By Steve Graf
While I never attempted to fish at the highest level of professional bass fishing, that still has not damped my passion to compete at this lifelong sport. Bass fishing is a constant attempt to continually educate yourself in order to be successful. It’s a never-ending process of reading, studying and spending endless hours on the water committing yourself to getting better. If you want to compete at a high level, you’ll have to dedicate yourself and develop fishing skills. But where did this passion come from? Where did it all start for me and why?
It all began on an East Texas Ranch located just north of Mt. Pleasant, Texas. Graf Brothers Ranch (owned by my dad Loyd Graf Jr. and his brother William “Bill” Graf) was a little under 400 acres just on the edge of Sulphur bottom. We had three fully stocked ponds, not including my Grandad’s (Loyd Graf Sr.) place that joined our east fence with two stock ponds as well just waiting for a young angler to get hooked on what would become a lifelong passion for me. At the age of 8 years old in 1969, I made my first cast on one of these stock ponds with a Zebco rod & reel and little did I know, that it would be the first of thousands of casts. Endless hours of walking the banks cast after cast, looking to catch one of those little green trout called largemouth bass.
I had a cousin who also loved to fish, who would show up at the ranch from time to time and we would fish together all day. He was also the guy who introduced me to Bassmaster Magazine and my first open face reel; the Ambassador 5000C. It was the prettiest piece of fishing equipment I had ever seen. It was bright red with silver knobs and handles and just looked so impressive. I remember getting one for my 9th birthday and could not get it out of the box quick enough. None of my friends had a fishing reel with such high-tech innovations. In my mind, I was now king of the water and none of my friends could even come close to the set up I now possessed. But it was also a challenge to learn to throw without getting a major backlash or rat’s nest. But once you mastered that reel, oh what a joy it was to fish with. Smooth and you could cast it a mile!
Every kid who ever picked up a rod and reel has raided their dad’s old tackle box. I remember the first time I opened my dad’s and was so intrigued by the many lures he had accumulated over time. Old crankbaits and topwater lures along with a small selection of H&H spinnerbaits. This tackle box also had two or three packages of Crème soft plastic worms (3 in a pack) you know the ones with the hooks already threaded in the worm. This tackle box is where I got my first look at a flat sided crankbait known as a Sonic which later became the predecessor to the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. I sure wish I had some of those old baits from that dust covered tackle box including the ones I lost or hung up on an underwater stump. Many of those old lures would now be collector’s items and worth a few dollars.
By age ten (1971) like my cousin, I was a subscriber to the greatest bass fishing magazine that is still in existence today…Bassmaster Magazine! I was like a kid in a candy store every month when that arrived at my house. Even more excited to get that magazine than I was the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog. It was a resource beyond belief to a ten-year-old boy with great information, sketches and drawings in detail about the latest techniques and the hottest baits. Interviews with the best anglers on the planet like Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Ricky Green, and Booby Murray who won the first Bassmaster Classic in 1971. Truly a wealth of information that I thumbed through night after night before going to sleep and dreaming of a huge largemouth that I would soon be catching. While other kids were reading the “Highlights” magazine and other boring books like “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “Huckleberry Finn,” I was studying how to pitch and flip a jig in heavy cover! Now that was something worth reading!
While I still remember walking those East Texas stock ponds and making cast after cast, I did not know that this would be where I would cut my teeth and light the fuse for what would become a lifelong passion. The freedom I had as a kid is something kids today cannot relate to. Days on end I left the house just after sunrise and came home at sunset hopefully with a stringer full of bass that would make my dad proud. The only thing that trumped bass fishing was my passion for baseball.
After a short minor league baseball career with the Montreal Expos, I needed something to fill that competitive void I had in my life. Fast forward to 1990 when a friend of mine asked me to fish a team bass tournament on north Louisiana’s Lake Bistineau and once again the fuse was lit! From that day forward I have fished competitively on all levels. Fished several team trails, Pro/Am events like the FLW BFL Tour, the FLW Ever start/Costa Series, B.A.S.S Opens and the ABA Open Series and the new (2021)ABA Top 150 Solo Tour. It’s just like any other hobby, once it gets in your blood, it’s hard to walk away from. But for me it’s still fun and something I truly enjoy. I’ve met and made some great friends for life while fishing and that by far is better than winning any tour event…well maybe! Till next time, don’t forget to set the hook!