By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Albert Collins describes his relationship with competitive bass fishing as being similar to that of an alcoholic and his beverage of choice: He simply cannot partake in it with any semblance of moderation. If he's going to do it at all, he has to go all-in.

It's that realization that caused him to give up the sport for a decade while his children were still in school. The kids are out of the house now, though, and he's back to doling out lessons of his own at Lake Sam Rayburn and other Texas impoundments.

Later this month, the 48-year-old will match wits with the fat, scrappy bass of Oklahoma's Grand Lake and pit his skills against many of the top pros in the game at the Bassmaster Classic.

"It's been a longtime goal of mine," he said of competing in the Classic. "I just never was able to pursue it seriously until now."

Had to Prioritize

Collins was a highly feared competitor in his home region up until the late 1990s. He was a regular winner on several circuits and teamed with Nobi Jo LeBert to capture multiple Team of the Year titles and championship events in the Angler's Choice Couples division.

"It was a real good fishing partnership," he said. "We did extremely well together."

Then he went through a divorce at a time when his children still had a lot of school years remaining. He determined that he couldn't fulfill his role as a father while competing in several tournaments a month, and he personally couldn't handle "teasing" himself with just the odd derby here or there.

Therefore, he gave up fishing completely even the "just for fun" variety.

"I never even threw a bait in a pond," he said. "I knew if I started, I'd have to keep going. It's my passion and my addiction, and I knew I couldn't do it at all until I could come back 100 percent."

He launched the second phase of his career about 6 years ago and pretty much picked up where he left off. He qualified 2 years ago for a U.S. vs. Mexico international team event and has twice made the B.A.S.S. Nation Texas state team.

His biggest accomplishment came last November, when he topped the Bassmaster Weekend Series Championship at Rayburn to gain his Classic slot. He didn't just win that event, he made a mockery of it as his 86 1/2-pound total for 4 days left him 15 1/2 pounds clear of the field.

Still has Pro Aspirations

Collins currently works as a plumber for a firm in his hometown of Nacogdoches, Texas. He had several other occupations prior to that (working as a carpenter with his father, cutting logs with his uncle, etc.).

"I've done several different things, and most of them have involved working with a saw or some other piece of equipment," he said.

He'd love to make a full-time living with a rod and reel.

"I'd give up everything today if I had the opportunity to do that. I told my boss that if I go up there and win this thing (the Classic), I'm through. He told me he was rooting for me, but he'd hate to see me go.

"I'd do it without blinking an eye. I'm hoping that if I do well enough, I'll be able to get some sponsorship."

Plying offshore structure with deep-running crankbaits, jigs and big worms is his favorite way to fish, but he also has a great deal of experience flipping and pitching to bushes, laydowns and stumps. He's never competed at Grand before his 2-week pre-practice visit before the lake went off-limits to Classic competitors in mid-December marked the first time he'd ever seen it.

"I feel real good about what I found," he said. "I like the lake it fishes similar to one or two that I've been on. Maybe not exactly the same, but close. I figured out some stuff that I think will be real good, but it's hard to say until I get back and see what the weather's done to it.

"I'm going up there with a 100-percent intention of fishing to win. A Top 10 would be nice, but I won't be completely satisfied unless I win. Some people might say that's unrealistic, but I don't think it is. I think there's a good chance I'm going to go up there and catch a lot of fish."

Notable

> Collins' sponsor list includes Vicious, Simms, Triton, Delta Lures, Missile Baits, East Texas Hydraulics and Auto, Tour Star Rods, 6th Sense Lures and E2 Baits.

> He said his anticipation for fishing the Classic has continued to build throughout the winter. "I'm ready for it to get here," he said. "I'm not overly excited to the point where I'm running around in a tizzy or anything like that, but I'm ready for it to happen."