B.A.S.S. Reporter’s Notebook: The very determined Debra Hengst; Site hosts welcome 2012 Elite Series; A busy September; Ike likes NASCAR
Professional angler Debra Hengst doesn't let anything keep her away from the next Bassmaster tournament. Photo Credit: B.A.S.S.
The very determined Debra Hengst: As she talked on her cellphone, Bassmaster pro Debra Hengst was having her nails and toes painted. If her body was as animated as her voice, her manicurist had a moving target.
Hengst was pumped about the Sept. 8-10 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open. She was itching to get on the road later this week, to hitch up and haul her Skeeter bass rig from her San Antonio, Texas, home to Muskogee, Okla. There, she’ll practice on the Arkansas River for several days before the three-day competition begins.
Every tournament she enters is exciting to her. This next one, though, carries a special significance. It will be her first major event since she completed treatment for breast cancer in late April.
“I am so ready for competition again,” she said. “I’ve been going to the gym and exercise class, and I am so far ahead of where I was right after treatment.”
Diagnosed in December 2010, Hengst never let cancer interrupt her enthusiasm for fishing. Vowing to stay in the 2011 Central Open season, she scheduled surgery around the February season opener on Lewisville Lake near Dallas. About three weeks after two surgeries, she towed her boat across Texas by herself, a six-hour trip. In Dallas, kind friends put her up, fed her and helped her launch her boat each day. But she was still sore and weak from surgery. The trolling motor seemed extraordinarily heavy. Standing on a boat deck all day was a chore. Working a jerkbait — the lake’s most productive bait — was painful.
She caught bass, but none large enough to weigh in. Her victory was in completing the tournament.
Back home, Hengst faced a series of 40 radiation treatments. Concerned about making it to the Central Open’s second event in late April, she selected a stepped-up course of treatment.
She completed the course just three weeks before the April 28-30 tournament on Table Rock Lake was to begin. But Mother Nature interrupted. Hengst was traveling to the lake when flooding forced the event’s cancellation. She turned back toward home, disappointed yet relieved.
“I don’t regret at all that the tournament didn’t happen. It was the best decision for our safety,” she said. “And now, looking back, I don’t know if I would have had enough strength to fish.”
She does now, and she’s done her homework. The Arkansas River out of Muskogee is new water for her, so on the July 4 holiday, she spent a long weekend scouting the river.
“It’s a river system with barge traffic, so I wanted to familiarize myself with navigation and the lock to Kerr Lake,” she said. “After seeing the river, I think heavy bags will be weighed in, and 12 or 13 pounds a day will get you there. It’s going to be a shallow bite, but river fish always change, so we’ll see.”
Tournament fishing has always been important to Hengst. Before the Opens, she fished the Women’s Bassmaster Tour and other circuits. Like most tournament anglers, she thrives on competition and wants to score a good finish. There was a time when a tournament gone wrong might have discouraged her. But now, just being able to compete again is a victory.
“Since my diagnosis, I look at things differently. I treasure each day, every moment,” she said.
Encouragement from friends, like the reception she received when she worked the Skeeter Owners Tournament in June, helped her through her cancer experience. She said the appearance for her sponsor, Skeeter Boats, was a milestone in her recovery because she had enough energy to travel and be on her feet all weekend. And when person after person expressed their delight at seeing her back at it, she began to be able to put cancer behind her.
“Everyone told me how good I looked, and that if they didn’t know better, they wouldn’t suspect I’d been through all I had,” she said. “It was overwhelming, awesome support.”
Site hosts welcome 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series: As the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule announcement was made Tuesday, all site hosts for the new season were ready with welcomes for pros and fans alike. Here’s what several of the hosts had to say:
* St. Johns River, Stop No. 1, March 15-18: “Hosting the Citrus Slam in March 2011 was a great success for our community. Palatka and all of Putnam County enjoyed the national publicity that accompanied this prestigious event and the economic impact derived from the anglers and visitors. Downtown Palatka on the beautiful St. Johns River was a perfect backdrop for the event, and the Riverfront Park packed with thousands was a grand site.” — Dana Cameron Jones, president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and coordinator of the Putnam County Tourist Development Council
* Lake Okeechobee, Stop No. 2, March 22-25: “Okeechobee County has long been committed to pro fishing and understands the importance the professional sport of fishing has to this community. The Okeechobee County Tourist Development Council is so proud and excited to be able to host the prestigious 2012 Elite Series at Okeechobee County's premier tournament facility, C. Scott Driver Park.” — Kathy Scott, Okeechobee County Tourism coordinator
* Douglas Lake, Stop No. 4, May 3-6: “We are excited to share our world-class lake with the best of the best anglers of the Elite Series. We have a great combo of Douglas Lake, with its beautiful views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Town of Dandridge. It’s one of those quaint towns that still knows the meaning of true Southern hospitality.” — Adele Sensing, director of tourism, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce
* Toledo Bend Reservoir, Stop No. 5, June 7-10: “We are excited to host a Bassmaster Elite tournament on Toledo Bend for the second year in a row. In our 186,000-acre lake, we currently have over 50,000 acres of tall grass that, when flooded, will make for magnificent fishing. If conditions are right, we hope the pros can set an all-time record of weight of fish caught for any Elite tournament.” — Linda Curtis-Sparks, director of the Sabine Parish Tourist Commission
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