The Truth About the Bassmaster Elites -Behind the Scenes!

July 5, 2015

June 2012

by Kurt Mazurek

I was incredibly excited when I heard the Bassmaster Elite Series was coming to Wisconsin in 2012. When I learned they were fishing the Mississippi River at LaCrosee, one of my personal favorite places to fish, I was blown away! I signed up for the Marshal program within the first minutes of registration last fall and counted the days until June 20th.

I can tell you, the actual experience far exceeded my expectations! But now I’m struggling to find the best way to describe this event in writing. There were so many surprises, insights, and surreal, awesome, funny, interesting, cool events that I hope I can do them justice. I’ve decided that I’ll  list my observations chronologically so you can “ride along” on my journey.

Wednesday night – Pre-tournament meeting

In a room of 100 marshals, I was drawn for one of six spots to ride along on the final day of the tournament. Surprise

Moments later I won one of fifteen, sweet Mustang life vests. Surprise

After the marshal’s meeting, a huge dividing wall was removed revealing all of the Elite pros. Then they called names and paired us up for day one. It felt sort of like a giant bass geek game show. Cool

After the pairings, there was a free buffet. Cool


Thursday – Day one, riding with Kelly Jordan

Kelly was fast-talking, sharp witted, funny, friendly, casual, and at times, super intense. Cool

His general approach to fishing the river, and even some specific spots, were very similar to mine. Interesting

His trolling motor was never set at less than 80%. Banging, creaking, and splashing with the trolling motor, even in really shallow water, didn’t seem to worry him. To his credit, he caught fish right next to the boat several times. Interesting

He was not terribly concerned about weeds stuck to his lures when fishing heavy weeds. Interesting

In Spain, a northern pike is referred to as lucio. Cool


When the bite would slow down, Kelly would state that these conditions were simply not conducive to feeding bass (emphasis on conducive). Funny

Get Shorty is his favorite movie. I promised him I would watch it. Surprise

Tommy Biffle’s nick name is Biffle-O. Funny

Kelly’s number one piece of advice: “Don’t go ninjerin’ someone what don’t need ninjerin’.” -quote from the Hillbilly Ninja, his favorite videos on YouTube. Funny

After the tournament, Kelly invited me to have a beer in the hotel parking lot. We gathered around Greg Hackney’s boat while he retied. Soon, the group consisted of KJ, Hack, Kenyon Hill, Zell Roland, Bernie Schultz…and me! Kelly made a bunch of jokes about my physical size (I’m a pretty big guy). When Hackney is going to say something funny his eyes open real wide. One of the guys in the group cusses A LOT! One of them admitted that he had selected the topwater bait he threw that day just because it already had good hooks on it. It was an unbelievable look behind the scenes that I will not soon forget! Surreal/Awesome


Friday – Day two, riding with Yusuke Miyazaki

Yusuke was professional, friendly, determined, and very willing to share his knowledge. Cool

Our first spot was in a two acre pond, just off of a heavily traveled slough. I’ve driven by it fifty times without ever knowing it was there. Surprise

Yusuke told me that the main difference between an Elite Pro and every other angler is confidence. Interesting

He ran to the back of the boat, grabbed a tupperware container filled with rice, meat and vegetables, and shoveled it into his mouth like a hungry wolf. He jumped back to the front deck, fired another cast, and when he had finally finished chewing told me that he hates to eat but he knows he has to. Funny

There was a period when the bite slowed for a couple hours that he was very focused and didn’t say much, but otherwise he was very friendly and talkative. He asked about my family and career and fishing accomplishments. When I told him that I had caught my personal best Wisconsin bass (7lbs., 4oz.) earlier this year, he told me that his 7 year old son had caught a 9-2. Cool/Funny

He forced his big Skeeter across what I would have called impossibly shallow water. I seriously thought there was no way! Surprise

He has a unique casting motion–kind of a side-arm lob that is very accurate. Interesting

Yusuke was having a pretty good year on tour. He had cashed a check in all but one tournament, and had a top 10 finish in the tournament before this one. I sensed that he was relieved and pleased about his accomplishments, but also sensed the pressure he felt to finish the year up strong without stumbling. Not making the Classic this year would be devastating to him. Interesting

Before the weigh-in I spoke with his wife and met his two sons–lovely family! Cool

Later that evening, I got the chance to hang out with Travis Manson for a couple hours while he loaded up his rig in the hotel parking lot. I have had the pleasure of doing a couple phone interviews with Travis over this past year, but I hadn’t met him in person. Travis is a unique, cool, funny character. He was certainly discouraged that he wasn’t going to be fishing on day three, but he was still very friendly and easy to talk to. It was easy to see that these anglers feel a great deal of pressure with their career choice. It is interesting to consider the fact that that participation in the highest level of this sport still costs the competitors more than $60,000 dollars a year to try to make a living. Cool/Interesting
Saturday – Day three, riding with Aaron Martens

I wasn’t scheduled to ride with anyone this day, but I put myself in the right place at the right time. Awesome

I was waiting for Aaron to arrive in the parking lot when my name was announced over the loudspeaker. I was to meet Aaron at the end of the dock (he must have put his boat in the water at a different launch). I made my way through the crowd of envious onlookers and called to Aaron when I spotted him. Just as I was about to step into his boat I felt a hand on my shoulder and a booming voice said, “Hey, buddy. There’s been a little change of plans.” I spin around and find myself face to face with Mark Zona. He tells me he is going to ride with Aaron for the first hour, and I would need to follow him in his Nitro with Tommy Sanders and Dave Mercer. “I can do that!”, I assured him. Super Awesome

Tommy was the first to arrive at Z’s boat. He was charismatic, friendly, and very easy to talk to. He’s one of those people that almost instantly feels like someone you’ve known forever. Cool

Dave Mercer was very friendly and almost always making a joke about something. Cool


We arrived at Aaron’s flotilla and drove right to the front of the pack. All of the boats watched us very closely. Every time we got close enough for another boat to hear us, Dave would apologize that he wasn’t Mark Zona. Cool/Funny

We spent the next hour watching A-Mart and making whispered, small talk. At one point Dave even asked me what Fishing Forward was all about and we ended up having a discussion about Lucky Lil’ Kev. Dave and Tommy both said they were excited to check it out! Awesome

I finally got on Aaron’s boat and he immediately starts talking to me like we had known each other forever, telling me exactly why the fish were there and what he was doing to catch them. Cool

James Overstreet jumped in the boat with us. I told him how much I admired his photography and he graciously thanked me. Cool

Aaron asked if I had ever eaten any of the gnats that were buzzing us. Assuming he was joking I told him I had not. “You should,” he insisted. “They’re sweet like a grain of sugar, not earth-y like some other bugs.” I raised an eyebrow at him and he stuck out his tongue revealing four black dots. I can’t believe I didn’t think to take a photo! Funny

Aaron was constantly monitoring, assessing, and analyzing the environment and how it may affected the fish…constantly…non-stop. Interesting

He fished the center of a narrow channel with beautiful overhanging trees and flooded brush along one shore. I noticed that he never made a cast near this cover. Before I could ask why, he offered, “Most guys would come through here and just work those trees. That’s where you’ll catch 15 inchers.” He never made a cast near that cover all day. Interesting

Any time a dog barked, Aaron instantly responded with a “meow” followed by a purring Wookie sort of noise. It happened several times that day. Funny

In addition to constantly monitoring how the environment affected the fish, he was also very aware how it affected him. The bugs are in his ears. The sun is hot. His feet hurt. But don’t get me wrong, it was usually not in an annoying, complaining sort of way, rather he was assessing and adjusting. However, at one point he may have gone a bit far. He itched a bug bite on his finger. Then he squeezed at it and wondered if it would get infected or if he would get some disease from it. “Dude, I’ll bet my fingernail is gonna fall of or something.”
“Dude,” I said, “this is Wisconsin not the Amazon. I think you’re gonna be alright.” Funny

The bite slowed for a while, but I could see the gears turning in his head. He smelled the air, watched for any activity on the water’s surface, studied his graph…and suddenly it all made sense to him. He put the trolling motor on high and ripped down to a point at the far end of the channel. When he got there he found exactly what he expected. “Dude! They’re here! Look at this graph, they’re stacked!” He fired a cast, and had one almost immediately. “God, Dude! They’ve been here all along!” He managed to quickly cull a couple times, but the clock ran out for the day. The excitement level was pretty high in that boat. “Unless something dramatic changes overnight, I am going to crush them tomorrow!”, he told me. It was so cool to be a part of that moment! Awesome

After the weigh-in I was trying to figure out where I needed to be for my final day marshaling responsibilities, when I ran into legendary outdoor writer, Louie Stout. He invited my brother and I backstage and personally tracked down the marshall director to get the information I needed. We chatted for a few minutes about the tournament and the spectators in Wisconsin. Louie seems like a genuinely nice guy! What a pleasant surprise meeting him was! Cool



Sunday – Day four, riding with Rick Clunn

Soon after I sat down in Rick’s boat he informed me that he doesn’t talk much and I shouldn’t be offended by that. I told him that I understood and expected that since I had been following his career and studying his teachings for many years. I was one of the first to purchase his Angler Quest book series and only a scheduling conflict had stopped me from attending his Angler Quest School a couple years ago. Additionally, many of the ideas I discuss on my Fishing Forward website are inspired by his lessons. Suddenly, the guy who wasn’t going to talk much launched into a 10-minute, one-on-one lesson about the importance of self-reliance in tournament fishing. It was amazing! I easily got my “$100 marshal entry fee worth” in those ten minutes. Surreal/Awesome/Once-in-a-lifetime


Rick was fishing differently than the other three competitors I had ridden with. He had a long milk run of spots, where the others had relied on a handful of key areas. Interesting

Rick Clunn casts a crankbait into impossibly small, snag-filled spots with great ease. I was somewhat pleased to see him get hung up and backlash a couple times to reassure me that he was not a cyborg. Cool

He started to fish an area where he told me he had caught his biggest fish the first couple days of the tournament. Unfortunately, he had eventual tournament winner Todd Faircloth just downstream of him and Dean Rojas just upstream. Both of these competitors had a good number of boats following them and eventually the groups were squeezing in on us. I could sense that Rick was very uncomfortable in the traffic and decide to leave the area pretty quickly. Interesting

Rick moved quickly and did not double back on any spots all day. Interesting

Even though his pattern seemed to disappear as the day went on, he didn’t make any obvious adjustments to his presentation or the types of areas he fished. Interesting/Surprising

Although he must have been disappointed, he remained calm, steady and unemotional the entire time on the water. Interesting


In Conclusion

Overall, marshaling the Elite Series event at LaCrosse was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my long history as a bass tournament fishing geek! Over the course of the five day event, I cannot recall a single bad moment. When I returned home and excitedly began sharing my photos with my wife, I noticed tears welling up in her eyes. “What is it, dear?”, I asked.
“Look at these photos. Look at YOU in these photos!”, she wept. “I haven’t seen you this genuinely happy in years! I’m so happy for you!”
I am certain that marshaling is going to be an annual event for me from this point on.

The people at BASS were fantastic. Many thanks to Chuck Harbin, Ryan Watkins, Trip Weldon, Tommy Sanders, Mark Zona, and Dave Mercer–excellent job guys! And a very special thanks to Kelly Jordan, Yusuke Miyazaki, Aaron Martens, Rick Clunn and all of the Elite Pros for welcoming me into your world, sharing your passion for this sport, and being such genuinely great guys! I can’t wait until next time!

Keep Fishing Forward!
-Kurt Mazurek

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