A Nation of friends | Bassmaster

A funny thing happened to Canadian angler Danny McGarry on his way to take part in the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on the Ouachita River back in November.

It wasn’t “ha-ha” funny, mind you.

It was more of a “laugh-to-keep-from-crying” situation.

McGarry, who qualified to fish the Nation Championship as part of Team Ontario through his hometown Quinte Bassmasters fishing club, began his 20-hour trek from Newcastle, Canada, to Monroe, La., with his own boat in tow the week before the event. But, when he reached the U.S. border, they wouldn’t allow him to cross.

It’s been a common problem for anglers pulling boats since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one that raised its ugly head at the worst possible time for an angler about to take part in the biggest tournament of his life.

McGarry returned home and booked a flight to the United States. But when he arrived in Louisiana, unless he wanted to walk the banks of the Ouachita, he still had to find a boat.

So, in stepped Blake Sylvester, a fellow Nation angler from Louisiana who fished his way to the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. Sylvester hadn’t qualified for the 2021 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, but he heard about McGarry’s problem while having dinner with other anglers the week before the tournament.

Not wanting to see a fellow Nation guy left out in the cold, Sylvester drove his Blazer 625 Elite to Monroe and left it in the parking lot of McGarry’s hotel without so much ever as meeting him face-to-face.

“He wanted to pay me to rent it, but we didn’t worry about that,” Sylvester said. “I guess it was right timing. I had the extra boat. He needed a boat. People in the B.A.S.S. Nation, we take care of one another.”

Boy, I’ll say.

I’ve got friends I’ve known for 45 years who could borrow my clothes, my guns, my reels and rods — pretty much anything I have, except my wife and my boat.

For one Nation angler to loan his boat to another Nation angler he’d never met just because he felt like it was the right thing to do speaks volumes about the people who comprise that grand organization.

The B.A.S.S. Nation has long been recognized as the grass-roots proving ground for the entire Bassmaster Tournament Trail. It provides a path to greatness for the average, everyday tournament angler.

Elite Series greats like Brandon Palaniuk, Mike Iaconelli and Paul Mueller have all cut their teeth there — and just last year, Arizona pro Justin Kerr qualified for the Classic through the Nation, making a run at the championship on Lake Ray Roberts before ultimately placing fourth.

Nation events feature much of the same glitz and glamour of major Elite Series tournaments — as well they should, being one of the original paths to stardom in the industry. But at its core, the Nation is still just the world’s biggest bass fishing club.

How cool is it for an organization that serves as the heart of the sport to have an angler show so much heart — and frankly so much love and respect — for another angler in need, just because they both belonged to the same club?

McGarry didn’t have the kind of storybook finish in the Nation Championship that would have made this fodder for a Hallmark holiday movie. But he came away from the whole situation with a greater appreciation for the B.A.S.S. Nation — and the nation where the organization is headquartered.

In the back of his mind, he also came away with added incentive to lend a helping hand of his own someday when the time comes.

“Everyone I’ve met in the States has been amazing to us,” said McGarry during the Nation Championship. “And what goes around comes around. Maybe someone needs some help one day and I can help them too.”

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