Qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic through the B.A.S.S. Nation (formerly known as the Federation) ranks has long been considered one of the most difficult paths to get there; doing it twice says a lot about the quality of angler who accomplishes the feat. Indiana’s Mark Dove is one of those who have done so. He is busy preparing for his second Classic, with a record-tying sixteen year gap between appearances. Both times are just as special for him and he is just as excited to be in the 2013 event as he was for the 1997 championship.
A Unique Day Job
One of the greatest things about competitive bass fishing, and bass fishing in general, that sets it apart from other sports, is the diversity of the participants. In tournament bass fishing, a construction worker and accountant might be paired together and can instantly become fast friends thanks to a shared interest in bass fishing. Mark Dove is a lawyer by profession, specializing in criminal defense for his firm Dove and Dillon P.C. “When I qualified in 1997, they said I was the first lawyer to ever fish the Bassmaster Classic. I don’t think it has happened since, so I am still the only one who has done it,” laughs Dove. When asked about his career choice and if it has prepared him for tournament bass fishing, he was quick to acknowledge the numerous reasons it has helped, “Tournament bass fishing and being an attorney both require a great deal of concentration and preparation. If you are researching for a tournament or for a case there are quite a few things you have to get together before you are ready,” adds Dove.
In addition to the actual fishing, Dove feels that there are other similarities. “One thing really sharpens the other one. Also, I think being a lawyer has definitely helped my communication with and for my sponsors,” adds Dove.
It was not always as easy for him balancing tournament bass fishing with the demands of a career that requires long hours, but he has made it work. “It’s a little easier for me now that I have been doing this for 32 years; I am able to kind of pick and choose some of my cases. In the past I had to do a lot of planning in advance for my bigger tournaments, even when I was on the road at a tournament I had to constantly check in with the office and answer questions just to stay caught up,” says Dove.
The B.A.S.S. Nation path to the Classic is a long one that spans the course of two seasons. Competition starts at the bass club level, with 20,000 anglers being affiliated with a B.A.S.S. Nation club and then on to the state level tournaments. Doing well here allows one to qualify for the state team, which leads to the multi-state regional competition. There, the goal is to be the best in your state and advance to the national championship competition. At that time, it has been roughly one year since the first tournament on the path, but that is not the end of the road. From the national championship, only the top angler from each region (Western, Eastern, Mid-Atlantic, Central, Southern and in Dove’s case, Northern) will take it to the next step and fish the Bassmaster Classic. One bad tournament along the way and the road would end. Dove made it to the end of the path and won the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Wheeler Lake, Alabama last fall.
The win gave him a berth to the Classic, a Skeeter prize boat and an invitation to fish the Elite Series in 2013. Unlike the previous two winners, Brandon Palaniuk and Jamie Horton, Dove has decided to pass on his chance to fish a full season on the Elite Series. “At my age, it probably isn’t smart. Maybe if I was 30 I would think about it,” says Dove, who at 57 is the oldest in the Classic field. If he is to win the event, he would become the oldest champion in history, with Woo Daves currently holding that title for his win at age 54 in the 2000 event.
Been Here Before
Having previously fished the Classic, Dove has an idea of what to expect as far as the extra attention and activities surrounding the actual fishing. This along with an often stressful career path has allowed him to stay focused and not get nervous. “Really I’m pumped up and ready to go fishing. Since I qualified I have been hunting and working long hours, so I really haven’t had much time to think about it too much which was the plan,” says Dove.
The 1997 Classic was held on Logan Martin Lake near Birmingham, AL, an event won by Dion Hibdon. Dove finished the event in 26th place, basically in the middle of the pack, but it was another Federation angler who almost won it all. “That was the year that Dalton Bobo lost by one ounce to Hibdon and he would have won if he didn’t have a dead fish penalty,” recalls Dove. Remembering this gives him hope for his chances at this event and he knows that anything is possible once the tournament starts.
This year’s Classic sets up very well for Dove who classifies himself as a power fisherman. “Grand Lake is a power fisherman’s dream. If someone told me I could only take three rods with me for this event; a jig, a crankbait and a jerkbait, I would be fine with it,” confides Dove. In preparation for this event, he spent eight full days on Grand Lake from daylight to dark, getting a feel for where everything is located as well as where he anticipated the fish will be in late winter. From his time on the lake and research he has done, he predicts a wide open tournament. “Grand has lots of fish in it and I had a really good practice there, but that was December. I’m going to have to figure out where the fish went after I left,” explains Dove.
As a lawyer by profession, Mark Dove has a unique story to go with his second Classic, but his fishing skills will be the most important thing he possesses on Grand Lake. All is lining up well for Dove as the lake fits his style and he is prepared for the event. This may be the year that he can go from the only lawyer to fish the event to being the only lawyer ever to win the Bassmaster Classic.