Cecil Kingsley finally made it into the top echelon of bass fishermen. This week at Fort Gibson Lake in Oklahoma he will relish this grand achievement.
For more than two decades, Kingsley's dreams pirouetted about clinching a berth at the BASS Masters Classic.
For nearly 26 years, the Classic was the pinnacle: some folks even called it the Super Bowl of bass fishing. The Classic is where the 45 best professional bass fishermen of a particular year spend three days trying to catch 15 big bass. The angler who catches the 15 biggest bass wins $100,000 and possibly $1 million in endorsements.
But during the past three years, a new and more lucrative tournament circuit has emerged, replacing or at least equaling the Classic as the big show. It's Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship, where the 50 top anglers of the year vie for a share of a $450,000 purse and a first-place prize of $250,000.
Moreover, the commercial rewards are more bountiful for the FLW champion then they are for the Classic winner. One reason is the FLW attracts more attention from outside the bass fishing world.
For example, the FLW angler of the year is featured on boxes of Wheaties, and the 1998 angler of the year appeared twice on David Letterman's television show and Sports Illustrated had a story about him.
Another plus for the FLW is the majority of the touring professionals prefer its format to that of the BASS circuit.
Until the FLW tour appeared, Kingsley's dreams about making to the top of the bass fishing world always turned into Sisyphean nightmare. The road to the Classic is an uphill struggle, but nearly ever year a berth would be within Kingsley's reach going into the final qualifying tournament. Alas he would miss qualifying for the Classic by mere ounces.
According to Kingsley, the FLW Tour fits his hectic schedule better than the BASS events.
On the tournament circuit, Kingsley is unique. By trade, he is a civil engineer, working for BG Consultants of Lawrence. Thus his workaday obligations severely limit the days he can explore a lake prior to a tournament.
Normally, he fishes only three days before the tournament begins. Most contestants are full-time anglers who usually spend two weeks or more surveying a tournament site.
For his very important engagement at Fort Gibson, Kinglsey's crowded schedule relegated him to exploring Fort Gibson during the Labor Day weekend, which is an unpleasant and even dangerous time for a fisherman to be afloat.
Despite the crowds, he caught some bass. What's more, he developed more than a rudimentary understanding of the lake's topography and the behavior of its bass.
The way Kingsley looks at it, if he can catch bass amid all the tumult of a holiday weekend, he ought to be able to catch them during the heat of his biggest tournament of the century.
Even if his debut at the big show is a flop and he finishes near the bottom of the leader board, Kingsley won't be disheartened for long. He will picture it as preparation for next year's championship.