During the Bassmaster Classic, I asked over 20 Elite anglers some provocative questions. Most of my questions got a laugh, but some generated deep and serious thoughts. One of the first questions was, “Have you ever almost died?” The second question, “What’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you?” Inquiring minds want to know, right?
Let’s start with someone people refer to as Greg “Hack Attack” Hackney. I think of him as a big teddy bear. Just one look at him, and you know he has stories to tell. To answer my first question about dying, he took me back to when he was 19 and liked to hang out and go to parties. One of those nights, he got in his truck to drive home about 1:45 a.m. For the first time in his life, he heard a little voice tell him to buckle his seatbelt. It was weird because he had never used a seatbelt before.
In those days, we didn’t have to. He thought it would be wise not to argue with “The Voice,” so he buckled up for the 45-minute drive home. And just a little while later, he was in a terrible accident that totaled his truck. Due to wearing the seat belt, he was not injured. To this day, he is a seat belt fanatic. He does not drive until everyone in his vehicle is buckled.
“I’m here today (about 25 years later) because I heard the voice and buckled my seat belt,” he said. He also told me God is an excellent partner to have, and he must be one of God’s favorites! Then he laughs in that particular, funny way he has.
Now, flip-flop that story with something that happened to John Murray back in the late ’80s. John was towing his boat home from the US Open at Lake Mead, and he did not put his seat belt on. Driving down the highway in the rain, he passed another vehicle and went into a fishtail. His truck and boat went out of control. As he went off the road, he wondered if this was going to hurt? Everything was totaled, and if he had been wearing his seat belt, he would have been crushed and killed. I think after these two stories, we can safely say that we should always listen to ”The Voice?”
Boats don’t have seat belts, and I’ve heard many stories over the years about people flying out because of one thing or another. Billy McCaghren is one of the few I know that has done a 360 in his boat without injuries. He and his 16-year-old non-boater Keeton Blaylok were passed on a turn by another boat during a tournament. That caused his boat to do a 360 and hit a concrete sea wall. Fortunately, they were not injured. Billy let me know that these experiences stick with you and make you a better driver.
Another angler you are familiar with was willing to share his dangerous and embarrassing story with me. That would be Skeet Reese.
Skeet attended a Champion boat dealer meeting and was test driving a new boat. He had master driver Gary Williams with him. Gary is pretty hefty and hard of hearing which Skeet was unaware of. Skeet thought it would be fun to be a hot dog and yelled out to Gary to hold on. Gary didn’t hear him. Skeet did a hard turn, similar to a 360, and Gary flew out of the boat. As if that wasn’t enough, they were just a short distance from the dock where close to 100 spectators were watching them and saw the whole thing. Skeet said he could only imagine what they all must have been thinking? We won’t hold it against you, Skeet, because we know you’ll never do it again, and Gary wasn’t hurt.
When I asked Skeet if he had ever died before, not counting by embarrassment, he said yes! When he was 18 months old, he fell into the family pool. He was told that he had no pulse and had died, but his grandmother revived him. Skeet has always been close to his grandparents, and he also shared that his grandfather, also named Skeet, died a few years ago. Soon after his grandfather died, Skeet won an Elite tournament in Georgia. He felt his grandfather was with him through the entire tournament. You can tell Skeet has a deep love and respect for his granddad. I just remembered that I’d been a stand-in grandma for Skeet and Kim when I babysat their two girls, Lea and Courtney, during a couple of Classics so they could celebrate with their friends. Grandparents are cool!
I’ve known Skeet and John for at least 20 years and have so many memories of the two of them. I never fished with Skeet, but I have fished with John as a nonboater during the US Open in 1994. Both of us remember that day well. John had just made a marathon drive from back east to fish the Open with no time to prefish. He was physically exhausted, and because it was a day with high winds, he decided to stay in Calville Bay near the launch ramp. He said he was planning to throw crankbaits and topwater but noticed I had just brought my worm setups. He adapted his fishing to my strengths.
With the high winds and waves, he had all he could do to stay on the trolling motor and make some casts with what we decided later was a Texas rig with a weight that was too light. I was using my killer heavy weighted Texas rig with a 6-inch worm, and I got the bites. John would laugh and leave the trolling motor long enough to net my fish. He told me to keep catching them, and we soon had our limit.
He recently reminded me that I caught eight of our nine fish. We both got checks in that tournament, and I placed 14th as a non-boater, and John placed 13th as a pro. John may not know that many non boaters become very good at tossing plastic worms behind boaters throwing reaction baits. That’s why Aaron and I are such a great team. If he didn’t get a fish here and there, he would get it excited for me, and I would catch it. To this day, I prefer worm fishing, even though I was a pro for around 15 years. Like my son, Chris, always says, “I do what I want!”
Just this week, someone asked me if I remember fishing the ABA TOC at Lake Perris in the 90s. I do because it was one of the most challenging tournaments Aaron and I had felt like a team and a fond memory. The lake had a 15-inch size limit for keepers. Most of the day, all Aaron could catch were a couple of 13- and 14-inch bass, and I couldn’t get a bite. I still remember where we were on the lake near the bank. I was shaking a Texas rig and trying to fish it slow. I was going to reel in the line, and I heard The Voice say stop! I instantly stopped reeling and waited a few seconds, and then WHAM, there was our only 15-inch bass. This fish got us AOY and a check that day. Don’t argue with The Voice.
In retrospect, I bet you can think of times that you’ve heard The Voice, and it made a difference in what you were doing. This may be one of those gifts from God that people like Randy Howell and Edwin Evers have mentioned lately that won them the Classics. I look at everything spiritually because I think we’re spiritual beings. The fact is, God talks to all of us all the time. We are his kids, so keep those ears open and expect a surprise!