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Winning new bass boats and big cash prizes are the two top things competition anglers dream of – and Gary Edwards of Milton, Ky is fishing his way toward a huge payout.
Edwards will compete in the May 28-30 Bass Fishing League-Walmart All-American Tournament in Moline, Ill. A first-place win there would include a $100,000 prize and move him into the Walmart FLW Outdoors Forrest Wood Cup tournament on Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C. The Aug. 14 tournament has a first-place payout of $1 million.
Though Carroll County and the surrounding area have been in a deep freeze for weeks, he and his son, Stacey, 35, are just itching to get out on the water and begin the tournament fishing season. They’ve mapped out the tournaments they each will enter and bought a new boat.
Gary, a lifelong Carroll County resident, is retired from Kawneer/Ameriform. When he’s not fishing, he squeezes home-remodeling jobs into his schedule.
In late October, he earned a berth in the All-American by coming in sixth at a tournament at Pickwick Lake, in Florence, Ala. In that tournament, the top six boaters and co-anglers earn wild-cards spot in the All-American.
Stacey, a repairman at the Ford Truck plant in Louisville, shares his dad’s love of competitive fishing, and also has been successful. But, the son said his father beats him nine times out of 10. The pair have been at competitions together for many years and still hold some local records.
Never give up
“My dad started me fishing when I was 3 years old,” Gary said. “I remember one frigid February day when I told him I was cold. He tossed me a book of matches and told me to build a fire. He was teaching me a lot of good things. My parents taught me to never give up, and a person could achieve anything if they worked at it and put their mind to do it.”
At Pickwick Lake, Gary said he had a good day the first day. On the second day, though, he had five little fish and knew he would not net a winning weight. But he didn’t give up.
“I stayed where I had been fishing the day before and kept at it. In the last hour I caught five big fish that weighed a little over 20 pounds,” he said. “If I had given up, I wouldn’t have made it into this big tournament. Never give up.”
Despite what the non-tournament fisherman might think, fishing in tournaments isn’t relaxing, Gary said. “Competitive fishing is a lot of hard work.”
“When you fish an eight-hour tournament you feel worse than when you finish eight hours of work,” son Stacey agreed.
“Sometimes it’s rewarding,” Gary continued. “I’ve had some good years and some not so good years, but it’s always good to be out on the water, enjoying nature.”
There is also a lot of time spent learning. A fisherman needs to know the rivers, the habits of fish, the seasons, the phases of the moon and the temperatures of the water, all of which dictate where fish will likely be found and at what depth.
No matter how many rods a fisherman has, Gary said he believes that if a fisherman only has one rod laying there on the boat, that fisherman knows what he’s doing and knows what’s going to work in that particular location.
“That’s what they call being dialed in,” Stacey said.
“There’s an old-fisherman saying that 90 percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the water,” Gary said. “You can spend days fishing where there are no fish. A lot of the fishermen that are doing this for a living used to actually be marine biologists.”
Stacey said that competitive fishing also can be very discouraging – and heartbreaking. Both men could recall times when they caught a fish that could have earned them a spot in a larger tournament or won each a new bass boat, but lost the fish before they could reel it into the boat.
Another necessity is money. Competitive fishing is expensive. “There are people out there spending upwards of $100,000 a year on this,” Gary said. “Some are making money some aren’t.”
Some tournaments have entry fees as high as $5,000, and a competitor must enter five of the BFL-sponsored tournaments to move on to the events with bigger purses, Stacey explained. “Whatever your entry fee is, you can pretty much double that, and that will be your expenses. In the big tournaments, they pay $10,000 [prizes] down to 50th place. So if you come in 50th place in all five tournaments you enter, you only covered your expenses. That’s not a boat payment, groceries or clothes for the kids.”
“That doesn’t include a $50,000 boat or a $50,000 truck to pull it, or $25,000 in small equipment needed,” his father added.
Gary said boats typically average about 4 mpg. This past summer and fall, when gas prices skyrocketed, they began to rethink their fishing plans. When gas prices dropped again, the men decided to go ahead and buy a new boat and plan to enter tournaments.
“You have to have a competitive drive, and you have to love it, to do this. You’ve got to be right up here,” Stacey said, pointing to his head.
Gary Edwards agreed, and again reiterated his first rule: Never give up.
Father and son begin the tournament fishing season next month, March, at Kentucky Lake, near Bowling Green, Ky. After that, Gary said he plans to travel to Moline to study the area, the river and the conditions for nine days.
That area will be off limits to fishermen for nine days prior to the the All-American, and during that time he plans to continue fishing elsewhere along the Mississippi to stay in tune with what the fish are doing.
“Hopefully it will give me a little bit of an advantage. I’m sure I won’t be the only guy doing it,” Gary admitted. “Hopefully, I won’t be saying ‘I came in 54th, but I tried.’ ”
“We’re probably going to be seeing him on TV,” Stacey said.
Edwards would like to see more tournaments in Carroll County and believes that the county could really benefit by sponsoring them. “Competitive fishing and Nascar are the two fastest growing sports in the country,” Edwards said. He has lots of ideas as to how Carrollton could benefit from sponsoring tournaments.
Fishermen from 28 states participate in the three-day All-American tournament. This year, 54 boaters and 54 co-anglers qualified for the annual event by winning other BFL-Walmart tournaments.
The top 10 boaters and 10 co-anglers from the first two days of the All-American earn the chance to fish on the final day, which will be televised on ESPN. Last place wins $2,500 in cash and first place wins a $100,000 check and a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup in August.