with blowing rain and sleet, we ran 70 miles upstream at wide-open throttle. During the day, Biffle demonstrated why he won the casting contest. He can flip/pitch with such consistent accuracy that his presentations are precise and subtle. Unfortunately for both of us, there were not many active fish in his area so he was only able to catch two and I got one (he told me he caught 20+ lbs. here before the front). Even without many bites and tough weather, it was an invaluable lesson in jig fishing and exciting day with a truly nice guy who works very hard making his living by fishing. He talked more than I expected and told of only being home three days since January 1st. He had just driven in from a 7th Place finish at the BASS Alabama Top 150 and on Saturday morning he was driving to Atlanta to start practice for the Lake Lanier FLW Tournament. A Pro's life is a tough schedule and includes much time away from family. Around 1:00 PM, with the wind getting up to 15-20 mph and sleet accumulating on the deck, we made the 70 mile run back to Big Cedar Marina (wasn't I running my air conditioner in Texas on Monday?) The 30 identical red/silver metalflake Tracker Nitros pulled by brand new Chevy Silverados were loaded and caravaned the 45 miles to BPS Outdoor World (felt a little guilty eating my Tournament provided box lunch of fried chicken over those virgin leather seats).

Weigh-in was drive through like the Bassmaster Classic. With Ray Scott, a crowd of 3,000, and four TV cameras, I was just glad to have something to weigh in. I felt a little better after Pros Larry Nixon and Shaw Grigsby had to go on stage empty handed to take their roasting from Scott. Fishing behind the significant skills of the Pros shows in the stats. 39 of the Amateurs didn't weigh a fish, including neither of eventual winner Denny Brauer's Ams and only 1 Am fish in 2nd place finisher Charlie Ingram's boat. You can see all the results at Bass Pro Shops Legends Final Story. The Amateur Division winner was Mike Cooper of nearby Branson. While fishing with Pro Billy Westmoreland, Mike landed three bass for a one day weight of 10.76 lbs. All the activities were filmed for the BPS Outdoor World Television show. According to BPS representatives, the show is scheduled to air April 10th on the TNN Network, 1:00 PM Eastern, 12:00 Central.

Overall, I can't say enough about how well we were treated by all the BPS/Big Cedar folks. Now let's see - will they take my Pro-Am 2000 application next week?

PS Johnny Morris was one of the Pros in this event. After a slow first day, he rebounded with a strong 2nd day stringer and finished in 11th Place. While waiting in the staging area before going into the weigh-in, he told of losing the biggest smallmouth that he's ever hooked on his home lake. Almost got it to the net before it just pulled loose. He estimated the bass weighed 8-9 lbs. He was crushed. Landing that lake record bass for weigh-in in his own Tournament would have been a fitting reward for a most humble and generous individual who is giving a great deal back to the sport.