By David A. Brown
Those who saw Gerald Swindle’s Bassmaster Classic Day 2 weigh-in tirade may not have initially thought of the second verse from Rudyad Kipling’s famous poem, “If,” but the wisdom certainly applies to the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Warrior, Ala.
If you can dream and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.
After following up a dismal Day 1 catch of one bass (2 pounds, 1 ounce), Swindle was beside himself with a 2-fish bag weighing just less than 6 pounds.
Anytime Gerald Swindle gets on a roll, it’s gonna be worth a listen. He’s a naturally funny person whose mastery of public speaking and spontaneous wit allow him to deftly deliver side-splitting thoughts with the same skill he imparts when skipping a jig all the way under a dock.
Usually, he’s doing this with a smile, but this Classic gave him little to smile about.
Stop there: We won’t stretch that overused lemons-to-lemonade cliché; rather, this is about the consummate winning attitude. What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket and, despite his clear – very clear – disgust, the G-Man opted to vent his frustrations through a positive message.
Belly-aching’s easy. Wrap the sad story in a few clever lines, prompt the obligatory “awwwwww” from a sympathetic crowd and then trudge off stage.
That’s not how Swindle played it; and that, more than his hilarious commentary (example: “I’m so mad I’m ready to fight Satan.”) is what folks will remember for a long time.
After a respectable period, and between Elite events, we caught up with Swindle and asked him to reflect back on this year’s Classic. For starters, he’ll be the first to tell you that the only thing his Alabama zip code guarantees him on Lake Guntersville is that the fish will be wet.
“Sometimes we think that fishing at home can be an advantage, but there are no advantages,” he said. “With the level of guys we fish against, there’s just no advantage and you don’t take anything for granted.
“If you don’t catch ’em, it’s hurtful, but when you don’t catch ’em on a body of water you’re so familiar with, it can mess with your head for the next couple of tournaments.”
How bad was it?
“I can remember pulling up that trolling motor on that last day and running to the check in – I felt like I had a million pounds of weight on my shoulders,” Swindle said. “I remember how empty I felt inside. I was out of time and I had nothing else I could do. It was hard knowing deep down inside that I’m better than that.”
So, how did the G-man get past what was probably the biggest letdown of his career? Simple: He and his wife LeAnn strictly adhere to a 24-hour rule.
“She says I have one night that I can be frustrated or upset and after that we put it behind us,” Swindle said. “When we got back to the truck (after the second day’s weigh-ins), she said ‘When we get home, you can lock the door, scream and shout for one day. But after that, it’s time to get ready (for the 2014 Elite season).’
“She was right. You don’t carry those thoughts and bad tournaments with you. You can’t weigh them in. I believe you only see where you’re going by looking out the front of the truck. You don’t look out the back.”
How about some perspective for the up-and-comers?
“People ask me ‘What does it take to be a pro fisherman?’ and I tell them: ‘The biggest thing is you have to accept losing.’ Even as dominating as Kevin (Van Dam) has been the last several years, the percentage of tournaments that he’s won is pretty low.
“Fans will judge you more by how you handle losing than how you handle winning. My daddy used to tell me ‘Anybody can act right when you’re on top, but those days that you really have a gut check – that’s where you judge character; how you’re built.'”
Intrinsic here is the reality that all those logos adorning trucks, boats and clothing stand just as clearly during tough tournaments as they do during the great ones. Positive representation is expected regardless of how an angler feels about his performance – a point Swindle says a pro simply cannot afford to overlook.
“Any angler who wants to go to the Bassmaster Classic and wants to weigh in on the biggest stage in the world, you better know that there are 54 other guys fishing that event and there will only be one winner. You’d better prepare your losing speech as well as your winning speech.
“Are you going to be a whiner, an excuse maker or are you going to be a guy who leaves it all on the water and doesn’t make any excuses?
“You have to remember that your sponsors and the fans are listening. The fans don’t always want to know what you caught them on. They want to know what you’re made of.”
Of course, that doesn’t make the bitter pill any easier to swallow. Swindle said the drive back to the weigh-in was the longest hour and 45-minute drive he’s ever lived. It was a time of nearly intolerable emotion; but through the agony, he found respite in the unshakable truth of his convictions.
“I was filled with frustration, but I had to come to grips with it,” he said. “I’m not a finger pointer. Nobody was driving that boat but me. I got it handed to me on a lake where I should have done a lot better.
“You have to be ready for those days. They’re coming and if they break you, then you’d better get out of this sport.”
Thankfully for the sport, Gerald Swindle’s not easily broken.
Way to man-up G.