CELEBRATION, Fla. -- If he hadn't qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series, chances are Bryan Hudgins would never have visited the West Coast during his lifetime. Or experienced the mind-blowing big-bass action that resides in California waters.
Knowing what he now knows, Hudgins would be kicking himself if he had not been able to join the nation's finest bass pros on the western swing.
Before finishing third in the Bassmaster Wild Card tournament last fall, Hudgins wasn't a very well-traveled angler. The Orange Park, Fla., resident had established himself as a force on his hometown St. Johns River and begun to spread his wings to other southern waters.
But it was earning his Elite Series tour card — and winning a Triton boat to help pay his 2007 entry fees — that sent Hudgins on his fantasy bass trip that started off with lakes Amistad and Clear, as well as the California Delta. And all produced the kind of giant bass that he never knew existed.
"California was awesome," he said recently. "The fishing in California is just unbelievable. It's way better than I ever dreamed. It completely different than I ever thought it was. Clear Lake is probably one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen."
Hudgins couldn't get enough of California fishing. Between tournaments, he fished two other reservoirs that surrendered the biggest bass of his career.
"On one small reservoir near Stockton, I caught a 13-10 just messing around before the Delta tournament," he said. "And I had caught a 10-pounder three hours before that. I caught those two off a bed, but we were catching like 100 a day on a drop-shot.
"And several of the Elite pros had a little tournament before practice started on the Delta on another lake, and we just caught the heck out of them."
With absolutely no fishing experience in Texas or California, the 27-year-old pro is fairly satisfied with his start. Hudgins opened with a 49th-place showing at Amistad; finished 36th at the Delta; and followed up with 58th at Clear Lake before returning back East for the Elite Series stop on Clarks Hill last week, where he finished seventh. In the process, he earned $35,000.
"I'm pretty happy with things so far," Hudgins said. "I'm learning a lot and having a lot of fun. And I'm getting to fish places I never would have gotten to fish."
JOCKEYING FOR EXPOSURE.
It's been more than 25 years since he rode a horse in the Kentucky Derby, but Kevin Wirth's former career is still getting him attention.
The latest bit of exposure was a feature story this week in the New York Times.
Titled "From Whip to Rod, Ex-Jockey Tries Taming a New Animal," the story chronicled the Elite Series pro's previous career as a jockey and later an equine dentist, as well as his successful transition to professional fishing.
It contained an interesting quote from Herson Sanchez, a jockey agent in Tampa and the best man at Wirth's wedding. "I've gone out fishing with him, and he wears me out. I've known him 25 years, and when he first decided to go fishing, well, I wasn't surprised that he got on the map."
The story also mentioned Wirth's athletic prowess, including his golf handicap of 2 and a recent bowling score of 196 against some other Elite Series pros.
Bassmaster Tournament Trail sponsor Toyota Trucks recently attracted the attention of the Hollywood Reporter for its "15-episode behind-the-scenes Web series about bass fishing's premier tournament and the lives of five top anglers that began airing this week on the new toyotafishing.com."
The series titled "Hooked," billed as a ground-breaking event in the bass industry, is produced by Brand Arc, Toyota's Los Angeles-based branded entertainment agency. Plans call for series to also appear on other sports and outdoors web sits via banner ad links. The episodes are three to six minutes in length.
"This is the first true behind-the-scenes footage you'll see with any of these professional anglers," Toyota spokesman Chad Harp told the publication. "We want to give more to our fans and people who care about the sport."
The series documents the activities of the five Toyota pros — Greg Hackney, Michael Iaconelli, Terry Scroggins, Dave Wolak and Kevin VanDam. It began with their preparation for the Bassmaster Classic in February.
Log on to Bassmaster.com Monday at 2 p.m. ET if you would like to post a question to the winner of the Elite Series stop at Clarks Hill Reservoir last weekend.
It's that time of year again — the 2007 Hottest Rig Running contest where fishing fans select their favorite boat wraps among the Elite Series pros.
The creativity of the pros and their primary sponsors will be on display throughout the 11 Elite Series tournaments. And you can see them at www.espnoutdoors.com/hottestrig.
California's Mike Reynolds and his "These Colors Don't Run" military wrap was the big winner last year — earning $10,000.
Here's how the contest works:
Each week will feature a different group of anglers' boats for you to vote on. The winning boat from each week will advance to the final round July 6-13. Second place boats from weeks 1-10 will be placed into a Second Chance Qualifier, where these boats will have the chance in week 11 to win a spot in the final round.
Voting is limited to one vote per person each week.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM BASSMASTER MAGAZINE.
Growing up on the cold plains of Minnesota, Elite Series rookie Derek Remitz needed all of the entertainment he could get. And much of it came from the pages of Bassmaster Magazine.
"I grew up reading Bassmaster," he said. "As a kid growing up, I was pretty enthusiastic to try any new technique and that's where I learned about them. With our weather, there were months where you couldn't even go fishing."
DID YOU KNOW?
Elite Series pro Russ Lane was a minor-league baseball player before becoming a tournament pro.
IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO...
Elite Series pro Randy Howell would likely still be a fishing guide on Lake Gaston on the North Carolina-Virginia border.
THEY SAID IT.
"Back in the old days, there just wasn't as much sponsorship opportunities. Now it is approaching something...really kind of like NASCAR. It's really heading that way and I think ESPN is driving that. The TV coverage has really driven the growth in the last 10 years." Elite Series pro Jason Quinn told The Gaston (N.C.) Gazette that fishing has become a surprising lucrative career.