Morris eyeing better days ahead


Rick Morris began his 2006 Bassmaster Elite Series season on a high note, making a run at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic title before ultimately finishing second in bass fishing's most prestigious event.

After that, the veteran Virginia pro's fishing fortunes took an unexpected downturn throughout the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series season. He ended up a disappointing 81st in the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.

"My year was like a roller coaster ride mostly downhill and a few highs," said Morris, who scored a fifth-place finish at The Capitol Clash presented by BUSCH Beer on the Potomac River in August. "Obviously, finishing second in the Classic and coming close to winning the Potomac tournament were highs. I had a couple of other decent tournaments, but most of them were pretty poor."

Following his stellar Classic performance, the three-time Classic contender failed to qualify for a top-50 cut in the first three events. After a 32nd-place showing at Alabama's Lake Guntersville, Morris missed the cut in the next four events. In the final four events, Morris managed to gain a little momentum and make the top-50 cut in two of those events, including the top 12 cut he made at Potomac.

In Morris' struggles, there was a side of professional fishing that fans rarely see how a pro's personal life can impact his on-the-water success. The 44-year-old pro went through a divorce that caused him to lose focus on his fishing.

"You need to be really strong as a fisherman to get through something like this because there's a lot of lows and a lot of days when you're not catching fish. You still have to concentrate and figure out what the fish are doing. If you're not concentrating on that, it's hard to get your confidence level back up."

Despite his 2006 struggles, Morris already is looking forward to the 2007 Elite Series season with an eye toward a career comeback. Morris qualified for the 2007 Elite Series from his position in the 2006 Angler of the Year standings due to a number of anglers double-qualifying, causing BASS to work down the AOY list.

"I'm going to rebound," he said. "I'm young and I feel great about next year. I'm going to get it back together."

Federation Nation grows

History has been made as Nevada has created a BASS Federation Nation chapter, the first ever in the state and first new state club to join BASS since 2001.

"BASS is excited to grow the Federation Nation, especially when we can develop new chapters," said Gary Jones, director of the Federation Nation. "This growth is a testament to the positive direction that the Federation Nation is headed."

The club had its kick-off banquet last week, according to Nevada Federation Nation president Tim Myers.

"When I first stepped up to start the Nevada chapter, we were optimistic we could make this happen," Myers said. "And with the help of a select few, it did, and I sincerely thank them."

Classic on their mind

It might be the off-season for many Elite Series pros, but not for those who qualified for the 2007 Bassmaster Classic on Alabama's Lay Lake, Feb. 23-25, 2007.

Most of the Classic field has spent at least a few days on the lake before the Classic waters were placed off-limits on Dec. 1. Qualified Classic anglers are prohibited from fishing the lake until the official three-day practice period Feb. 13-15.

Former Classic champion Takahiro Omori spent 12 days on Lay Lake. "I had never been on the lake," the Texas pro said. "It's good just to drive around the lake and see what type of lake it is. Now I know where everything is.

"In February, it should be my kind of tournament. Shallow water, lots of good logs and lay downs and some grass on the banks. But a lot of things can happen between now and February."

Peter Thliveros also spent some time on Lay recently. The Florida pro also had never been to the fishery.

"I've just got to learn enough to win," the 2006 Bassmaster Memorial winner said. "I don't feel like I will be at a disadvantage [against the pros who have fished previously on the lake]."

Bassmaster Opens

BASS members who want to register for the Bassmaster Opens can do so at Bassmaster.com/Opens. The two Open divisions, the Southern and Central, represent feeder systems into the Bassmaster Elite Series and bass fishing's most major event, the Bassmaster Classic. The first Southern Open event will take place next year on Florida's Kissimmee Chain, March 1-3. The first Central Open event is set for Texas' Lake Texoma, March 15-17.

Wrap rap

Look for Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Mercury Marine pro Jan Jones Heavener to run a wrapped boat promoting the Ramada Inn hotel chain during the 2007 WBT season.

"I'm real excited about it," the Sherwood, Ark., angler said. "The last couple of days working on the wrap and talking about how we're going to do the tournament shirts have been a lot of fun."

Weirdest catch

Imagine Jim Murray's surprise when he cranked up a lady's undergarment while fishing on Georgia's Lake Blackshear a few years ago.

"I was cranking boat docks and I guess there was a party the night before because I reeled in a bra," said the Georgia pro, who recently qualified for the 2007 Elite Series on the strength of a second-place finish at the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Wildcard last month. "I thought it was a stick until I got it up. Keep in mind it was nighttime. I bent down to pull the stick off of my lure and then realized what it was."

If I hadn't become a BASS pro

WBT pro Jan Jones Heavener would be able to concentrate entirely on her job as a hydrologic technician for the U.S. Geological Survey.

They said it

"One of the tricks is selling yourself to these companies that don't know who you are and know little about BASS. I think one of the things that has worked for me is I've learned in the last four or five years that I don't go in trying to sell a fisherman." 2004 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle on the importance of selling the sport to corporate America.