Hunter Bland wasn’t sure he’d ever get behind the wheel of a bass boat again after what he and fishing partner Conner Young experienced at Lake Seminole back in early 2017.
Bland and Young were cruising along behind another boat shortly after blasting off at an FLW College Fishing tournament when a part in the hydraulic steering system on Bland’s Triton came loose, causing the boat to spin violently. Both men were ejected from the boat. While both escaped serious injury, the incident made an impact on Bland and now he’s using it to trumpet the importance of boating safety.
Two weeks after the incident, Bland fished an ABA tournament as a co-angler, but it took him much longer before he drove the boat that was involved in the spin.
“I contemplated never fishing again or never driving a boat again,” he said. “It was just a tough mental battle, and still is when I am in a tournament. You just have a lot of flashbacks.”
As difficult as it’s been at times, Bland has been able to leverage his experience into a speaking tour that allows him to stress the importance of safety on the water to young anglers across the country. With the help of Skeeter, Yamaha, Mustang Survival and Florida B.A.S.S. Nation, Bland has reached hundreds, if not thousands, of young anglers with his message of safety first.
Bland said as video of the incident involving Young and him went viral, he was contacted by the National Safe Boating Council about doing a public service announcement video about the importance of wearing PFDs while boating.
“From there, one thing led to another and I had a conversation with Yamaha and Skeeter and signed on with them last December,” he added. “It was incredible to be able to sign on with the Skeeter/Yamaha national team. They told me it was not only about fishing but I can make a difference in other people’s lives aside from fishing. I’m doing that through safety and conservation and spending time with high school and college guys. They trust me to be on the road for them being a spokesman.”
Bland, who received a degree in forestry resources from the University of Florida, has been a fixture at youth and high school fishing tournaments along with Bassmaster college fishing tournaments, speaking to groups about how his experience changed his perspective. He’s given 10 speeches so far and has gotten great response.
During a recent swing through Florida, he gave away five Mustang PFDs and hopes to be able to partner with more state-level bass fishing organizations to reach the younger generation of anglers.
“For me after that incident made me realize how precious life is,” he said. “I’m way more passionate about the safety aspect and being able to take a stance on safety is cool for me.”
His message is simple, yet important.
“You might not catch them but being safe and having a positive impact on somebody is something you can always do,” he added. “That always ranks above catching them.”
He’s said it’s sometimes difficult to measure the impact he’s having, but at the recent Elite Series Angler of the Year Championship, he was approached by a fan who struck up a casual conversation. Before long, the fan recognized Bland from the accident video and opened up to him about a friend was injured in a boat wreck because he didn’t have the kill switch properly engaged.
“Because of me, now they were their kill switch,” Bland said. “I’ll never know how many people I’m touching, but after what happened at the Costa FLW Series (at Okeechobee) this year, it all hits closer to home.”
Bland said he was giving a speech at the National Professional Anglers Association conference in Wisconsin last January when the incident involving Nik Kayler and his boater occurred at Lake Okeechobee. Kayler was ejected from the boat and his body was recovered from the lake several days later.
“Being able to talk about it is not easy, but it’s great to see people putting safety first,” Bland said. “We all love to catch bass, but if we’re not being safe and working together on it, we can’t catch them.”