FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Celebrity encounters, backstage passes, VIP treatment, exclusive access to the latest and greatest in bass fishing, weigh-in shows that were part-fish competition, part rock concert and a story-book finish made for an unforgettable trip.
Mark Duncan and his 16-year-old son, Patch, experienced the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic unlike any of the other 107,605 attendees at the 3-day event.
Mark, a longtime member of Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and IBEW Local 26 in Lanham, Maryland, won the Ultimate Bass Sweepstakes presented by USA and Carhartt. The prize included an all-expense-paid trip for him and Patch to attend the Bassmaster Classic, complete with VIP treatment and exclusive access.
“I’d watched the Classic on TV in years past, but I’d never seen an event like this before,” Mark said. “The lights, the music, the people there – it was all insane.”
The Duncans witnessed a historical comeback at the Classic. Jason Christie, the two-day leader, started day three six pounds ahead. But the tournament wasn’t over for Edwin Evers, who caught 20 bass that morning, making a last-minute play for the title.
Father and son arrived at the Classic Expo at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 4 and met with representatives of USA and Carhartt who served as host for the weekend. They also met legendary angler and TV host Bill Dance before taking a group photo with the Classic’s soon-to-be-awarded trophy.
The Duncans’ Carhartt hosts ushered them around the Expo, taking them backstage with one of the Classic’s producers. They got to see it all, from the press room to the hole in the stage where the fish are dropped into a livewell that takes them back to the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
“We got our pictures taken on stage, saw where they weigh the fish and how the boats and trucks get in and out,” Mark said. “It was an incredible experience getting to see every part of the show.”
Both Mark and Patch’s favorite moment came during the last day. More than anything, Patch wanted to meet Kevin VanDam, the all-time money winner in professional bass fishing and his idol. The Duncans were sitting in Carhartt’s sponsor room, and Patch knew his chances were growing slim. Then, VanDam walked into the room. They got a photo with the legend – a moment both father and son will cherish for a lifetime.
“It was my favorite part because it was what [Patch] had wanted all weekend,” Mark said. “My son got to meet his idol. Just goes to show that the decision I made to become a union member almost 30 years ago is still paying dividends today.”
It was a sweet end to the Duncan’s trip. Back home, the experience continued to pay off, helping kick start a project. Before the trip, Mark and Patch had talked about converting their john boat into a “poor man’s bass boat.” The Classic gave them some ideas and resources, along with a little inspiration, and their project is now underway.
The trip also provided Mark with another opportunity to speak highly of his membership to both his union and the USA.
“Here is a situation in which I now get to discuss my union and why I’m a member of the USA with other people,” Duncan said. “All I have to do is mention the trip and they ask, ‘How did you win that?’”
It was the final weigh-in, and Evers stood in his boat as it was pulled into the Expo. “Dynamite” by Taeo Cruz blared over the speakers as Evers reached into his live well and pulled out his two biggest fish for the crowd to see.
His bag was taken to the stage for weighing. “Look at these big freaks of nature,” host Dave Mercer said of Evers fish, announcing he needed a 15 pound, 2 ounce bag to pull ahead.
“29 pounds, 3 ounces!” Mercer announced as the crowd erupted.
The Duncans cheered from the VIP sponsor suite as confetti rained down on the arena. “We are the Champions” blared through the speakers and Evers was crowned the 2016 Bassmaster Classic champion.
It was the perfect finale to the Duncan’s storybook experience, all thanks to Carhartt.
“We are grateful to Carhartt for their excellence, not only in their products, but in the way they serve others,” said USA Deputy Director Mike d’Oliveira. “This trip is a perfect example of how Carhartt goes above and beyond to support and celebrate our members.”