By Todd Ceisner
With wife Shirley at his side, Denny Brauer set off yesterday on a 17-hour drive toward central New York and Oneida Lake, site of the final Bassmaster Elite Series event of the season next week. There’s no telling how many thousands of miles they’ve covered together over the course of Denny’s illustrious career.
While he doesn’t anticipate this being their final road trip on the tournament trail together, the finish line is starting to come into focus. The 1998 Classic champion and winner of 17 B.A.S.S. events hinted at possible retirement at this year’s Classic – or at least made it be known that he’s devoted some thought to it.
During an interview this week, the 63-year-old Brauer told BassFan he’s planning to fish no longer than 2 more years at the pro level, citing physical wear and tear and a desire to spend more time at his new home on Lake Amistad in Texas.
“The older you get, the easier it is to get complacent and you do have to guard against that,” he said. “Mentally, from a competitive standpoint, I want to win just as bad as I’ve always wanted to. Physically, when you get to my age, it gets tougher and tougher. It starts to grind on you a little bit. A lot more of those days you’re out there hurting. A lot more of those practice days, you’re not wanting to fish until dark like you used to. You’re giving up a little bit there.
“I’ve still got the desire. How much longer? I don’t know if it’s fair to go on forever and ever. At the most, I’d like to fish 2 more seasons after this one. That’s how I’ve set contracts up with sponsors – to do another 2 years. Physically, I’ve already had five back surgeries and an artificial knee. I’ve got another knee that’s bad, so physically it’s getting hard to be what I call super competitive. I don’t know when I’ll have to hang it up, but it’ll be no more than 2 more years.”
Brauer is keenly aware of the difficulty involved in making the decision to step away from something he loves so dearly. He has nothing left to prove to himself or anyone when it comes to tournament fishing. His achievements and contributions rival anyone’s in the sport. He’s won enough money that he could walk away tomorrow and be comfortable. The issue is that the fire still burns in his belly to chase fish and to see if he can catch ‘em better than the other guys. As he proved with his win at the Arkansas River last year, he hasn't fallen behind in that regard.
And therein lies the difficulty of his decision.
“When is the right time? Every athlete struggles with that and I think we’re all guilty of sticking with something longer than we should because we truly love what we’re doing,” he said. “That makes it real hard to just back away even though you may not be doing as well. You’ve got a lot of friends out there and sponsors you’ve worked with and you want to pay back as much as you can.
“I’ve had a career most people would dream about and you hate to see it come to an end, but there’s a time it needs to come to an end because there are other things you want to do.”
For starters, he knows his wife is growing weary of the pro angler’s lifestyle of being away from home for weeks at a time, a routine they’ve been in since 1984.
“I’m sure there are things she’d like to do and places she’d like to go,” he said.
Also, they put their Camdenton, Mo., home (and the accompanying 485 acres) up for sale within the last month – it’s listed for $1.29 million – as they recently built an addition to their Amistad home so that it can serve as their year-round residence in the future.
“What a great place to get up every day and go out and fish,” he said of Amistad, a place he and his wife were taken with since the Elites went there for a tournament in 2006. “It’s getting tougher and tougher for me when I’m down there to leave and go somewhere. That’s telling me that a little bit of the juice to be on the road and fish tournaments is starting to ebb away.”
Season Of Misses
Coming off a 2011 season that saw him notch a win at the Arkansas River that broke a 5-year victory drought and made him the oldest angler to win an Elite Series event, Brauer was set to be in contention on a consistent basis again this year.
But things haven’t gone as planned. His 21st Classic appearance ended with a 44th-place result at the Red River. He followed that up with a 94th (St. Johns River) and 56th (Lake Okeechobee) to open the Elite Series season in Florida. Two more missed 50-cuts preceded his 19th-place showing at Toledo Bend before he took 93rd at the Mississippi River and 53rd at Lake Michigan.
“It was a rough season,” he said. “It was not the season I anticipated. In this game, you don’t always get what you wish for or plan on. I don’t have any excuses. There were a couple of events where I thought after practice, I maybe had what it would take to win the events. It ended up, for some reason, where I just wouldn’t get the bites.”
The season-opener at the St. Johns was a head-scratcher for him again as it was his second straight 94th-place showing on the tidal river system.
“I just can’t relate to that body of water,” he said. “I don’t know if some of it’s mental or if it’s that I just can’t figure that place out. I wasn’t on anything there and got out of it what my practice was going to dictate I got.”
At Okeechobee, he felt like he was around the fish to do well, but just couldn’t attract the right bites in competition. The same could be said for the Mississippi River.
“I thought I was onto a deal where not only did I think I was going to do well, I thought I was going to win the tournament and maybe win it fairly easily,” he added. “And I ended up finishing 93rd. How do you put that into words? Obviously some things changed which I didn’t anticipate like water levels and current, but that’s our job to figure out back-up plans.
“You dig yourself a whole right off the bat and I’m not much of a conservative angler to begin with. So from there, you just go try to win, and that just didn’t work out well the whole season.”