By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
For more than a quarter of a century, Ron Shuffield made a pretty decent living catching fish. Now, at age 57, he'll have to figure out some other way to pay the bills.
"I started a lawn service last fall and I'm going to see if I can build and establish that," he said. "If it doesn't work, I'll have to go get a full-time job somewhere.
"My mom and dad both just turned 78 and I'm going to spend some time with them – there's a lot of things they need help with. As far as earning money, I'm too young to retire and I'm too old to start something entirely new from scratch. I'm blessed enough to have my home paid for, but I've still got medical and vehicle insurance and property taxes and all that. I still need to work pretty much full-time, and hopefully I can get this lawn service established."
The Bismarck, Ark. resident, a seven-time winner during two decades on the B.A.S.S. circuit before a move to FLW in 2006, said a number of factors went into his decision to bow out now – one of which was his sponsorship situation. He'd flown the EverStart colors for the previous 3 seasons under an FLW team deal, but says he knew last spring that 2013 would be the final year of that arrangement and he had little desire to actively pursue support for this season.
"Nobody's really interested in a man my age as far as a sponsorship deal. That's understandable – it's a young man's game."
He's a guy who never embraced the political climate that's enveloped the sport since the turn of the century and freely admits that he pines for the "good old days" of B.A.S.S. under founder Ray Scott, ex-tournament directors Harold Sharp and Dewey Kendrick and Bassmaster magazine editor and TV emcee Bob Cobb.
"It's a little bit frustrating, but I felt like it was time to quit. I feel really blessed that I've had a good career – I lived the dream for a lot longer than I thought I would and a lot longer than most people ever will, and I don't have any regrets.
"This past season kind of bit me, but it's something that had been building over time. I'll probably fish some local and regional stuff, but I have no plans to go out on tour again. I've had enough of that."
A dismal start to the 2013 campaign (finishes of 136th and 103rd in the first two events) led Shuffield to what was by far his lowest placement on the final FLW Tour points list during his 7 full seasons on the circuit. Prior to that, he'd logged three single-digit showings in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race in the previous 4 years.
That type of consistency is the hallmark of a career that was almost cut short in its infancy.
"When I went to Lake Lanier in December of 1985 (for his first pro event), I was really just wanting to test myself," he said. "I'd done well locally and at the state level, and I wanted to see what I could do at the highest level."
He fared okay, notching a 25th in that event and five finishes of 14th or better over his first 15 derbies. Then came the 1987 Florida Bassmaster Top 100 at Lake Okeechobee.
"I thought that was going to be my last event. I was a steelworker and I had a chance to transfer into a really good job. Then I won that tournament and came home and told (his employers) to take my name off the list."
Shuffield notched the last of his seven B.A.S.S. wins at Lake Hamilton in 2003.
Six more victories ensued between that point and the end of the 2003 season. He ended up competing in 15 Bassmaster Classics and finished 7th or better in that derby on five occasions, including a career-best 3rd in his final appearance in '06.
"I'd say my biggest disappointment was never winning the Classic. I had the fish on to win three of them, but those are just fishing stories – a lot of guys had the same opportunities. I guess I was just never much of a closer in championship-style events."
Change of Direction
Shuffield crossed over to the FLW side immediately after that '06 Classic. The format for the Elite Series had been announced the previous fall by then-owner ESPN and some of the concepts didn't sit well with him – particularly the plan to focus the lion's share of media attention on a select few anglers and the requirement that each competitor secure a boat-wrap deal.
"It seemed like it was getting awful complicated," he said. "There were other things, like you couldn't wear jeans to the weigh-ins anymore and you couldn't wear strap sandals. A lot of it just didn't make a lot of sense.
"I do question whether I made the right decision walking away from the Elite Series, and the biggest reason for that was the change to the springtime Classics. This time of year is one of my strong suits and if you can get that Classic win, it changes your life forever."
He quickly discovered that the competition on the FLW Tour was stiffer than he'd anticipated. Another minor regret he harbors is he never won on that circuit in nearly 50 outings.
"A lot of people, myself included, looked down on it as a lower-class tour. But after awhile, I started to feel that it was better than the B.A.S.S. side as a whole because there were more guys who had the potential to win.
"B.A.S.S. has 20 or 30 great ones, but FLW has 60 or 70 guys who are subject to win any event."
He'll keep track of son Spencer's exploits on the FLW Tour during the coming campaign, but otherwise will have no connection to professional fishing. He hopes to do some guiding at Lake Fork in the coming year for a friend who operates a service there.
At times, he wonders what life would be like had he remained in the steel industry and confined his competitive fishing to local, state and regional derbies.
"I'd probably be retired after 32 or 33 years of service with a full benefits package. Then again, I wouldn't have known all the great fishermen I've competed against and I never would've gone to all the great fisheries I've been to.
"I've made a lot of friends in a lot of places and experienced some of the best fishing in the world. Now it's time to hang around with my buddies and grow older."