Klein: The Respected Veteran Angler
by Randy Coleman
Before there was Major League Fishing, there was a small coalition of well-known anglers that formed an entity called the Pro Bass Tour (PBT). The PBT anglers had a dream of putting together a new television production that would show pro fishing in a new and different light.
The idea was to hold a few tournaments a year with the world’s best anglers and package those events with a creative format and some fresh ideas about event coverage. The PBT events would be supplemental to B.A.S.S., FLW and the Professional Anglers Association tournaments, but they would, by golly, be something special.
In the beginning, there was no plan, only a dream. Knowing they had to devise both structure and strategy to their vision, the anglers determined that the logical choice to lead their effort would be Boyd Duckett, the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion and, more importantly, a highly successful businessman.
The only problem was that Duckett had other ideas. He wanted a different leader.
He wanted Gary Klein.
In one way, Duckett’s 100-percent support of Klein was logical. Klein is one the longest-tenured champion anglers on tour today and an industry household name. There is no discussion of great anglers during the past 35 years without Klein’s name at or near the top of the list.
On the other hand, Duckett’s insistence that Klein should lead this anglers-only venture might have struck some folks as odd. The two anglers had a testy exchange on Kentucky Lake during the 2007 season. It was bad enough that Klein, admittedly, didn’t get over it for a while.
“After Kentucky Lake, Boyd was always friendly to me, and what happened didn’t seem to bother him,” Klein said. “I was pleasant back to him, but I was still kind of gritting my teeth.” (The Kentucky Lake incident will be explored further in Part 3 of this series.)
Duckett says he respects and genuinely likes Klein. But his reason for insisting that Klein serve as the PBT leader was practical.
“At the time when the PBT anglers first met, the anglers voted and elected me president of this group, and they did it because of my business background. But I told them, ‘Guys, I’m a four-year pro angler.’ We needed an established, well-respected veteran angler to be the face of PBT. And there was nobody better for that job than Gary Klein,” Duckett said.
“Gary is one of the most consistent anglers ever to fish. His consistency and his level of performance is second to none. Even Kevin (VanDam) will have to fish a long time catch some of the records that Gary has set. But even more important, he has a passion for the sport that’s nothing short of amazing. That passion is well-founded and well-directed. So I told Gary that, as we moved forward, I would support him with my business knowledge, but he should be the face of our organization. He’s a good person, and he’s earned it.”
Earned it, indeed.
Klein’s resume includes two B.A.S.S. Angler-of-the-Year titles, two FLW Tour titles, a U.S. Open championship and 29 Bassmaster Classic appearances. Klein has won a B.A.S.S. tournament in four different decades, and a solid-money bet would be that he’ll win one soon in this decade.
“Last year I was trying to make my sixth straight Classic. I didn’t make it, not even get close,” Duckett said. “I thought to myself, ‘Gary Klein has made 29 of these. I don’t even know how to compute that.”
Klein has been associated with the state of Texas for a long time. He loves the wide-open spaces and the big bass fishing that Texas offers.
But his passion for bass fishing didn’t take root in the Lone Star state. Like four other Major League Fishing anglers - Skeet Reese, Ish Monroe, Dean Rojas and Challenge Cup champion Brent Ehrler - Klein is a California boy. He grew up in Oroville, roughly an hour north of Sacramento.
“I started my fishing career when I was 15. As a kid, I loved to hunt and fish, and I knew early on that I wanted to do something I enjoyed,” Klein said.
“The first bass fishing competition I ever saw was at a marina I worked on Lake Oroville . I watched an angler win 2,500 bucks . I thought, ‘You know, here’s something I could be pretty good at.’ So it wasn’t long before I had a burning desire to fish tournaments. I loved fishing - lived it, breathed it, thought about it 24/7.”
Klein’s career followed a familiar pattern; he fished local tournaments for a few years, then moved on to tougher competition. His first experience with B.A.S.S. events was on the western circuit. Klein hopped from Arizona to Northern California to compete, always hoping to make enough money to allow him to continue.
“I started fishing B.A.S.S. in 1979. I won the second B.A.S.S. tournament that I entered, which was on Lake Powell. It ended up where I lost angler-of-the-year to Roland Martin on the last day of the last tournament by pound and 14 ounces,” Klein said.
During those early days, Klein developed a second talent – a radio voice. Klein offered fishing reports in the early seventies on KEWE, 1340 AM in Oroville.
“In those days it was just a local fishing report. But I enjoyed doing that,” Klein said. “I’ve done a lot of media over the last 30-plus years. I enjoy getting an opportunity to talk about what we do as anglers, and that’s one of the attractions, I think, to Major League Fishing.
We can be on the water and talk about what’s going on with the fish and what’s happening in the other competitors’ boats. I really like that.”
Klein’s consistency of excellence is his career staple. No matter what changes life brought him – the early move to Texas, marriage to his wife and best friend, Jana , the birth and raising of his daughters, Lakota and Kanyon – Klein’s fishing game remained solid.
“It takes a lot of discipline to be that good for as long as Gary’s been fishing,” Duckett said. “There are a thousand different things that can take you off your game. Gary’s never had any long blips.”
Off the water, Klein’s personality reflects his fishing career. He is consistently a gentleman, a friendly, open, intensely loyal individual as willing to serve as he is to lead. He also is a tireless worker.
On the flip side, an angler can’t be as good Klein has been without displaying a few other traits. Klein is fiercely competitive, stubborn when he believes stubbornness is called for, and hard on himself.
Examples of all three traits are evident as Klein discusses his less-than-stellar 2012 B.A.S.S. Elite Series season.
“I can be pretty critical of myself. I’ve been relying too much on my knowledge of the past, and I’m not listening to the fish enough,” Klein said. “I’ve had one good event and three that were sub-par. The way I look at it, the season’s only half over. There’s a lot of fishing left. All I’ve got to do is put together some good tournaments.
“Thirty Bassmaster Classics would be pretty good,” Klein said.
Klein refuses to admit that the extraordinary number of hours he’s put into Major League Fishing has hurt his fishing game. Nonetheless, Klein has worked in one capacity or another almost every day for the past two-plus years to help make Major League Fishing a reality.
Klein, with input from others, crafted the format being utilized by Major League Fishing. He spent mountains of time discussing with television producers the nuances of what happens on the water during a major tournament, helping the producers come up with a plan for camera positioning and production editing.
He has pushed fellow anglers again and again to clear schedules for Major League Fishing events, phone calls and meetings. Whether a big or small task, Klein does it with enthusiasm and tenacity.
“Gary Klein is a solid individual,” Major League Fishing Commissioner Don Rucks said. “He’s a person you can trust.”
Klein believes Major League Fishing has created a “tremendous product.” But in typical Klein fashion, he adds, “We’ve still got a lot to learn.
“We are where we are because we evolved,” Klein said. “I always had a desire to be a part of something in this sport that would elevate it, make it better. I think we’re on that track.”
(Intro) Major League Masterminds
(Part 1) Boyd Duckett: The Businessman Angler
(Part 3) Duckett, Klein: The Confrontation