Thursday, February 23, 2012: MAJ Cody Roberson and I departed Cibolo TX, at 0400 on our road trip to Shreveport LA.  We headed out driving north on Interstate 35  in Cody’s Dodge Ram 2500 4X4 pickup pulling his ZX 20 Skeeter ABA wrapped  boat with a 250 Yamaha SHO.  We arrived in Shreveport LA around 1100 and made the link up with other ABA Pro Staff as we checked into our rooms at Barksdale AFB in Shreveport.  Cody and Pro Staff Anglers, Don Bailey, Chad Nelson, Dale Hughes, headed off to the expo center to set up the ABA booth.  I was linked up with Chuck Guthrie, Rodney Thompson, Mario Valenzuela, after we hooked up the boat to Chuck ‘s truck we all headed to the Bassmaster Classic Launch site.  It was awesome to get to the boat yard where all the pros boats were being kept in preparation for the launch the next day.  We got passes to get us in and out of the boat yard like being back stage at a concert or being on the field at a football game.  I was introduced to the tournament director Chuck Harbin for the classic and we went over what he wanted us to do the next day on the water.  We parked the ABA ZX 20 Skeeter in the boat yard after we did the recon for the next morning and then headed back to the hotel on Barksdale AFB.  Once all the ABA Pro Staff was back at the hotel we headed to dinner.  When we arrived at the restaurant I was introduced to Zell Rowland who ate dinner with all the of the ABA Pro Staff, Zell is a great guy to be around and a good friend to the organization.

Day 1 Friday, February 24, 2012 at Bassmaster Classic Launch Site:

Day One started with a 0400 wake up, shower, a five hour energy and a link up with Cody Roberson, Chuck Guthrie, Rodney Thompson, and Mario Valenzuela.  We all headed out to the launch site which was a 20 minute ride from the hotel.  We arrived at the boat yard got the Skeeter 20ZX uncovered and hooked up a prepped to launch.  The wind was blowing 25mph so the American Flag was just popping in the wind.  It was so cool to be pulled around to the launch by Chuck and see all the fans of Bassmaster standing there watching us launch, cameras flashing, like we were one of the Pro’s fishing in the Classic.  Myself, Rodney Thompson and Mario V were in the boat as it slid off the trailer and into the water as the 250 Yamaha SHO came to life and I put it in reverse to back us out into position.  As I moved the boat out to the end of the two docks that would serve as the tie up point for the 49 Elite Pro Anglers that qualified for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic it was apparent that the trolling motor was going to get a work out in the 25mph wind.  Rodney did a great job keeping the boat pointed into the wind which kept the America Flag flying proud for all to see.  Before the playing of the National Anthem the ABA boat was announced and the crowd ROARED.  After the National Anthem was finished I quickly got behind the wheel and got the Skeeter pointed out waiting on Kevin Van Damn to come in behind me, did I just say KVD.  As we lead the boats out Kevin Van Damn broke right before the no wake zone ended to go to his first fishing spot which put Mike Iconnelli as the boat right behind me, did I just Ike’s name too? I brought the boat up on plan trimmed it out in the rough water with Iaconnelli not more that 20 yards off my Starboard side and behind me.  He was so close that I could not make my turn out of the boat lane until I let him pass and shot in behind him.  We sat down in the water and watched all the Pro’s go flying past us on their first fishing spots, pumping their fists at us in SUPPORT.  After all the Pro’s had pasted we when back to the launch put the Skeeter back on the trailer and took a few photos before putting the boat back in the boat yard before heading to breakfast and then starting my day at the Expo.

Day 2 Saturday, February 25, 2012 at Bassmaster Classic Launch Site:

Day two started with a 0400 wake up, shower, two five hour energy drinks because for some reason the night sure was short.  All the ABA Pro staff meet in the hotel parking lot as we all made our way into Dodge trucks to head to the boat yard.  We get to the boat yard and Don Bailey, Chad Nelson, Chuck Guthrie and myself begin to get the Skeeter uncover and hooked up to the truck.  It was a much calmer day as far as wind was concerned but quite cold as there was a thin sheet of ice on the cover as we took it off the boat.  As we made the very short drive to the ramp Don Bailey and Chad Nelson and me were all putting on our Skeeter gortex sniffle gear because it was 31 degrees out.  We neared the ramp and were greeted by fans who had come out to watch the launch of all the Pro’s.  We again took our position at the end of the dock where all the pro’s would be tied up and waited for the pros to arrive.  As the pros arrived and started to get ready for the day on the water and the sun started to rise it was becoming plan to see that it was going to be foggy on the water.  Once the National Anthem was complete we were announced to the crowd as the ceremonial lead boat for the fourth straight year and we all gave a wave to the crowd as I fired up the Yamaha SHO and moved out to lead the pros out.  The 49 anglers would go out in reverse order on day two and as we made our way to the end of the no wake zone it was obvious that the run down the channel would be a bit slower today because of the fog.  Once we were up and on plane I could only see as far as the next channel maker which was about 50 yards.  Once we made the turn to let the pros pass I made sure we had plenty of clearance from the boat lane just in case some got out of the lane because of the fog.  We made our way back to trailer the boat and start our day at the expo center but not before we had breakfast with all the Pro Staff ABA guys.

Day 3 Sunday, February 26 2012 at Bassmaster Classic Launch Site:

Day three started like day one and day two with a 0400 wake up and me, Cody Roberson, Chuck Guthrie, Mario V and Dale Hughes heading to the boat yard.  Once we arrived we prepared the Skeeter for launch just like the other two days.  The crowd at the launch was bigger than the first two days.  Now that the field was narrowed down to the top 25 Pro’s we would be leading the day two leader Chris Lane out of the launch site.  Dale Hughes and I backed the boat off the trailer and then tied up to the pier briefly as a camera man from Bassholes got on the boat with us.  As all the pro’s got into position around the dock Dale and I were being interviewed by The Bassholes on camera with all the pro’s the crowd and the American Flag in the back ground.  Now if that was not cool and does not get you fired up you don’t have a heartbeat. The weather on day three was a bit cool but not bad and it was calm and clear.  I knew it was going to be a great run out today.  As they announced the ABA boat Dale and I gave a wave to the crowd, we were regular celebs…we thought,  we took our seats and started too easy out as Chris Lane came up on the port side of the boat.  As we are looking at each I point and give Chris the thumbs up  as he points back and gives me the fist pump as if to say, “let’s get this party started” so cool!!!  We get out of the no wake zone I hammer down the Skeeter 20 ZX with that 250 Yamaha SHO on perfectly slick water hit the trim bring the bow up and all you can hear is the singing of that engine and that America Flag popping in the wind as we head down the river at over 70MPH as we are being filmed from the front deck by the camera man on the boat.  It was such an awesome experience to pilot the ABA boat for the three days of the classic something I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever do.  For an old country boy who grew up in Alabama what a dream come true.

Day 1 – 3 at the Convention Center:

The day started at the convention center at 1030 in the morning and went until 2020 that evening.  We all meet at the Army Bass Angler Booth as I found out this was the first year that ABA has manned a booth at the classic.  We were co located with Biobor EB booth where I met Allen Hohman CEO of the company, what a great down to earth guy.   Chuck Guthrie went over the plan for the day and how each of the ABA Pro Staff and myself were to rotate to the different ABA sponsor booths.  I spend the better part of my day in the ABA booth but did make it to the other sponsor booths briefly on day one with an extended stop in at the Skeeter Boats area.  I met Fish Fishburn in the Skeeter area and let me tell you he is crazier in person than he is on TV.  The day ended with all of ABA Pro Staff along with Zell Rowland headed to dinner at around 9 in the evening.

Day two at the expo hall started at 1000 and would last until after 2000 that evening.  We spent a few hours at each Sponsors Booths, which included Biobor EB, Ardent Reels, Rugged Shark Shoes, Dobbins Rods, Skeeter Boats.  It was very cool to meet different folks as I moved from sponsor booth to sponsor booth.  I meet Bill Dance, Roland Martin, and Ray Scott who just walked up to Don Bailey and myself and shook our hands.  I had a great time at the ABA booth with some of the other Coalition Pro Staff that made the trip to Shreveport Tom Inman, Harvey Wall, George Shipley, Jason Redding all were a blast to be around.  Day two ended with us all going to get dinner and heading back to the hotel.

Day three at the expo started at 1000 and lasted until 400 when the expo closed but after that happened we had to tear everything down and pack it all up.  Day three was spent rotating to the sponsors booths and meeting all the people at the Classic. It was fun to sign autographs representing ABA and all our warriors out there that put it on the line for this great country every day.  As the day came to a close and we headed out of town I got to experience another high point.  Cody, surprised me with Zell Roland traveling back with us to Austin TX.  I got to ask Zell all sorts of questions from how he got started fishing to what was his favorite fishing technique.  He never once got tired of my questions or the conversation which went on for seven hours as we drove down the highway.  If you ever get a chance to meet Zell please go up and shake his hand he has the upmost respect for what the guys in uniform do every day for our country.

End State:  Mission Complete.

Acknowledgements:

I do want to thank all the ArmyBassAngler Pros that were at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.  It was such an honor to be chosen this year to drive the ABA boat and it will be an experience I will never forget.  To all my fellow Coalition Pros throughout the United States and Deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq it was an honor to represent you as well as it is an honor to serve with you in the greatest military in the world—HOOAH!

Don Brunson

HOOAH!

SUPPORT.DEFEND.FISH.