PRATTVILLE, Ala. By definition, the comeback trail has to start at a low point. For Mark Menendez, that low point in 2005 would not be hard to locate.
At the third event of the 2005 Citgo Bassmaster Tour season at Lake Guntersville in Alabama, Menendez contracted viral meningitis, a serious illness that can mean many days in the hospital and a very long recovery period. That was the case for Menendez, who missed the remaining three events of the regular season, along with any hopes of qualifying for the Elite 50 Series or the Classic.
"I was out of commission for a good three and a half months," Menendez said. "And to tell you the truth, I probably started back to work far too early."
His return to work was the beginning of the Bassmaster Southern Open series on Georgia's West Point Lake in June. And despite what he describes as a serious lack of stamina, he fished well enough to win the event. He finished the series in 12th place overall and easily qualified for the Open Championship this week on the Alabama River.
After finishing day one in Prattville in a tie for 16th place, Menendez brought in 13 pounds, 2 ounces to move on to day three in sixth place. He's catching spotted bass along with the occasional largemouth, concentrating on shallow flats with plenty of current.
"I'm a good 10 pounds behind the leader, but I'm thinking that if I can catch 10 pounds tomorrow, I've got a shot at the top five and qualifying for the Classic. My stamina is still not all there some days, but I like these fall tournaments for the simple fact that there aren't as many daylight hours so we don't fish as long," he said.
Menendez' last year to qualify for the Citgo Bassmaster Classic was 2003, where he led the field on day one in New Orleans and the Louisiana Delta, only to fade on day two.
But he has been to the Classic in each of the two years since, serving as analyst for ESPN's live television coverage.
" I really enjoy that job and I'd love to do it again, but there's no question that the best position would be to qualify and be there fishing—that's the ultimate for me," said Menendez.
It's a comeback trail that started low, and the high point could well be determined by Mark Menendez' performance today.