Passing on knowledge

Published: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 1:16 a.m.
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Former Bassmaster Classic champion Robert Hamilton, left, and Ron Klys of Gainesville hold up bass caught Wednesday at Salt Springs, a clear, spring-fed run off Lake George.

After a morning spent sight-fishing for spawning bass on white oval beds scattered throughout the shallow, crystal-clear waters of Salt Spring, the two fishermen took a break for lunch. And the conversation quickly turned into a counseling session between the old pro and the young aspiring professional angler.
The old pro is Robert Hamilton, 53, from Hattiesburg, Miss. He has been to the top of the mountain in his sport having won the 1992 Bassmaster Classic.
The aspiring pro is Ron Klys, a 29-year-old Gainesville angler who wants to get to where Hamilton plays. A member of the Bassmasters of Gator Country club (which has produced such national anglers as Shaw Grigsby, Bernie Schultz and Mike Gough), he has been busy the last four years plying his trade in the lowest rungs of the minor leagues - with some success.
His resume includes: winning a BFL tournament on the Harris Chain and finishing fourth in the Gator Division points race in 2002; finishing second in the year-long standings of the amateur division of the Southeast Division of the EverStart Series in 2003; competing as an amateur in the entire 2004 season of the FLW Tour; and finishing fifth in the BASS Federation (club system) Florida tournament last year. In all, he has earned more than $10,000 in tournaments while working as an auto mechanic at Dave May's Automotive.
Recognizing Klys' eagerness to learn more about the craft of competitive fishing, Hamilton spent considerable time offering some sage advice.
"The sport has evolved a lot over the last 10 years and the up-and-coming young guys are the ones that the sponsors are looking for," he said. "They're looking for the complete package. They're looking for somebody that's neat in appearance, can speak well in television or on stage and can catch fish. But I think fish catching is probably third or fourth down the line in what they're looking for."
Hamilton emphasized that pros at the Bassmaster Tour or FLW level have paid their dues by climbing through a disorganized minor league of sorts - local, regional and then national tournaments.
"Most of the guys evolve into pro fishermen by working through the ranks," he said. "They'll fish local tournaments and the Federation and then come up through the BFL or the new one-day BASS Weekend Series events. If you win at one level, then you move up to the next level. And if you keeping doing well at the different levels you sort of climb up to the national level.
"There are a lot of circuits out there you can fish. A great learning experience is fishing the three fall Bassmaster Opens to see how you stack up. Florida fishermen have had a hard time adjusting sometimes to fishing out of state. There are a few really good top-notch fishermen, but it seems like it's easier for guys to come to Florida and learn to fish than for guys to leave Florida and learn to fish. It's just totally different out there."
Klys asked: "In other sports, to me it seems like there are people who just have it, have the knack. Do you feel there are people like that in fishing? And are there people who don't have the knack, but still make it?"
"I think there's both scenarios," Hamilton replied. "You have guys out here that don't want to do anything but fish. They're making great livings. Rick Clunn is a prime example. Then there are some guys that aren't consistent winners that make a lot of money because they speak well, represent their sponsors well and get a lot of publicity.
"But you need to take care of the fishing first. You have to grow every day, and you do that by just fishing. Most of these guys that are making a good living fishing are on the water 200 to 250 days a year. By staying on the water you learn way more than you could ever learn any other way. You need to study the sport. When I was coming up, I didn't have all of the instructional help that's available today. Today, a young guy can watch videos and learn techniques and then go put them into practice. If you want to learn how to drop-shot, go get a drop-shot video. If you want to learn to flip, go get a video. But you have to then put it in practice and get comfortable."
Klys wanted to know what was the biggest difference between weekend fishing and tournament fishing.
"With tournament fishing, you have to be able to make changes very quickly," he said. "You've got to be able to read water in an instant and be able to eliminate a lot of the water right off the bat. To be a tournament fisherman, you have to be able to adjust on a minute-by-minute basis. The hardest part for me is knowing when to stay and when to leave."
Klys: "I've heard guys say that if they had the money to compete in the big leagues they could be just as successful as the big-name guys? Is that true?"
Hamilton: "That's a myth because tournament fishing at the top level is a whole different game from fishing tournaments at lower levels. It involves a lot more than just fishing. It takes a lot of money to fish the Bassmaster Tour and a lot of talent to stay there."
Klys: "What is the most important factor involved in succeeding at this sport?"
Hamilton: "You've got to establish credibility. It's so important to be honest. You don't have to tell everybody everything, but don't mislead people. Tell them the truth or politely decline to talk about how you caught fish that day. Honesty in this industry is the one commodity that a lot of guys have made their living from."
Tim Tucker is an award-winning outdoors writer who likes in Cross Creek.

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