By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Lots of anglers have come and gone since the Bassmaster Elite Series launched in 2006, and many of those who've departed have no interest in returning to the circuit. They took their crack at fishing at the sport's highest level, and in most cases the venture dinged their pocketbooks pretty hard. They're now pursuing more reliable sources of income.
Mark Burgess is one of those guys who came and went, but unlike some others, he wants to come back. And he'll do everything he can in 2013 to get there.
The Massachusetts resident competed on the Elite trail in 2009-10 and made the Top 50 just three times in 16 starts. The former regional representative for Skeeter Boats admits that those 2 seasons placed a heavy burden on his finances.
Nonetheless, he's determined to try it again. He wants to see whether he can succeed now that he's no longer burdened by the distractions he faced the first time around.
"Timing is everything, and due to my health, some things that were going on with my family, the economy and the state of the sport, I could not have picked a worse time to start," he said. "But at the same time, I don't have many regrets. I think I'd have more regrets if I'd never taken the shot."
Arrows from all Directions
After qualifying for the Elite Series through the 2008 Central Opens, Burgess paid his initial deposit for B.A.S.S.' top circuit right about the time the national economy tanked. That ushered in a prolonged period when it was difficult for pro anglers – even firmly established ones – to secure sponsorship help.
Then, just a few weeks before he competed in his first Elite event, his father lost his battle with cancer. He believes that triggered a case of clinical depression (although it was never professionally diagnosed) that lasted for several years.
"I came to realize that's what I was going through then," he said. "I told myself I was fine and it seemed like I felt fine, but deep down I knew something was wrong and I couldn't put my finger on what it was."
He also endured another ailment that was physical rather than psychological. A routine exam resulted in the discovery of an issue with his prostate that required a visit to the top urologist in Boston and two biopsies over the next 6 months. It was determined that the organ was not cancerous, but likely would be at some point down the road.
"As bad as that sounds, it was kind of comforting to me because it was pretty touch-and-go for awhile. Those two biopsies, I wouldn't wish those on anyone, but the first one showed that there was something that needed to be monitored and the second one showed there was no progression and I could go ahead and live my life.
"I can deal with the symptoms, and eventually it'll get to a point where something needs to be done about it. I'm in a good place with it."
Old Itch Comes Back
Burgess pretty much got away from fishing completely for about a year and a half after his final Elite event at Fort Gibson Lake in June 2010. He'd been forced to give up his full-time job with Skeeter in order to fish his second tour-level campaign (the company backed his decision to compete, but needed someone in that position year-round) and he ended up taking a sales job with a truck-equipment distributorship owned by his brother.
The "competition bug" started crawling up his leg again this year. He entered some local derbies and fared well, and then won a B.A.S.S. Federation Nation event at the Charles River thus summer.
His goal is to fish all three Open divisions (nine events) next year in an attempt to re-qualify for the Elites. The Top 5 in the final points standings in each division automatically get an invite, and B.A.S.S. frequently goes farther down the list in order to bring new blood into the tour-level circuit.
He'll compete in the Northern Opens for sure – whether he can add the Centrals and Southerns will depend on financing. His sponsor portfolio still includes Skeeter and Yamaha, along with Reynolds Garage and Marine in Connecticut, apparel-maker Mojo Sportfishing, Bass Boat Saver, Xiphias Technologies and a television production company called Purple Turtle.
"There's no way I could've done this in 2011, with my health and where I was financially. But I'm getting my feet back under me in both those areas, and that's led me back to competitive fishing. I've fished my entire life and it's a part of me, and now the passion is back to get involved again, but this time I've got a different frame of mind.
"It's something to work toward. It's a big-time cliché, but I've always been a believer in the saying that you should love what you do and do what you love. Otherwise, you're wasting your time."