Rookie tales: The two newest Bassmaster Classic rookies could hardly be more different from each other.
One, Andrew Upshaw, is 24 years old, just out of college and living in Hemphill, Texas, working an office job. The other, Kelly Pratt, is a 52-year-old veteran tournament angler and landscape professional from Williamsburg, Va.
Yet the two have several things in common, not the least of which is qualifying on the same weekend for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic albeit via different routes. And both have been thrust suddenly into the limelight, both love to catch a bass, and both were taught early in their lives how to be competitive.
That last-mentioned trait will come in handy when they go up against some of the world's best anglers in the Feb. 24-26 Bassmaster Classic on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La., for a $500,000 first-place prize.
Upshaw won his Classic berth July 10 through the Mercury College B.A.S.S. tour. Pratt landed a Classic spot July 9 by winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River out of Richmond, Va.
"I was always taught that first was better than second," Pratt said.
Like any other 2011 Open winner, Pratt will have to compete in all Opens in his division before his Classic prize will be awarded. He sees no reason he won't turn up for both tournaments. He pre-registered for the Northern's two remaining events; as a business owner, he is master of his work hours.
He said he'll fish just as hard at the other Opens as he did on the James River to claim the Classic seat.
So in all probability, he'll take up his role as Classic rookie come February. "Rookie" is the tag applied to any first-timer, but it's an especially unlikely description for such a veteran angler who describes himself as "born and raised with my feet in the water."
That was a reference to how he learned his fishing basics from his father. They fished from various river banks around his Virginia home, including the James. He didn't get into tournament fishing until he was about 20 years old, when a friend invited him to share his boat to fish an event.
He soon was hooked. He said that over the years he has won about 100 events on the James River. He's traveled "a little bit of everywhere" to try his hand at other fisheries in the eastern U.S. He fished the Bassmaster Opens in 2002-2003, a few Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series operated by American Bass Anglers events, some FLW tournaments and many local tournaments.
The past few years, he didn't travel much because he wanted to stay near home and his ailing mother, who had suffered a stroke. After she died in the summer of 2010, Pratt could once again consider travel to tournaments.
"It was my time to get back to the Opens," he said. "With the first Northern Open on the James, it was also the right place."
As the record proves, he won the first event of his "comeback" season.
Like Pratt, Upshaw got into competitive bass fishing relatively late in life. Now 24, Upshaw was about 15 when he entered his first bass tournament. His fishing mentor was none other than 1974 Bassmaster Classic champ Tommy Martin, also from Hemphill. They met through Upshaw's father, a high school coach who at one time had Martin's son on his football team.
"Tommy Martin was the first to take me fishing," he said. "We went to Sam Rayburn and caught, like, 25 pounds."
That got Upshaw's interest. Martin continued to mentor him.
"He taught me technique, but also my mental game. He taught me the importance of being a humble person, to let my fishing do the talking."
Others became his teachers, too, including former Bassmaster Elite Series pro Ben Matsubu and Open pro Todd Castledine. But it was his father, Upshaw emphasized, who first taught him to push himself, to be an achiever.
"My father is a true hero to me. He brought me up to be athletic, to be competitive in anything I did. When I was in school, he made me try every sport in school," he said.
Upshaw competed throughout his college years on the Stephen F. Austin University fishing team while working on a marketing degree. He entered Bassmaster Opens in 2009 and 2010. He registered for all three 2011 Northern Opens. But when the 2011 Mercury College B.A.S.S. National Championship event fell on the same dates as the Northern Open's July 7-9 season opener — the event won by Pratt — Upshaw chose College B.A.S.S.
He and his teammate and friend, Ryan Watkins, captured the collegiate title. In the next phase of the competition, they were pitted against each other for the Classic berth. Upshaw won, and the prize was the first Bassmaster Classic seat awarded at the collegiate level.
Upshaw, now poised to be in the world championship of all bass fishing, and with sponsors such as Mercury, MotorGuide and Legend boats, is considering a career switch to professional bass angler.
"I don't know yet what, exactly, I'm going to do, but I sure do want to fish professionally," Upshaw said. "It's definitely a dream of mine."
Almost 30 years older than Upshaw, Pratt has already tried living on the road, but said he'd consider a pro career once again. At the end of the season, the top five in points in each Open division are invited to join the Bassmaster Elite Series.
"When I was younger, I had the desire, but not the means. Now I have the means, so I would think about it again," Upshaw said.
Text of friendship: Andrew Upshaw and Ryan Watkins are still the best of friends, even after what they went through last weekend.
On July 9, Upshaw and Watkins teamed up to capture the 2011 Mercury College B.A.S.S. National Championship trophy for their Texas school, Stephen F. Austin University. The next step of the competition was for the teammates to split up and go head-to-head for one berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
Upshaw won, Watkins lost.
"He and I are still best friends, and I don't think that's going to change," said Upshaw on Monday afternoon. "We both knew one of us had to win. He's very upset, and I'm very upset that he didn't make the Bassmaster Classic because I think he deserved it just as much as I did."
Upshaw read aloud the text he sent to Watkins while they drove home Sunday: "I just wanted to tell you thanks, and thank you for everything and your support. You'll get yours, don't worry."
Watkins' reply: "Don't sweat it. Remember I'm right there with you at the Classic."
Watkins, as it happens, may literally be with Upshaw at the February 2012 Classic if Watkins accepts a lure maker's offer of a paid trip to the site, Shreveport-Bossier City, La., to support his friend.
July 13 announcement: The fans have spoken, and on July 13 at 2 p.m. ET, the world will hear what they said.
The announcement will be the names of the four Bassmaster Elite Series pros who won Toyota Trucks All-Star Fan Favorites voting, which concluded July 10.
The four winners will join the 2011 Elite season's top eight pros for the July 23-31 Toyota Trucks All-Star Week, a $100,000 competition in Alabama.
Also to be announced July 13 are the names of 12 fans randomly selected to be the virtual partners of the All-Star competitors. The fan paired with the eventual All-Star champion will win a Triton-Mercury bass boat rig valued at about $30,000.
The announcement will be made at the ICAST trade show in Las Vegas. Voting results will be available at Bassmaster.com.
Elite pros back new company: Bassmaster Elite Series pros Kevin VanDam and Jeff Kriet are principal partners in HydroWave, a new company with a product of the same name scheduled to debut at this week's ICAST trade show in Las Vegas.
HydroWave is a small, simple-to-use device that triggers feeding behaviors in all types of fish by emitting waves that sound like shad or other baitfish, according to the new company's website. The unit offers six sound tracks, such as "schooling" or "panic."
Kriet said he and VanDam have two other partners. One is engineer Robert Palmer, and the other is Gene Eisenmann, a longtime friend of Kriet's he met years ago while fishing.
"We talked about this for years, and the possibilities, then started working on it with the engineer," Kriet said. "I knew Kevin VanDam was very knowledgeable in this area, and I talked to him and he became instrumental in the design. The four of us working together ended up with a really good product."