Like most CITGO Bassmaster Classic champions, two-time Classic winner George Cochran is extremely proud of the distinctive rings that signify his achievements at the world championship of professional fishing, but he wears the ring from his 1996 Classic victory with extra pride.
That is because it holds an extra, special meaning. Inside its beautiful blue original stone, Cochran's Classic ring sports a 4 1/2-carat diamond that symbolizes more than an admirer would ever know.
When his father, Ed, died of cancer at the age of 72 in 1994, he passed on his Mason's ring to his son. As a tribute to his father, Cochran later asked fellow Bassmaster pro Dave Smith, owner of Midwest Trophies, to mount its diamond into the heart of his Classic ring.
"I decided that I wanted to put my dad's ring inside of my champion's ring, which makes it doubly important to me," Cochran said. "It means a lot to me
"My dad grew up in the Depression, and he wanted me to get a good education and become a businessman like himself. He was in the car business for 30 years. And he believed in one thing working seven days a week, 15 hours a day. I said 'Dad, all I want to do is hunt and fish.' He said 'Get that out of your head. There's no money in hunting and fishing.'
"He threw a fit about me fishing tournaments. He thought I was wasting my time. When I started fishing Bassmasters, I had to hide it from him. My wife and my mother would cover for me when I went off at a tournament. If they had told him I went fishing, he would have said 'Fishing! He needs to get that out of his head.'
Cochran, who is in Alabama this week competing in the Bassmaster Elite 50 series event on the Alabama River with hopes of qualifying for his 20th Classic appearance, made a believer out of his skeptical father.
"When I made the '87 Classic in Louisville, he wouldn't even go," Cochran recalled. "He said, 'He's wasting his time.'
"I was leading the tournament going into the last day and my mother called him and told him 'If you don't get up here and watch George win this world championship, you might as well find another place to live.' So he got on a plane to Louisville and he got to watch me win that Classic. When I won that $50,000 and it enabled me to become a full-time pro, I never saw my dad cry before in his life, but I saw him cry that day.
"He said 'I'll never bother you again. You follow your dream. I'm an old man and I never dreamed you could make a living fishing. But you are evidently very good and I'll support you from now on.' "
BASS in the news
At the recent Elite 50 tournament in Columbus, Miss., a film crew from NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw was on hand to capture the life of a pro at a big-league event.
All-time BASS money winner Denny Brauer was followed for two days from his early morning preparations to the nighttime weigh-ins.
An airdate was not available.
Memorial Day remembrance
This week's Memorial Day observances brought to mind one of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour's most popular pros, Carl Maxfield, who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 50 in February of 2003.
Maxfield was a proud veteran. A native of Virginia, he moved to South Carolina after being stationed at the Charleston Air Force base in 1971 and began guiding on Santee-Cooper Reservoir in 1980. He joined the Bassmaster Tournament Trail fulltime in 1991 and went on to win one tournament and qualify for two Classics.
Many BASS members wear their pride on the window of their tow vehicles through the display of the distinctive BASS decal. For Michael Naughton, that BASS logo proved to be especially valuable recently.
The New Jersey angler was on his way to work when his vehicle overheated just outside of the Lincoln Tunnel. Soon, four different vehicles stopped to offer assistance.
"I know from our short conversations that they were BASS members," he said. "It brought me comfort to know we are one big, happy family.
Did you know?
Four pros have qualified for more than 20 Classic appearances: Rick Clunn (28), Roland Martin (25), Larry Nixon (23) and Gary Klein (22).
Tennessee's Jack Wade becomes 48 on June 8. Reigning Classic champion Michael Iaconelli and Chad Brauer of Missouri turn 32 on June 17 and 19, respectively. Western pro Ish Monroe will be 30 on June 20. Five days later veteran Pennsylvania pro Randall Romig becomes 54. Arkansas angler Ron Shuffield celebrates his 48 birthday on June 27, while California's Skeet Reese will blow out 35 candles on June 30.
If I hadn't become a BASS pro
Alabama pro Kyle Mabrey, a 2004 Tour competitor, would likely be applying his full attention to his job as a respiratory therapist at Children's Hospital in Birmingham.
They said it
That's the kind of the rollercoaster that our sport lends itself to. One day you can go out and just about call what blade of grass a bass is going to be under. Then the next day you might go out there and wonder if there is a bass in the lake. It can be feast and famine.
Idaho pro Bink Desaro, the only 2004 Tour rookie among the 12 qualifiers from the CITGO Bassmaster Opens.
Tim Tucker's Pro Angling Insider is a new bi-monthly newsletter with an annual subscription rate of $39.95. It can be ordered by calling toll-free 800-252-FISH. A sample issue can by seen on his Bass Sessions 2004 web site, www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.