Spend some time with bass fishing pro Gary Klein on his sprawling ranch in North Texas and it doesn’t take long to understand he is a man of great passion who rarely, if ever, does anything in life in a half-hearted fashion.
That much seems apparent as you watch – and listen – to Klein go about one of his favorite off-the-water pursuits, long-range rifle shooting at extreme distances of 1,000-yards or more.
From the custom-built precision rifles Klein and his shooting buddies bring to the range to the intricate hand loads constructed at the reloading bench to the detailed notes concerning each shot made downrange, being half-hearted just isn’t in the 50-something-year-old angler’s DNA.
This might help explain Klein’s continued pursuit of bass fishing perfection, something that began in earnest in 1979 when the then California resident pushed youthful fears aside and followed his dream of becoming a professional tournament angler on the budding B.A.S.S. tournament trail founded by the legendary Ray Scott.
Due to his drive and work ethic, when Klein qualified for the 1979 Bassmaster Classic in his very first season – something he has gone on to do an amazing 30 times – it wasn't surprising. Nor is the fact he used his budding prowess with a lengthy flipping stick to earn a fourth-place finish in the Classic when it visited Lake Texoma not far from Denison, Texas.
In the nearly 40 years following Klein’s professional debut, the desire to compete and win still burns brightly for the longtime Bassmaster Elite Series pro and the co-founder of Major League Fishing.
“Nothing is the same today as it was in 1979 since the sport has continued to evolve over time,” said Klein, a longtime resident of Weatherford, Texas. “Back then, we fished with reels that had pearl white handles and 6-foot-long rods that had metal reel seats.
“But the one thing that continues to be the same is the passion that I have for fishing, the passion that others who fished in that Texoma Classic still have. If you look at some of the anglers who were there, from Roland Martin to Rick Clunn to Bill Dance, they still love fishing and continue to be active in the sport to this very day.”
That list continues to include Klein, who along with his fellow competitor and good friend, Boyd Duckett, founded the wildly successful Major League Fishing circuit and TV show five years ago.
“For me, it hasn’t changed all of these years later,” said Klein. “I still have a great passion for fishing and that has never changed. In fact, the more I get to fish, the more that I enjoy fishing.”
Since that 1979 Classic, Klein has gone on to carve out one of the most legendary careers the sport has ever seen, capturing two B.A.S.S. Angler-of-the-Year titles (1989 and 1993), winning eight B.A.S.S. events, finishing second in nine others and garnering 79 top-10 finishes along the way.
Klein also has done well on the FLW Tour, winning two events and qualifying for six Forrest Wood Cup FLW Championship tournaments.
Add in a near miss at the Major League Fishing 2014 Challenge Cup on Texas’ Ray Roberts Lake – Klein lost an 8-pound-class bass at the boat with minutes to go that would have catapulted him ahead of eventual winner Kelly Jordon – and there isn’t much the Gary Klein career resume doesn’t list.
Add all of his accolades up and that’s 10 professional tournament wins, two Angler-of-the-Year titles, qualifying for 36 major championship-level events and pocketing nearly $3 million in career earnings along the way.
Not bad for an angler who says he used to have trouble sleeping at night during his high school years because he couldn’t stop thinking about competitive bass fishing.
“I just can't explain to people the passion that I have had all of these years for competitive angling,” said Klein. “The fire that I have inside, it burns hotter now than it did in 1979 on many different levels.
“I have accomplished a lot in my career, but there’s a lot that I haven't accomplished too and that still drives me. I still want to go out there, compete against the best, catch more fish than they do and have a good time.”
Bassmaster Elite Series and MLF pro angler Gary Klein has played a key pioneering role in helping take some bass fishing techniques mainstream. One of his favorite techniques is pitching. (Jeff Phillips photo)
While Klein shows no interest in slowing down and retiring to his wildlife-rich ranch in the Rolling Plains of Texas, he has reached the place in his life where he is concerned about giving back to a sport he says has given so much to himself, his wife, Jana, and his two daughters, Lakota and Kanyon.
“I want to help take competitive fishing to an even higher level,” said Klein. “In my 30-plus-something years as a tournament pro, the sport is still not where I hope to see it eventually get. What we’re doing with Major League Fishing, I think that’s heading down the right road, but I’m still not satisfied with where we are after five years. We’ve got a lot more left to do.”
Specifically, Klein hopes to take tournament angling to a more mainstream audience in the years to come, the same crowd that will sit down and watch a professional football, baseball, basketball or hockey game, even if they have never personally played the sport.
“I want to have competitive angling truly recognized as a sport,” said Klein. “And I want to see more people – kids, youth and adults – continue to get involved in this sport. This sport has made me what I am and I want to see the sport keep growing.”
To that end, Klein has become increasingly involved in causes like the growing high school fishing movement and in passing along his knowledge and passion for fishing to young people who might one day follow in his footsteps.
In recent years, doing that has taken place through Klein’s involvement with the Texas Bass Brigade program, an annual camp that has a stated mission of empowering and educating young people with leadership skills and knowledge in wildlife and fisheries management coupled with sound land stewardship practices.
“I hope like crazy that we continue to pass all of this on and that’s why I want to continue to be involved with young kids and to help introduce them to the outdoors,” said Klein. “I want them to want to be involved in fishing like I have been because what better way to grow up is there? There are so many distractions for our young people today with negative world events (happening) and challenges (their parents face).
“It’s sad to me that so many kids never get a chance to get involved in the outdoors. Especially since one of the truest things I know about fishing is that some of the fondest memories that kids can have is fishing with their mom or dad. Those are memories that you’ll carry with you to the grave versus something that you bought, watched or listened to and quickly forgot.”
At the end of the day, as Klein continues along the passionate path of tournament bass fishing he has traveled since his youth, the Texas angling pro has a firm grasp on how he wants to be remembered as a fishing pioneer.
“That Gary Klein was an individual who wasn't afraid to follow his dream,” smiles Klein. “It all started for me at age 15, way back in 1972, the very first time I ever heard of tournament fishing. I knew right then that this was for me.
“That same desire still exists today,” he added. “To me, failure in life is never having tried. Whatever the rest of my career holds, at least I tried to live my dreams out. It’s been a fun ride and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m not done yet. I still have some dreams left inside that I want to make sure turn into reality.”
Fueled by the continuing passion to drive Gary Klein nearly four decades after he began his career, don’t bet against him.