School of hard knocks prepared Bowes to lead B.A.S.S. tournaments

When B.A.S.S. tournaments get underway in 2022, Chris Bowes will no longer be in charge of the Bassmaster Opens. He served at that post for 15 years and earned the trust and respect of the B.A.S.S. fraternity.

Bowes has stepped up to a new position — Bassmaster Vice President of Tournaments. With Bowes in this key role, fans can feel confident that future B.A.S.S. tournaments are in good hands.

Prior to being hired by B.A.S.S., Bowes’ life experience prepared him for the varied demands required to run large, high-stakes tournaments. The foundation is his love for fishing and the outdoors.

It began in his home state of New York aboard grandfather Chuck Yerdon’s 32-foot Chris Craft. The boat was moored in a marina slip at Cayuga Lake and rarely ventured onto the lake due to the gas crunch in the late 1970s. An 8-year-old Bowes would chunk worms over the transom to catch sunfish and an occasional bass in the marina. It was here that he saw his first spawning bass.

“I didn’t understand anything about spawning then,” Bowes said. “I wondered why that big fish stayed there. I would cast and cast to it, but it wouldn’t bite.”

Throughout his youth Bowes would ride a bike to nearby Geddes Brook to fish for trout. On camping trips to Lakeview Marsh off Lake Ontario he would cast for bass from the bank.

After high school, Bowes matriculated to New York’s SUNY Cobbleskill College where he earned a degree in fisheries and wildlife management. He appreciated his parents’ graduation gift, a camouflage 12-foot johnboat that served for fishing and duck hunting.

He invested in an electric motor for the bow and a small kicker outboard for the transom. Since the boat didn’t come with a trailer, Bowes enlarged the luggage racks atop his compact Chevy Citation with two-by-fours so they were wide enough to support the craft. The boat looked bigger than the car. 

Although Bowes didn’t venture onto large waters with his half-pint fishing rig, it freed him to sample superb bass fishing on small waters throughout New York.

“Kevin VanDam was my hero,” Bowes said. “I’d use the same baits he used and try to fish like him. When I was fun fishing I’d keep track of my weight in my head as if I was in a tournament.”

The real world

After graduating from college, Bowes married Cyndy Brockway the following fall. Two years later they were blessed with Charlie, their first child. Bowes had hoped to work in the fish and wildlife field, possibly as a conservation officer. He found that entry-level jobs in this field didn’t pay enough to sustain a family.

Instead he started his own business, Humane Nuisance Wildlife, which involved live-trapping nuisance animals in homes and releasing them on local state lands. Over the next few years he trapped thousands of squirrels and raccoons and a host of bats, woodchucks, possums and skunks.

He often had to respond to calls in the evening. His wife worked at night in a restaurant. Someone needed to be home at these times to take care of Charlie and their second child, Noah.

This prompted Bowes to take a daytime job at Carrier Corporation in Syracuse, N.Y. He was in charge of purchasing parts for production and maintenance. This position prepared him for the daily hiccups that come with running big-time bass tournaments. When a machine went down at Carrier, production stopped and the company was losing money. The stress to get production back online was palpable.

“On reflection, those urgent situations gave me a skill to be a little bit calming and level headed,” Bowes said. “I learned how to temper expectations and get the job done with the best possible outcome.”

Salt City Bassmasters

In the mid 1990s, coworker Dick Sessions invited Bowes to participate in a Salt City Bassmasters club tournament on Lake Ontario. Enthralled by the experience, Bowes joined the club and soon bought a 12-year-old Bayliner bass boat powered by a 125-horsepower Force outboard.

“I won some money out of that boat,” Bowes said.

Bowes served as the club’s tournament director for several years. Because Salt City derbies typically drew 40 boats, Bowes learned essential lessons about how to run large tournaments smoothly.

While still a club member, Bowes stepped up to coordinate volunteers for a Bassmaster Open tournament at New York’s Oneida Lake in 2003. There he met tournament manager Chuck Harbin, who was impressed with the job Bowes had done. Little did Bowes know how important this encounter would be.

The year 2003 also proved challenging for Bowes. His father, Robert, died suddenly from a heart attack after a routine surgery. Bowes wanted to move to Florida where his mother, Janet, lived so he could provide support should she need it. Also, his job at Carrier was uncertain because the company was downsizing.

In the spring of 2004 B.A.S.S. posted a job opening for tournament manager. Bowes applied and was soon hired. His degree in fisheries and wildlife, experience as tournament director of the Salt City club and having met Chuck Harbin at the Oneida Open clinched the job. The position allowed him to move close to his mother in Florida the following year.

Personal tragedy

Cyndy, Bowes’ wife of 19 years, died suddenly of a heart attack in 2009. Besides coping with grief, her death caused a dilemma. Being the Bassmaster Opens tournament director demanded that he be away from home for a week to 10 days at a time. Charlie was a senior in high school. Noah was in middle school. Who would look after them?

“Mom was spot on,” Bowes said. “She stayed at my home while I was at the tournaments. That was huge.”

Thanks to his mother, Bowes was able to continue his career with B.A.S.S.

B.A.S.S. is where he first met Lisa, who also worked at B.A.S.S. When she took a job back in Orlando, they began spending more time together. They married in 2012.

“Lisa worked at B.A.S.S. for many years,” Bowes said. “She’s super supportive and has a great understanding of what my job is and what it takes.”

Looking ahead

Thanks to his long run as Bassmaster Opens tournament director, Bowes has the knowledge, experience and contacts needed to flourish as Bassmaster Vice President of Tournaments. He will manage all B.A.S.S. events and collaborate across departments as part of the organization’s Executive Leadership Team.

“I want to work on relationships between the tournament department and other departments, particularly sales, marketing and digital media,” Bowes said. “We need to continue to identify opportunities for anglers, sponsors and fans so we can deliver on all the value the B.A.S.S. brand offers.”

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