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ESPN2 and ESPN Radio: 'Dream' bass

5/9/2006

Editor's note: ESPN2's "Loudmouth Bass" re-airs at 5 a.m. ET on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Click here to learn more about "The Outdoors Show on ESPN Radio." And to find the ESPN Radio affiliate in your area, click here.


For Matt Bullard, life has been a dream come true — and then some.

After a collegiate basketball career at the universities of Colorado and Iowa, Bullard thought his dream of playing professional basketball might elude him when the phone failed to ring during the 1990 NBA draft.

Enter NBA coaching great Rudy Tomjanovich and the Houston Rockets, who not only called later but invited Bullard to play in the team's summer league.

Later that year, Bullard found himself on Rudy T's team, a roster spot that would lead to pro basketball's summit when the Rockets captured the 1994 NBA world title.

After a 12-year pro career that included stints with the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets, Bullard continues his hoops dreams, even in retirement.

These days he is vying for a basketball analyst's position on ESPN's "Dream Job" reality television program.

"It's been exciting and nerve-racking," Bullard said. "I like to feel excited and nervous because it makes me feel alive. It will be my goal to make Stephen A. Smith say something positive for once."

But basketball isn't all that the hopeful NBA analyst dreams of — fishing pops into his mind quite often.

Bullard — who will appear on ESPN2's "Loudmouth Bass" this BASS Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET and via the airwaves of Saturday's coast-to-coast "The Outdoors Show on ESPN Radio" at 6 a.m. ET — began his love affair with fishing years ago.

In fact, some might chuckle and suggest that his fascination with fishing borders on obsession.

How else do you explain wintertime walleye fishing expeditions onto the frozen Mississippi River with an aluminum boat?

"We would go out into the ice and, when it would crack, we would jump into the boat, pushing our way to the open water," Bullard said.

"The open water was below the dams, so the water didn't freeze there. We would fish tube jigs for walleyes. It was tremendous fun."

Spoken like a true angler.

When Bullard began his college basketball career — a career that included two gold medals and two silver medals while playing on a USA basketball team — his interest in fishing certainly didn't wane.

"I was with a couple of friends in college whose parents had a lake house in northern Wisconsin," Bullard said. "I guess you could say I got hooked."

Fast forward to the NBA: Can a player on a world championship basketball team find the time to fish?

"I fished every All-Star break for my annual trip to Lake Fork in Texas," Bullard said. "I also always had the whole summer to fish, which was a great part about being a basketball player because we get summers off."

If that's the commitment to fishing that Bullard had during his NBA career, imagine his enthusiasm for angling — and his newfound love of duck hunting — in his retirement.

When does he fish now?

"Whenever I can get on the water," Bullard laughed. "I've fished anywhere from 25 degrees to 105 degrees.

"Now, I have a lake house in central Texas and I try to get out there at least once a week and everyday in the summer months."

From bluegills to billfish — Bullard actually fished for marlin while on his honeymoon in Hawaii — the former NBA pro loves to fish for any species that's biting.

And that's especially true when the largemouth bass are taking the bait.

In fact, when queried as to whether he would want to win another NBA world title or to catch the next world-record bass, the former basketball pro never hesitated with his answer.

"The world-record largemouth for sure," Bullard said. "Every year, 12 guys win an NBA world championship. But there hasn't been a world-record bass caught since (1932)."

While he has yet to beat George Perry's fabled 22¼-pound record bass, Bullard is no different than countless other bass fishing enthusiasts out there; he's still on the water trying!

And he's pretty sure on where his best try will be for bass fishing's ultimate dream — the Texas lunker factory near Quitman known as Lake Fork.

That's a pretty good choice, since Lake Fork is home to the past two Lone Star State record largemouth bass, including Barry St. Clair's latest standard weighing 18.18-pounds.

It's also a lake that has produced the two biggest bass of Bullard's angling career, a 9-pound and a 9½-pounder.

"My first trip there was my senior year in college," Bullard said. "A couple of buddies and me fished there and we fell in love with it.

"When I went to the Rockets, I figured out it was a four-hour drive (to Fork), and I fished it from then on."

What would the former NBA pro do if he actually landed the new world-record largemouth from Fork — or from any other bass water, for that matter?

"I don't know. I probably would have to sit down for about 30 minutes and collect myself because I would be so excited," Bullard said.

"And then I'd probably donate it to the ShareLunker program down here in Texas (a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department program that accepts for its spawning and research efforts bass weighing 13 pounds or more)."

While Bullard obviously hopes to keep on catching big bass, his most cherished angling dreams have little to do with himself.

The future of fishing for him is teaching his kids the sport, he said:

"My daughter, age 8, is becoming a very good fisherwoman, and I love fishing with her.

"And my son is getting into it, too. He is 6 years old. It is priceless to see the look on their faces when they catch a fish."

ESPN2's "Loudmouth Bass" re-airs at 5 a.m. ET on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.