The 2016 Bassmaster Elite season is in the books, with Gerald Swindle proving to be the overall best angler on the tour. This is the second Angler of the Year crown Swindle has won in his career, likely carrying with it a bit more clout than his first. Each season, anglers claim competition gets stronger on the Elite tour, so such an accomplishment comes with a great deal of pride and honor, as it should.
Before I go any further, I have to admit: I’ve never been a big G-Man fan. However, after pondering a bit, I think it was a media overdose of Swindle that originally turned me away.
For a long period, when B.A.S.S. was desperately trying to push its superstars down the throats of fans, Swindle was everywhere. Without question, B.A.S.S. used Swindle’s persona for publicity purposes more than nearly any other fisherman; possibly only Kevin VanDam received more face time then, due to his overwhelming competitive dominance.
I must admit, I got sick of the apparent favoritism.
But things seem to have changed a bit. While there will always be media stars, more focus is now being placed on event winners and competitive stalwarts. And, after being allowed to focus more on Swindle’s fishing career than his affirmations, I started to become a fan.
Upon winning his second AOY title, Swindle gave a speech on stage that sealed the deal. Like many champions before, he addressed the crowd as if he had someone specific in mind. You could tell that somewhere, in the back of Swindle’s mind, was a young man, much like himself decades ago, who dreamt of becoming a professional bass fisherman.
Swindle spoke directly to that kid. “Life ain’t fair. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna drive home mad. You’re gonna want to break all your rods and throw ‘em in the lake. But you can’t do that. You gotta rally up … You gotta rally up.”
You could see it in Swindle’s eyes; hear it in his voice. When the masses told him he couldn’t do it, Swindle knew he could. This time, he talked to the dreamer who hears the same negativity he once did. The video, available on the B.A.S.S. site, is quite compelling.
Swindle mentioned how B.A.S.S. provides a stage for dreams to come true. While I agree, I’m reminded that one of his first major wins – still the biggest single payday of his career – was the $150,000 FLW Walmart Open in 1998. Certainly this provided a solid starting point.
Regardless, Swindle’s place in history is now solidified through the winning of his second AOY title; only a handful of anglers can make such a claim.
Through last week’s proceedings, emcee Dave Mercer debated with Swindle about earning a “legend” status. Swindle denies it, rightfully so, but Mercer, always pushing the “best ever” and “legend” buttons to hype today’s anglers, disagrees.
So, is Gerald Swindle a legend?
He’s a better, more accomplished tournament fisherman than I’ll ever be, and likely atop 99% of us. But he’s not a legend. Yet.
Legends of bass fishing earn their status through a number of factors. Tournament dominance is stressed most, as in the case of VanDam, Roland Martin or Rick Clunn. High performance over time places others in the category – Gary Klein comes to mind. Simply being superior earns the title, like Andy Morgan. And, unfortunately, tragedy can bring the status, as was the case with Bryan Kerchal.
But one thing’s for sure: despite his schtick, Swindle’s no bull. He’s a straight-talker who sees life in reality, despite being covered up with fame and logos. He’s had his share of ups and downs in life and seems to never forget what things are like for the hard-working middle class. And, with this latest crown, Swindle’s fishing backs up anything he can dish out.
As the Elite Series continues to age and expand its angler base, we’re seeing the makings of many legends. Names like Hackney, Hite, Christie and Ehrler immediately come to mind. And, without question, no one will ever forget Gerald Swindle.
Swindle wins; I give up. Add me to the list of G-Man fans.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)