I was a 17 year old boy, from a small town with BASS dreams. After week’s of mustering up courage, I called a man who had qualified for the 1992 Bassmaster’s Classic. His name was Robert Bearden and he lived in a small community near my hometown of Mansfield, Arkansas.
The Phone Call
I don’t remember much of how the conversation went, or how it even got started, but I do remember how nervous I was. Sitting in my room with Bassmaster magazines thrown about, as I paced the floor dodging each one of them. Robert asked me “Can you Carolina Rig a worm thru brush in 20 ft of water, or what about slow rolling a spinnerbait over moss in 30 ft of water?” I’m pretty sure I answered reluctantly.
As the conversation ended, he invited me over to his house which was less than 5 miles, door to door. I was ecstatic.
“There’s a white truck in the driveway, and a BassCat in the garage. Door will be unlocked. C’mon in, buddy” stated Bearden (I haven’t forgotten that)
After pulling up to his house the following evening, the door was open, and Robert, and his wife, Jo sat in the living room. Jo welcomed me with a southern hospitality, and asked if I was hungry. How can you not be hungry with the aromas coming from her kitchen.
Sitting in his recliner, walls adorned with plaques, and trophies of bass fishing fame, he asked “Whatcha wanna know?”
We talked for hours.
As I walked towards the door, and prepared to leave, Robert told me “I’ll teach you anything you want to know, as long as you drive me, my truck, and my Basscat to the water, deal?” We shook on it.
Driving Mr. Bearden
Each Saturday morning I would drive over to Bearden’s house. The garage door was up, and most of the time the truck would be hooked up to the boat, if not, I did it. I’d double check everything as he had previously taught me, and find my way into the driver’s seat. Bearden would appear from the passenger side, wife Jo behind him with a plate full of food, and it ALWAYS smelled heavenly.
Whether we were heading to Dardanelle (Arkansas River), Lake Eufaula or Lake Tenkiller (both in Oklahoma), he’d tell me stories of how he got started, what we would be doing that day, and why, and maybe a few stories from the oil field, where he worked. His cell phone mounted on the dash, started ringing less than 30 minutes after we left his house. He’d always answer.
“The key to owning a successful business is to treat the customer with respect, and honor their needs.” – Robert Bearden
After 10-12 hours on the water, we’d head home. As soon as he would get settled into the passenger seat, he’d call Jo, “What’s for dinner hot stuff?”
Shortly after he talked to her, he might call Rick Pierce of Basscat Boats, or maybe Mark Davis, then a full time guide on Lake Ouachita, telling them his yard needed mowed.
Bearden is both a jokester, and an admired class act.
A Typical Day on the Lake
There’s absolutely NO WAY I could ever fully explain how much fun we would have when we went fishing. It was never the same, and always filled with laughs. He made learning fun, and always saw something that others overlooked. That was one aspect to him making the Classic in 1992. Another reason, was that he had to prove a point, and that point was made.
One time, a fellow angler poked fun at Bearden’s size. Taking it in, Bearden trimmed up the motor, just enough for the prop ears to grab some water. Throttle up, water covered that anglers boat. It was March, and it was cold. I can’t remember what Bearden yelled following that early morning shower, but I know it was funny. He won the derby that day.
It was one heckuva weigh-in….
“You’re not a man….
….until your parents are gone, Jason” stated Bearden outside my house the day after my mom passed away in 1997. (I’ve never forgotten the weight of that comment)
“To be good at anything, you have to quit everything, and focus on the one thing that you can’t stop thinking about” – Robert Bearden
“I’m Done, Jason”
As we drove away from a lake in Oklahoma one Saturday Afternoon, Bearden told me “I’m done, Jason. You’re on your own now.”
I didn’t know what to say, I was shocked. The man I had looked to, and up to for many years for fishing knowledge, life lessons, and endless laughs, was quitting.
“I’m not having fun any more, and it’s time to quit.” – Robert Bearden
Arriving at his house, I unhooked the boat, parked his truck, and took the keys inside. Bearden was already sitting in his chair. It was an awkward moment for me. “You’re still gonna come over to ask questions, and bug me, right?” asked Bearden. “Yessir, I am” I replied.
Bearden always said, “I believe Basscat Boats are the finest boat ever made.”
To This Day….
…. I still call him when I need advice, to tell him how I did on the water, or to just check in, and he always answers.
Bearden and I have spent alot of time together over the years, and that man has done more for me, than anyone could ever believe. He was there not only when my Mom passed, but was one of the first to call me when my Dad passed. He was right beside me when I went through absolute hell, and I knew he had my back.
He’s the second person I call when I get off water, or the first person I call when I’m not catching them. “Why aren’t you catching them, Jason” he’d ask with the classic Bearden chuckle, but with serious meaning. He wanted to know, thus the reasoning for asking.
I admire this man I call my friend. Not because he’s fished the Classic, has more trophies than one would ever need, but he’s genuine. You see, when he talks, I’ve always listened, and he’s been spot on. Like a father, Bearden knows what’s best because what he’s accomplished was done so by his tenacity to win, with the support of Jo, and none of it was given to him. He earned it. He earned it the right way.
“See ya’, Buddy”
I’m extremely fortunate to have a friend like Bearden. I know he’ll always be truthful, and helpful. He still wants me to “catch them”, and be successful at whatever I do.
But most importantly, the time and friendship we’ve shared has taught me that money can’t buy a good reputation, good friends are hard to come by, and “Basscat makes the finest bass boat ever made.”
Thank for inspiring me, Bearden, and for always answering.