October 3, 2012 10:49:36 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The T-shirts Charlie and Travis Bunting wore Tuesday night reflect their love of fishing isn't just a hobby.
Decked out in gear emblazoned with the names of sponsors -- Southern Pro, Power Pole, Cabela's, Ranger, or Vicious Fishing -- that support them, the Buntings are like many of the anglers in Columbus this week for the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters National Championship.
"We probably have a few more (sponsors than other anglers), but we work at it. We do seminars all over the country, and we do a lot of work for our sponsors," Charlie Bunting said. "We work at it. Our time off we are either fishing or promoting fishing."
To call any of the men and women who showed off their boats Tuesday night at the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau "weekend warriors" would be a disservice. While many have full-time jobs that keep them busy, many of the anglers Tuesday had computers and an arsenal of fishing rods that show how passionate they are about their craft. The anglers hope that gear will help put them in the running Friday and Saturday for a national title.
The Buntings, who are from Jefferson City, Mo., have been fishing together since 2004. Charlie said Travis started fishing with him when he was a small child. Travis eventually went away to Central Missouri State and re-joined his father on the water. Both acknowledged their presence on the Crappie Masters AllAmerican Tournament Trail is a "real active hobby." Travis works as a union contractor, while Charlie works for the telephone company.
"Because of our sponsors, our hobby has paid for itself," Charlie said.
Travis said he and his father also do a lot of media appearances and other things to support their 14 sponsors. It wasn't always like that, though. Initially, he said the team paid its expenses before it started to have success. In 2005, the team won a national championship. The next year, it won a regional championship. After that Charlie said businesses started to contact them and wanted the Buntings to represent them.
"When the sponsors see the work and everything we do for them, it started to get more and more and better," Charlie said. "If we see a new product, we will send them a resume and contact them, or it is word out mouth. For example, Vicious Line contacted us and asked us if we would represent their product."
The Buntings said it is a privilege to compete at the national championship. They feel this year's event will be wide open in part because the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, where anglers will compete beginning at 7 a.m. Friday, will present plenty of challenges.
Travis Bunting said he and his father will stick to their strengths in attempt to catch the biggest fish Friday and Saturday.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time we are structure fishermen," Bunting said. "We don't mess with open water a whole a lot. There are a couple of weeks out of the year we might, but typically we don't because open-water fish have a way of disappearing on you. Structure fish, you can most generally go back and catch something. Fish will re-stock in structures."
Travis said having a good graph, or computerized fish finder, is part of that search. Charlie credits Travis for his ability to read the computer and to figure out where they are. Travis said the ability to navigate the waterway through stumps, laydowns, and forced in brush piles or logjams will be a key to which team comes out on top.
While Travis and Charlie said they will help point out locations where fish might be but not give out GPS coordinates, they agreed the anglers on the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters AllAmerican Tournament Trail make competing at events fun. Charlie said the fact that his wife, Connie, frequently travels to events with them adds to the family flavor at the tournaments.
"We have developed a ton of friendships," Travis said. "It kind of gets to the point that when you have been a month or two without a tournament you're waiting to have a tournament so you can get back and see everyone.
"There are a few father-son teams. There probably are more husband-wife teams that there are father-son teams."Travis said the chance to fish with his father makes the competitions even more special. He said his father is his "best friend" and that he never imagined growing up he would wind up spending so much time fishing with his dad.
"We don't go a day without talking to each other on the phone," Travis said. "The fishing part is the bonus part of it. Fishing and age have strengthened the relationship. When you're young, you love your daddy. But when you get to high school you know everything and then you kind of disappear. Once that all gets out of your system, you kind of realize you didn't know everything you did, you kind of come back."
Charlie said he didn't start winning national and regional tournament until he paired with Travis. He, too, enjoys the travel to and from events and the time they spend on the water. He said the only negative is his daughter, who has four children, isn't able to travel with them.
"Ninety percent of our success is right there up between his two ears," Charlie said, pointing to his son's head. "When I go to seminars, I love to tell them I have the best of every world. How many guys my age have every day you're off you're usually with your son, we talk every day. When we travel, my wife goes with us, and I get to fish with my son. He is my best friend."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.