It wasn’t sweat trickling down the face of Mercury Marine pro Gerald Swindle as he sat on the front deck of his boat while weigh-in festivities wound down at the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year Championship at Mille Lacs in central Minnesota.
And it wasn’t a frog in his throat that forced Swindle to stop several times as he tried to explain the importance of the newly claimed Angler of the Year trophy resting next to his Mercury 250-hp Pro XS, the second such trophy in his 21-year B.A.S.S. career.
“Man, all I ever wanted to do was just fish,” a visibly emotional Swindle said after finishing the 2016 season with 908 points to outlast Keith Combs (881), Randall Tharp (852) and Mercury teammate Jacob Powroznik (830).
“When I leave here and take this jersey off, I’m just a fisherman. That’s all I am. It’s hard for me to tell y’all what this trophy means to me, and how hard it is to win it against [the Elite Series field].”
Swindle’s Angler of the Year title is the 10th consecutive for Mercury-sponsored pros. But the smallmouth bass of Mille Lacs Lake didn’t make it easy for Swindle.
The Mercury pro from Warrior, Ala., entered the AOY Championship with an almost-insurmountable 44-point lead on Combs. However, as the rest of the 50- man field racked up an astounding number of 20-plus-pound bags on a fishery dubbed by Bassmaster magazine as one of the five best in the country, Swindle stumbled out of the gate on the first day with three fish for 9 pounds, 9 ounces, followed by a pedestrian 15-13 on the second day.
Entering the final day of competition, Combs had climbed to within 25 points of Swindle and had given himself an outside shot at overtaking Swindle with a monster bag.
But Swindle saved his best for last, bringing in 22-0 on the final day to fend off Combs and add an AOY title to match the one he claimed in 2004.
“The last thing I wanted to do was win this [trophy] without producing the kind of fish that Mille Lacs is known for,” Swindle admitted. “The first two days were a struggle for me. But if there’s one thing I hope the young kids in the crowd learn is that you’re going to get knocked down. You’re going to lose some, and there’ll be days you want to go break all your rods and throw them in the lake. But you can’t do that. You have to learn how to deal with those tough days and turn them into something positive.”