Bass fishing’s funniest man, Gerald Swindle is about to compete in his 19th Bassmaster Classic. And rest assured, he remembered to pack his toothbrush, undies, and a whole lot of competitive heart for the trip to Lake Hartwell.
“I’m not kidding, the first Classic I qualified for was in 1998, and guys I looked up to like Denny Brauer and George Cochran didn’t really tell me what to expect. So, I left home to fish that one at High Rock worried only about catching bass and making sure I remembered to pack my toothbrush and underwear,” remembers Swindle.
In the 24 years since High Rock, Swindle’s career has prospered in ways the son of a blue-collar okra farmer could have never imagined. And Classic week has grown way beyond his toothbrush concerns.
“I’ve seen and felt so much over the past 18 Classics,” reflected Swindle under the peace of Hartwell’s tall pines, like those that grow back home on his farm near Jasper, Alabama.
“I’ve zeroed in front of my hometown fans, shared the weigh-in stage with Chicago firefighter Kevin Oldham as he battled pancreatic cancer, got disqualified on Lay Lake, stepped in my own livewell in New Orleans and made ESPN’s Top Plays of the Day, and dang near won the thing in both Pittsburgh and New Orleans. So yea, here at age 52, you could say this little derby has had a pretty big place in my life’s story,” says Swindle.
More recently, at the 2019 Classic in Knoxville, Swindle was reminded just how special the Classic really was, as he fought back tears above emcee Dave Mercer’s microphone, and could barely speak, knowing he was leaving B.A.S.S. to fish in another league, and may never stand on the Classic stage again.
The moment hit Swindle harder than a Crimson Tide linebacker. It may very well have been his 18th and last chance to win pro angling’s ultimate trophy, and the last time he’d ever feel the magic he still feels of being pulled through the dark arena tunnel to the sound of his name, bright arena lights, and thousands of cheering fans.
It’s that incomparable goosebump-raising electricity in the Classic arena that Swindle says still provides the soulful motivation to ride around in a 45-degree rainstorm during practice this past Sunday on Hartwell — searching for a few more magical waypoints that might lead to the title he’s grateful to have another shot at.
So how might this Classic finally yield the title that’s evaded the Team Toyota pro on 18 previous tries?
“Lulu said it best over breakfast this morning. She told me I have everything I need to be a champion. She said, “You’ve got the best rods, reels, lures, and electronics to get the job done. And most of all, you’ve got the heart of a champion. You just need to stir it all up, and pour it all out this week,” reflected Swindle with tremendous sincerity.
Lulu’s right. All the best equipment. A champion’s heart. And he even remembered to pack his toothbrush and plenty of comfortable undies. You can bet there’s thousands of fans hoping all those ingredients cook up a much-deserved Classic title for Swindle that’s eluded him in 18 hard-fought and colorful attempts previously.