During the early years of my bass fishing derby exploits, there were three pros that I held in high regard: Rick Clunn, Larry Nixon, and Ken Cook.
I always thought of Clunn as being the brainiac of the bass fishing world. For years (still do, actually), I thought the man could use will power alone to make fish bite. I looked to Nixon as being the consummate, all-around angler who was at ease with either a flip stick or a spin pole, whichever the conditions required. Ken, I always looked to as the man who walked away from his day job to chase fish across the country and turned a dream into a life. While he was by no means the only one who had done this, Ken was the pro I looked to as being THE ONE who had reached out, grabbed the brass ring and held on for dear life.
I sat in the Brewerton Fire Station last Friday evening for the Elite season's year-end bash/Ken Cook retirement party and listened to Rick Clunn talk about Ken Cook's retirement.
After 300 BASS tournaments over 27 years of chasing fish and living the dream, one of my hero's was walking away from the game. Hard to believe. Ken's certainly not the first to leave the bass scene, but he is one of the first in quite some time, if not ever, who has stood up and said to the world "I'm done."
Takes a hell of a man to walk away from something he's done for 27 years.
Clunn spoke of his and Ken's early days and the hunger they both had to succeed — and survive. Some of that hunger could be as easily translated into the fear of failure resulting in not making a check and having the money not just for the next tournament, but for food on the table. For 40 hour-a-week guy, that may be a foreign concept: having to catch fish to feed a family. It's really not that far removed from working for the man to put food on the table — the job site/cubicle/factory floor is just a little different for us.
Clunn also touched on passion for the sport and how he sensed a difference in the passion from his and Ken's generation of angler as compared to the younger anglers coming into the sport.
For years, Gary Klein was one of only a select few anglers who had never had a "real" job. Klein began his fishing career while he was still in high school and has never looked back, while the vast majority of anglers he fished against had "real" jobs they worked between tournaments, or like Clunn and Cook, had left jobs to pursue a career fishing. Today there are several anglers on both major Tours who have never worked for "the man" — they have fished.
So what difference does it make if a guy has held a "real" job?
According to Clunn, he felt there was possibly more appreciation for the sport from those who had worked five days a week. As one who worked his way up the derby ladder while also holding down a job in the real world, Clunn is dead on.
Not to take anything away from or degrade those who went straight to the tournament scene, but it would be hard for an angler in that scenario to truly understand and appreciate what the average Joe who asks him for an autograph at the weigh in has been through that week. Average Joe who has punched the clock for five, maybe six days that week to pay the bills while Stud Angler has been soaking up the sun while jerking on a few fatties all week. How can he know? How much appreciation and respect can there be in that relationship?
Clunn also spoke about the freedom that the lifestyle affords those who have chosen this path. No time clock. No smoke breaks. No 30-minutes-for-lunch-then-back-to-the-grind. No little man watching over your shoulder.
You are truly your own boss, in many respects. For better or worse. Being your own boss also entails that you're equally responsible for both the joy of success and the agony of failure. You truly hold your fate in your own hands.
One of the last subjects that Clunn touched on was the desire to compete at the highest level while seeing a decline in the physical ability. Over the past few years, I've seen this not only in Rick and Ken, but my own dad. The mind is willing, but the body just doesn't work like it once did. My father is one of those men who has worked hard, physically hard, for the majority of his life.
A Depression Era child, he grew up with literally nothing and worked for everything he has ever owned. The man will be 83 next month. Still wields a mean chain saw (although he scares the hell out of me with it), cuts and splits his own firewood and is pissed that he's not physically able to haul cross ties around from daylight until dark. Not too far removed from Clunn and Cook in some ways.
As I listened to Rick and then to Ken, I realized that I was stuck somewhere in the middle of where they had been and where they were going. Somewhere between those who never and those who had. Somewhere between having the passion and the ability while beginning to feel the pain of years of repetitive motion and rough boat rides. Growing up sucks.
Thank you to Ken Cook for being THE ONE who showed me, and the rest of the world, that you can succeed while chasing a dream.
For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his Web site at www.kfshort.com.