The Weekend Series is likely the toughest route to the Bassmaster Classic, but this year's qualifier, Ryan McMurtury, was up to the task. Once a 6-foot, 2 1/2-inch, 260-pound college football kicker, McMurtury put one through the uprights from 52 yards in high school. Here's how he lined up against our 20 Questions.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Laurens, S.C., but when I was two years old we moved to Abbeville, and I've been here ever since.
2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
I started out pond fishing as a chap. I remember watching Bill Dance and Virgil Ward on TV and getting interested in fishing from an early age. That eventually led to tournament fishing in 1989 and 1990.
3. Who were some of your earliest fishing heroes?
I remember being a big fan of Hank Parker and Roland Martin when I was very young. I loved Jerry McKinnis' show, The Fishin' Hole, because it was about a bunch of regular guys just going fishing.
4. What's the biggest bass you've ever caught?
I've caught three over 10 pounds, but never had any of them mounted. I caught two of them from ponds and one from Lake Russell.
5. What do you love most about bass fishing?
It's a lot like golf which I love, too in that it's not you against the other competitors. It's you against the fish or you against the golf course. There's really no defense in golf or fishing, and I like the challenge of both.
6. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
My favorite place to fish is Clarks Hill, and my favorite time to go is Thanksgiving week. My family goes every year at that time and we camp out. If the Bassmaster Classic was that week, I'd have to skip it. My family goes every year. We carve those dates in stone! It's the very best time of year to fish there. It's just "on" at that time of year, and you have the lake all to yourself because everyone else is out deer hunting.
7. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
It would definitely be qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic.
8. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
I want to compete and be one of the best. Of course, I'd like to win, but I mostly want to be consistent and competitive. I don't want to fluctuate and be up one year and down the next. I want to prove myself over time.
9. What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
Making the leap to fishing as a professional is a big challenge, and I want to do that. I plan to fish the Southern Opens in 2011, and I'd like to fish the Central Opens, too, if I can get the sponsorships. I want to qualify to fish the Elite Series.
10. If you could do one thing over in your career, what would it be?
Other than wear more clothes at Guntersville (for the Weekend Series championship when temperatures were frigid), I sometimes wish I had started a little earlier with my fishing career. I had a chance to get started around 1995 but didn't do it. Now the economy is really bad and it's tough to find sponsors.
11. What is the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?
Patience. I'm very patient now compared to how I used to be. At Guntersville, I fished the same area for four days and improved my catches each day. A few years ago, I wouldn't have been able to do that. I generally like to cover a lot of water.
12. What is your greatest strength as a professional angler?
I don't know. I fish everything whatever they'll bite. My favorite lure is whatever they'll bite.
13. What is your greatest weakness as a professional angler?
Probably my size (315 pounds). It liked to kill me fishing four days in a row at Guntersville. I usually fish more than 300 days a year, but fishing four days in a row competitively was really tough on me. I plan to lose some weight and get in better shape before the Classic.
14. What is the biggest mistake you see from casual or weekend anglers?
They fish the same spots over and over and over. They'll fish the same spot this week that they fished the week before even though they got beat there. They also use the same lures over and over.
15. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
No, but if I hear someone with a leaf blower, I get excited. I've caught lots of 5-pounders on Clarks Hill when I've heard leaf blowers.
16. When you're not bass fishing, how do you like to spend your time?
I play a lot of golf and do some deer hunting. My golf handicap is +2, and I'm proud of that. I won my club championship once and my longest drive was 386 yards. My favorite club, though, is the wedge. Get me within 175 yards and give me my wedge, and I can put it in your pocket!
17. If you could only fish one lure for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
For bass fishing, it would be a Yo-Zuri Vibe lipless crankbait. I find most of my bass with lipless crankbaits. But if I only had one lure and had to catch enough to survive with it, I'd pick a #2 Blue Fox inline spinner. It's a great pond lure that catches everything from bream to bass to catfish.
18. If you could bring back one out-of-production lure, what would it be and why?
The Bomber 6A is a great crankbait that's still being made, but there's a color that they stopped making a long time ago that I love. It was called white firetiger, and it was really special. I found one in a tree at a farm pond when I was 12 years old. I tied it on and caught bass cast after cast. That night I begged my dad to take me to the store and buy some. He did and I bought one. I caught bass on those two lures for the next seven or eight years before I lost them both. Since then, I've hand-painted some baits to look just like them.
19. If you could only have one, would it be an AOY title or Classic championship?
It would have to be Angler of the Year. I think it's more prestigious. It would be great to win the Classic, but AOY shows you can flat do it. If you can win AOY, I think the Classic will eventually come.
20. When it's all over, how do you want the bass fishing world to remember you?
My wife calls me a "made from scratch" fisherman, and I like that. I'm just an everyday Joe who fishes like everybody else but can compete. I want to take advantage of my opportunities.