Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

I Bowed Out When There Were No More Champs to BeatAccording to legend, Alexander the Great cried when there were no more worlds to conquer. I once found myself in a similar situation — minus the swords, shields, spears, guts, blood and gore — but shed not the first tear. Instead, I quit competitive bass fishing.

After you’ve beaten the best, why not go out on top?

I was reminded of this momentous decision recently while reading a collection of fun-and-odd facts about the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. Included in this treasure trove of trivia was mention of the World’s Fair fishing knot contest, won by a man named Gary Martin.

I was the News-Sentinel’s outdoors editor back then and covered this event, A-to-Z. The DuPont Corporation had sponsored it to highlight its “Stren” brand of monofilament. For months, the sweepstakes was hyped in hundreds of newspapers, plus all the major outdoor magazines.

To judge the finals, DuPont brought experts to Knoxville. The team included professional bass anglers Bill Dance and Roland Martin, plus internationally known fishing writers Mark Sosin, Jerry Gibbs, Ken Schultz and Vic Dunaway.

The morning before the winner was to be announced, DuPont and World’s Fair officials hosted a four-hour contest on Fort Loudoun Lake, pitting the pros against some of East Tennessee’s top amateurs.

My name was among the anointed laymen. Not due to any hint of expertise, you understand, but for the same reason media people often are invited to pro-ams: The sponsors hope to get good coverage.

Thunderstorms raked Knoxville the night before, churning Fort Loudoun the color of creamed coffee. The bass bite tanked. I was paired with a DuPont exec and took him to some of my favorite spots, apologizing that we’d probably get skunked. We almost did.

I caught one fish, a 2-pound, 8-ounce largemouth.

Then a funny thing happened at the Duncan Boat Dock weigh-in. Even though everybody else had caught and released lots of small bass, mine was the only one of legal keeping size. Presto — the winner! The reward was a bunch of tackle. Plus bragging rights.

Marvin West, then the News-Sentinel’s sports editor, had this to say in a follow-up column about the event: “Venable insists it was a home-lake advantage and not because he was using another brand of line. Based on how little time Sam spends in the office, I think he practices more than the pros.”

What’s that? You say this wasn’t official competition? Pfft! Big deal. I won, fair and square. And I’ve never entered another tournament. May the god of Pisces smite me if I ever do.

(But just between me and thee, Marvin was right. For 15 years, Venable did spend a hell of a lot of the company’s time and money, uh, “working” on the water. Back then, we pros had to stay sharp.)

Sam Venable is an author, comedic entertainer, and humor columnist for the
Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. His latest book is “The Joke’s on YOU! (All I Did Was Clean Out My Files).” He may be reached at