CHARLOTTE, N.C. — He's officially got the Hottest Rig Running, but Mike Reynolds is not feeling as hot as he is humble.
The experiences he's had since he wrapped his boat in the American flag with insignia of the military and the phrase "These Colors Don't Run," have turned a mediocre year in terms of performance into an unforgettable chapter in the human story of his bass fishing career.
"I really had a tough year as far as fishing goes," Reynolds said as he was presented to the crowd in Charlotte as winner of the Hottest Rig Running contest. "But it's probably been the most fun I've ever had in my life. It's just a never-ending story of veterans, wives, grandpas … they are all talking to me. I thought it was such a small thing. I didn't realize how big a deal it would be. I had no idea it would mean so much, to so many people. I'll pull into a gas station and I'll just get bombarded by people who want to talk to me about my boat."
Reynolds wrapped his boat in the patriotic theme when he found the 2006 season approaching and didn't have a commitment from a sponsor that fit his needs. He decided that he would pay tribute to the Armed Services by dipping into his own checking account to have his boat wrapped in red, white and blue. The results have touched many people.
"I met a man the other day who wouldn't know Kevin VanDam if he walked up to him on the dock, but he told me the only bass fisherman he knows is Mike Reynolds … because he was a veteran. That really meant a lot to me. It's been things like that, nonstop. It's been a great year."
Reynolds says he constantly finds himself being passed on the highway by families in cars that speed up to blow their horns and flash him a thumbs up sign. He's followed on the water by fans waving American flags. He's pulled aside at weigh-ins by proud grandfathers that want to tell him about the soldier in their family.
When asked why he chose to honor the military with his wrap, Reynold's is succinct.
"They allow me to live my dream. They allow all of us to live in the greatest country … a free country. We can do what we love to do and I wanted to thank them for that."
Recently BASS Director of Angler Relations, Janet Bell, had the opportunity to bring several Elite anglers to the Friends of Special Operations Forces day at Ft Bragg, N.C. This event is held biannually and allows citizens to watch demonstrations from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Reynolds drove from Oklahoma to North Carolina to join fellow anglers Davy Hite and Marty Stone at the event.
"I got to spend the day with the guys from Ft Bragg," Reynolds said. "We got to see how professional they are. You know, we talk about professionals in bass fishing and other sports. Well, these men and women are professionals. They showed us how they do things. They showed us a sniper exhibition. They showed close combat. They showed us how helicopters come in and drop boats out and they put them together on shore. It was one of the most exciting days I've ever experienced."
While he was at Ft Bragg, Reynolds displayed his boat on the military post for the day. The welcome he received from the soldiers was warm.
"The soldiers were in awe," said Gary Malkin, Operations Sergeant, Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group who was in attendance at the weigh-in when Reynolds was announced the winner of the contest.
"You know, you see it on TV. You see it on Bassmaster.com. But to see it in person was awesome. I didn't actually know that Mike was coming (to Ft Bragg) and I was thrilled that he was there. As a soldier, I'm just so appreciative that he would put that on his boat, out of his pocket, for us. It makes me feel really good."
Twelve Soldiers from the 18th Airborne Division at Ft Bragg will be official observers in the Bassmaster American on Saturday at Lake Wylie. Reynolds recognized these soldiers at the weigh-in to thunderous applause.
After holding up the check for $10,000 that he won in the contest, Reynolds told the crowd that he would use the money to wrap his boat in support of the military again for the 2007 Elite Series.
"Knowing you have the support of the military really makes you want to perform," said Reynolds. "I wanted to make the finals in this event so bad. I tried my hardest. I really wanted my boat to be there on the final day of the
Bassmaster American, but it just didn't work out. All I wanted to do this year was to say thank you to the military and their families."
As the applause died and the next Elite angler took the stage to show the crowd his fishing prowess, Mike Reynolds walked out of the glare of the spotlights. Stepping into the dark backstage area, he looked out at the crowd, glanced at his weigh slip and without looking up, quietly added, "The reaction has been humbling. It's been amazing. It's been the experience of a lifetime."