I went to the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in Palataka, Florida last Tuesday afternoon looking for a payphone – the payphone that helped change the life of the one person that shaped my life, more than any other, beyond my own parents.
“Palatka will always be special to me. When I won $100,000 at Super Bass there in 1983, I walked across the parking lot from the weigh-in, called Tammy on a payphone, and told her I was quitting my job as a fisheries biologist to be a full-time pro angler, and that she might as well quit her job too, so we could travel together,” Ken Cook once told me.
By Tuesday evening, I hadn’t yet found the payphone during my first two hours in town.
So at dinner, craving a connection beyond the “Ken” printed on the left heel of my Nike Shox, and “Cook” on the right heel – I asked my longtime friend, and veteran pro angler, Shaw Grigsby to tell me about his memories of Ken at the ’83 Super Bass event over a plate of Boston Butt bbq at Terry Scroggins’ house.
“Ken won it, and got a hundred grand, and I finished like 11th and won $2,000,” laughed Grigsby. “I didn’t know Ken at that particular time, but I certainly got to know him in the years that followed – and I’ll always carry a piece of Ken Cook with me,” he added.
Me too, Shaw – but by Sunday – the final day of this year’s event – I still hadn’t spotted a payphone near weigh-in.
What I did see was 69-year-old Rick Clunn win the $100,000 event.
“Your hero did his thing,” came an immediate text from my mom in the moments after Clunn hoisted the blue and silver trophy, as she watched on Bassmaster.com back in Western Pennsylvania.
Wait! What? I thought Ken Cook was your hero?
Along with Clunn.
In my Juniata College and University of Oklahoma dormitory rooms – you’d have found photos of three anglers. Ken Cook. Gary Klein. And Rick Clunn.
Speaking of college – I attended my first two Bassmaster Classics during that time period. Rick Clunn won on a Poe’s RC1 crankbait in 1990 on the James River, and Ken Cook won with a Hart willowleaf spinnerbait the following year on the Upper Chesapeake Bay.
Today – 26 years later – a replica of Clunn’s winning RC1 crankbait sits on my kitchen counter in Skiatook, autographed by Rick Clunn with the words “There Are No Limits.”
I look at it every day.