By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Rich Dalbey had a fairly rough go of things as a 51-year-old rookie on the FLW Tour in 2013. He got off to a solid start, notching a 20th-place finish in the season opener at Lake Okeechobee, but finished no higher than 63rd in the other five events, with four of those placements coming in at 99th or lower.
This year has been considerably different. He again began with a 20-something showing at Okeechobee, but has added two more of those along with a low-money finish through the first two-thirds of the campaign. He sits in 10th place in the Angler of the Year race heading into the final two tournaments at Pickwick Lake and Kentucky Lake in June and is in strong position to make his first Forrest Wood Cup from the front of the boat (he's gone three times as a co-angler).
"The biggest difference is probably confidence," he said. "Last year, especially in the second part of the season, I started listening to the dock talk and paying a lot of attention to what other people were doing.
"This year I've just gone fishing and gone out there and done what I know. No matter where it lives, a bass is a bass and it doesn't care who's on the other end of the line."
Leaving Something Behind
Dalbey, who lives in Greenville, Texas, is not only cashing checks at Tour venues this year. He's also contributing to the communities that host the tournaments.
He spear-headed food drives at both the Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Beaver Lake events that collected non-perishable food for local residents in need. He would've done it at Okeechobee and Hartwell, too, but the logistical issues couldn't be coordinated in time.
"We usually help out at our local food bank, but with fishing the Tour the last couple of years I haven't been able to as much as I would've liked," he said. "We were sitting in church between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it hit me that I'd like to do some food drives in these areas where the Tour was going in order to give back.
"I told my wife about my idea after church and she was all for it. I then waited until Monday to call FLW and make sure that it was okay with them if we did this because we didn't want to step on any toes. They thought it was a great idea and we told them that we'd set everything up with the local food banks."
Ranger Boats founder and FLW namesake Forrest Wood and wife Nina were visitors to Dalbey's food-drive booth during the recent Tour event at Beaver Lake.
He knew that the number of people visiting the food bank in his hometown had increased by more than 50 percent over the last 2 years and figured that the Tour communities could also use some help. The drives, called "Hooked on Helping," are now part of the FLW Outdoors Expo.
"I can't thank FLW enough for allowing us to do this, and especially my wife Frances for all of her help. As long as everything can be worked out in the areas, it's something that I plan on doing at all the Tour events as long as I'm fortunate enough to fish them."
Chance of a Lifetime
Dalbey spent 20 years in the restaurant management business and several years running his own graphics firm prior to turning pro. He was living in Arkansas during the time of the restaurant gig, but the job often took him out of state (Missouri, Texas, Kansas, etc.) for up to 3 months at a time.
That severely limited his opportunities to compete in tournaments, but he'd slip in 1-day events when he could. Upon leaving that field, he started fishing high-level events from the back deck and found considerable success.
His transition to the front occurred with the help of a benefactor whom he said prefers to remain out of the public spotlight.
"I had an individual approach me who said he'd been talking to some people, and he'd seen what I'd done and he had confidence in me," he said. "He asked if I'd be interested (in fishing the Tour as a pro) and it didn't take me too long to say yes.
"It's something I've always thought I could do and when that opportunity arose, I felt like it was time for me to take it. Down the road, I didn't want to look back and say I wish I'd given it a try."
He'll soon head to Alabama for a week of pre-practice at Pickwick, and then will fish the Southeastern Rayovac at Kentucky Lake in advance of the Tour event there.
He's having a lot of fun competing at the sport's top level as the guy running the trolling motor.
"As a co-angler, you're at the mercy of the draw and you have to adjust and figure out how to catch fish behind somebody. I prefer the front because if I don't do well, it's my own fault.
"It's all about decisions and finding fish. The co-angler side was good, but I enjoy this so much more."