Local criminal defense attorney Mark Dove competed in the Bassmaster Classic for the first time in 15 years last month.
The 57-year-old was the oldest member of the field, and he finished 36th among 53 anglers. Dove was thrilled to have the opportunity to compete in one of the world’s most renowned fishing competitions Feb. 22-24 at the Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees.
“It’s a dream for every amateur to compete in the Bassmaster Classic,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d get another chance to do it.”
Dove got that chance because he had an incredible comeback to win the Bassmaster Federation National Championship at Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala., in October to qualify for the Classic.
“I had to beat eight other guys to get into the Classic,” Dove said. “On the last day, I was in fourth place, two pounds out of first place. I figured I had to catch at least a 15-pound bag of fish.
“It was an overcast day, so the fish were aggressive and stacked on top of each other. I caught eight and a half pounds in my first hour and 15 minutes. It was the best fishing day of my life.”
It was also Dove’s 57th birthday, and he was the first angler to weigh in that day. The crowd, which included his wife, Kathy, and his son, Charley, sang “Happy Birthday” to him at the weigh-in scales.
Mark Dove’s 20-pound, one-ounce bag of fish and a win in the tournament were the perfect birthday gifts.
“I kept pulling fish out of my mesh bag, and the crowd was gasping at the size of them,” Dove said. “I got lucky that day to catch all those fish because you don’t see too many comebacks like that in tournaments.”
After catching a 12-pound bag in the opening day of the Bassmaster Classic, the weather and Dove’s luck shifted.
“The day prior to the tournament, it was overcast,” Dove said. “On the first day we fished, I got eight bites and reeled in five fish because the weather was changing.
The day after that, the weather was sunny and the sky was bright blue and my fish got passive. Fishing in the spring is unpredictable.”
Dove’s ability to anticipate most situations in the boat and in his law practice is a quality that he believes separates himself from his competitors in both arenas. His focus and his willingness to adapt have been defining characteristics.
“In the office and in the boat, no one prepares more than I do,” he said. “When I try a case as a criminal defense lawyer, someone wins and someone loses. It’s the same in bass fishing. When I’m at a hearing, I don’t talk to my client because I’m concentrating on what the judge is saying, and I’ve won cases because I’ve outprepared the other side.
“When I’m fishing, I turn my cellphone off and I don’t talk to anyone else in that boat with me. I have to concentrate on what the fish are doing because biting is a reflex action. If you’re not concentrating, you may not know you’ve gotten a bite until it’s too late.”
Dove already is preparing for the next Bassmaster Federation Tournament Championship Oct. 24-26 at Lake Dardenelle in Russellville, Ark.
“Since I won the tournament last year, they have to invite me back this year to defend my title,” Dove said. “All I have to do is beat the seven or eight other guys in the Northern Division and I’ll be back in the Classic again next year. I’ve already talked to some Arkansas friends of mine about the characteristics of Lake Dardenelle, and I plan to go down there on a scouting trip soon.”