By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Mark Tucker, a longtime tour-level pro who was a dominant competitor in Midwest regional events for decades, died Sunday at his home in Missouri. He was 62.
An exact cause isn't known, but friends reported that he killed a big deer that morning and was forced to drag it a long distance to his truck. Upon arriving home, he laid down for a nap and never woke up.
"It's just shocking," said Peter Thliveros, who was part of a quartet that included Tucker, Kenyon Hill and Bernie Schultz that traveled together on the Bassmaster circuit for many years. "He was so conscious of his health and he ends up being the first one of us to go."
Tucker, who competed in eight Bassmaster Classics, left the Elite Series following the 2010 season when he was unable to secure a title sponsor for the following year and returned to his former profession as a concrete finisher. He'd finished two spots short of qualification for the 2011 Classic, losing a 6 1/2-pounder at his boat on Day 2 of the season finale at Fort Gibson Lake in Oklahoma. He lamented to BassFan at the time that if he'd caught that fish and made the Classic, his sponsorship situation likely would've been brighter.
"He was an understated angler who was better than the record shows," Schultz said. "He didn't get a lot of breaks and he wasn't a self-promoter, but as far as respect on the tour, he had plenty of that. Most places we traveled to, he found a way to survive, if not excel."
Tucker fished a lot of triple-A and regional events after his departure from the Elite Series, winning the 2011 Bassmaster Central Open at Lewisville Lake in Texas to get into his final Classic in 2012. He also won both a Toyota Series derby and a BFL at Lake of the Ozarks within the span of a month in the spring of 2013, averaging 21 pounds per day over those four rounds of competition.
Former Classic winner Dion Hibdon, who was also part of Tucker's traveling group before Hibdon left to fish the FLW Tour full-time in 2006, was with Tucker at Lake of the Ozarks the weekend prior to his death. Tucker and partner Joe McBride had finished 9th in an Anglers in Action championship tournament that Hibdon's son Lawson had also competed in and they got together at the weigh-in.
Tucker killed this massive deer on the final day of his life.
"We talked about the same things we always did – fishing and when we were going to kill a deer next," Hibdon said. "He was such a kind soul and the nicest guy you'd ever want to be around.
"He was always good to me, my kids and my dad – my dad (Guido, also a former Classic winner and a two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year) loved him like he was his own. He had some people he didn't deal with, but overall you weren't going to find many who didn't like him."
Added Thliveros: "He was a real good friend and he was absolutely your friend until you stepped across whatever line he'd drawn. He didn't cut any corners with people. I don't want to say he was stern, but he wouldn't back down if he felt like his position was the right one.
"He never tried to intimidate anybody, but he had his way of being intimidating without being obvious about it through his presence and his demeanor."
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Tucker was a dedicated weighlifter with bulging biceps and triceps who often worked out in the wee hours before the start of a tournament day. Also, according to his friends, he was every bit as obsessive about his gear as the late Aaron Martens.
"He was the most regimented guy that I ever competed with – he'd spend hours on his tackle," Schultz said. "I've seen him rig up all his rods, at least a dozen of them, and then contemplate what he'd done and start over and rig them all again."
That attention to detail extended to his vehicles.
"Every time he showed up, his truck looked like it was right off the showroom floor," Thliveros said. "It might've been a 10-year-old truck, but it looked brand new."
He loved deer hunting, but also had a great passion for pursuing feathered game with his beloved German shorthair pointers. Thliveros, a Floridian, got an up-close look at that on one occasion during a trip to Tucker's home region.
"It was fun to see how he worked and how he paid attention to his dogs," Thliveros said. "I'm a total novice, but he worked with me and told me what to expect and what to look for. For him, it was more about the experience than it was the kill.
"Seeing the picture of that last deer he got, in my head I can hear him saying, 'Oh Pete, that was a dandy! I got a dandy this morning.' What a beautiful animal, and to know that he laid down in peace like that is pretty damn special.
"Not many of us will be blessed to have a final day like that."