Like Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, many of the long-time professional bass fishing legends have retired from the deck of their ships. Bill Dance, Hank Parker, Forrest Wood, Tom Mann, and Bobby Murray have all put their tournament rods away. Still other aging pros are nearing retirement.
But a pack of Captain Picards have begun to make their appearance behind the helm of bass boats. These next-generation superstars are well educated, possess fishing savvy, and are scoring well in Wal-Mart FLW Tour tournaments. Here’s a look at some of these new fishing heroes.
DAN MOREHEAD of Paducah, Kentucky: Morehead, 30, elevated himself to stardom over the past few fishing seasons. Last May, he won the Wal-Mart FLW Tournament on Kentucky Lake. He has also qualified for the BASS Masters Classic three times. Such feats are the envy of both raw and experienced tournament anglers alike.
“I’ve met and surpassed the goals I set in my career,” Morehead said. “But I always strive to be further along.”
His career actually started at an early age when Morehead’s father began fishing professional tournaments in the 1970’s. As he got older, he and his father teamed up to become a very formidable team in local buddy tournaments.
“My father, he was called `Doc’, has always been my hero and I’ve always looked up to him,” Morehead said. It was his father that gave Morehead the best advice of his fishing career.
“It was his advice and friendly persuasion to get my college degree,” he said. Morehead earned a degree in accounting and finance from Murray State University before launching a professional angling career.
The education helps Morehead handle the financial obligations of tournament fishing. His college courses also gave him the training for public speaking, which enables him to promote his sponsors before live audiences.
“I would say a college degree is going to be mandatory in the future,” he said.
Before taking up fishing, Morehead gained a steady hand and a sharp eye as a professional archer. Today, with the same precision of his arrow, Morehead flips jigs into fallen trees and casts crankbaits over small rock piles.
“I grew up around Billy and Bobby Murray,” he said. The two ageless bass anglers who set the standards for modern tournament anglers, as well as his father, gave Morehead the base knowledge to compete.
“One of the things I try to do is be more versatile,” he said. While on the tournament trail, Morehead is always on the lookout for new techniques.
Morehead said he looks up to Denny Brauer. “He is the epitome of what every angler must be,” he said. At the Kentucky Lake Wal-Mart FLW Tournament, Morehead narrowly beat Brauer, who finished the tournament in fifth place.
Today, Morehead spends a lot of time on the water trying to learn everything he can about bass. With his supportive wife, Jennie, Morehead travels throughout the country for tournaments and sponsor appearances.
“I like getting paid to do what I like to do,” Morehead said. “Now we have a whole new family out on the trail.”
TERRY BOLTON of Paducah, Kentucky: A good education is one of the key attributes of every successful angler, including Bolton. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Occupational Safety and Health Engineering from Murray State University.
One would wonder how an industrial hygienist could be transformed into a professional bass angler. But, Bolton used his college days wisely to hone his skills as a bass fisherman.
“Kentucky Lake was about 20 minutes away from the college,” Bolton said. “I like to say I graduated from the University of Kentucky Lake.”
When Bolton was not in class – or, as jokingly said, should have been class – he spent time fishing the lake. On those between -classes trips, Bolton studied bass patterns and the various techniques needed to catch them.
“In those five years, I learned a lot more about fishing and a little bit about safety,” he said.
With a college degree behind him, Bolton took to the professional fishing trail in 1996. He won two Red Man tournaments and qualified for two Wal-Mart FLW Championships. Last year he finished fifth at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship. So far, Bolton is very happy about the career path he chose
“I’ve met all my goals so far,” he said. “Every year I get more confident, and I’m not intimidated by the other anglers.”
Some of the “other anglers” are Bolton’s fishing heroes, like Rick Clunn, Gary Klein, and Denny Brauer. He read about these fishing legends and adopted some of their tactics into his own fishing repertoire.
“I think you can’t totally copy somebody’s style, but I think you can take it and twist it to fit into your own style,” Bolton said. “I’ve kind of taken a little bit from everybody.”
While Bolton gets plenty of advice from other anglers, he credits his mother with giving him the best advice of all. She encouraged him to get his college degree. And, she is one of his biggest supporters.
“I’m always worried about money,” Bolton said. “But my mother said just go out there and go fishing. The money will take care of itself. The Good Lord will take care of the money.”
The money did take care of itself. In Bolton’s short, three year professional fishing career, he has earned a pay check in every Wal-Mart FLW tournament except one. Plus, he finished in fifth place at last year’s Wal-Mart FLW Championship and posted a second place finish earlier this year in an EverStart tournament.
“I’m one of the luckiest people alive,” he said. “I get to do a job I truly love.”
CHAD BRAUER of Camdenton, Missouri: The goal of many sons is to one day take over the family business. Chad Brauer has a similar goal. He hopes his father, the seemingly invincible Denny Brauer, will eventually pass the fishing baton over to his son.
“We work together as a business. We have an account and draw salaries as two employees. Dad plans to retire off that account,” the younger Brauer said. “But, the footsteps keep getting bigger and harder to follow.”
Chad was speaking about his father’s string of recent tournament wins, including the 1998 Wal-Mart FLW Angler-of-the-Year title, which earned the elder Brauer a Wheaties cereal box cover appearance. But, Chad is a highly competitive angler himself. Since his professional debut in 1995, Brauer has earned many accolades, including an invitation to last August’s BASS Master Classic. He has also won a professional tournament and has placed high in several others.
“I’m happy with the way I’m progressing, but I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied with my career,” Brauer said. “I’m getting better, and what I lack now is experience at catching bass in different parts of the country.”
While Brauer, now 26, may lack tournament experience, he did manage to obtain a good fishing education. He grew up in the sport. Often, as a youngster, he would travel with his father to tournament sites. The young Brauer also had the opportunity to fish with many of the other professional anglers during practice periods.
But, the young Brauer rarely participated in tournaments. Instead, he went to college and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Fish & Wildlife Management from the University of Missouri in 1995.
“The college degree did two things for me,” Brauer said. “Right off the bat, it gets you a little more credibility with sponsors.”
Brauer also said his scholastic training in fisheries helped him understand the aquatic environment and how fish related to it. Knowing what goes on in the water gave him more confidence about catching fish, Brauer said.
Most tournament anglers agree that spending time on the water is very important to any successful fishing career. Fishing tournaments under a variety of weather and water conditions also helps one gain the experience necessary to compete at the professional level. While Brauer skipped the tournament test during college, he did get plenty of on-the-job-training at the Lake of the Ozarks.
“I was a fishing guide as a summer job while I was in college,” Brauer said. “It helped me understand how to catch fish on a day-to-day basis.”
Today, the father and son team work together as an effective fishing machine. Chad said they share information. And where possible, he also helps his father during tournaments.
“When dad was in a position to win, I just went practicing,” Chad said. “I tried to help dad get on the Wheaties box.”
Chad also said his father reciprocates with sound fatherly advice.
“Every now and then, he’ll try to steer me in a different direction when he sees me going off on a pattern that won’t hold up,” Brauer said.
The budding Brauer added that his father helped him get started in tournament fishing by introducing him to sponsors. And, Denny continues to give his son advice on sponsor contracts.
“I was almost born into this opportunity,” Brauer said. “I’m pretty fortunate being the right person at the right time. I was just born to the right parents.”
RANDY HOWELL of Trussville, Alabama: Randy Howell won his first bass tournament when he was a mere 13 years old! By the time he turned 19, Howell qualified for the Red Man All-American – the youngest angler to accomplish this feat. Now at age 24, this bright young fisherman is turning heads on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour professional circuit.
Last March, Howell won the Wal-Mart FLW tournament on Wheeler Lake. He followed up with a very consistent season, finishing second behind Denny Brauer in the 1998 season Wal-Mart FLW points standings – just one bass away from a Wheaties box cover!
Howell is quick to credit his wife, Robin, for helping him achieve bass fishing stardom. Robin works with Randy’s sponsors and is a strong on-shore supporter, Randy says. As a former Bass’n Gal competitor, Robin also helps her husband practice for tournaments. The angling couple works together during pre-practice periods to produce effective bass -catching patterns.
“We kind of do what Jimmy and Chris Houston have done, and they kind of helped us a lot,” Howell said. “They’ve been positive role models. They have been influential with us about keeping a real positive attitude.”
Along with the Houstons, Howell thinks highly of Jay Yelas. “Jay was my very first invitational partner when I turned pro,” Howell remembers. “He helped me learn a lot about patterns and finding fish.”
Many other professional anglers have given Howell advice. He takes each bit of information and mentally stores it for later use. But Howell said it is his faith in God that has given him the ability to compete at a level worthy of his professional ranking.
“The main thing that stands with me is my strong faith in Jesus Christ,” he said. “He’s been there when things weren’t as good as they are now.”
Most gifted professional anglers leave a legacy behind. Howell hopes to do likewise. He has set high standards for himself and has a healthy goal for his career and personal image. One day he would like to host his own television show, but in the meantime, Howell wants to help children.
“I try really hard to be a good, clean role model for kids,” Howell said. “I just love the kids being able to look up to me.” And with Howell’s skills behind the casting rod, adult anglers will soon be looking up to him, too.
JIM MOYNAGH of Hopkins, Minnesota: What is luck? It is not a random chance of good fortune. Instead, many bass anglers define luck as the time when preparation and opportunity meet. Jim Moynagh’s fishing career meets this definition perfectly.
After years of preparing and training at local fishing tournaments, Moynagh got his chance to fish professionally by a twist of fate. He got laid-off from his regular, full-time job in 1995. That lay-off gave him the time and opportunity to go fishing full-time.
“I’ve made more money fishing than on my regular job,” Moynagh said. “On the flip side, the security is not there.”
While Moynagh sometimes misses the regular pay check, his career winnings on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour are impressive. He won the 1997 Forrest Wood Open on Lake Minnetonka, and earned a record $200,000. During the 1998 season – his first full year on the circuit – Moynagh earned second place in the Forrest Wood Open (good for $100,000) on the Connecticut River and finished eighth in the season point standings.
Moynagh, now 33, grew up reading about the southern professional anglers, but one of his fishing idols is Al Lindner. “Up here you don’t see the pros. I just kind of admired all the guys doing it,” Moynagh said. But Lindner, a Minnesota resident, was able to make his mark on bass fishing through tournaments and television, Moynagh said.
Before fishing full-time, Moynagh earned a Bachelor of Science degree in fisheries from the University of Minnesota. He also worked as the book development leader for the Hunting & Fishing Library. This job gave Moynagh the good fortune to visit and fish different parts of the country.
“A lot of people ask me if my fisheries degree helps me fish. Knowing the names of fish bones doesn’t help you catch fish, but just being familiar with the scientific method is helpful,” Moynagh said. “I kind of use this approach to fishing.”
Moynagh tries to be a versatile angler, but he said, “Where I seem to do the best is when the fish prefer a slow presentation, but my preferred presentation is whatever pattern takes the fish.”
Today, Moynagh is happy with how his career is going. And, perhaps we shall see Moynagh’s name on more tournament winner listings this coming season.