Phil Haney can see it happening one day when a jubilant Caleb Sumrall hoists a Bassmaster Classic trophy, or an equally prestigious pro bass fishing title, and thanks many supporters, including those from his hometown of New Iberia.
When that time comes, Haney is hopeful of having a proper name for Sumrall’s growing supporting cast from the Queen City of the Teche. The retired 16th Judicial District District Attorney tossed out a few possibilities: “Cajuns for Caleb” or “Berry for Caleb.”
There’s time to think about it considering Sumrall narrowly missed qualifying for this year’s Bassmaster Classic set for March 15-17 on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tennessee.
However, with the kickoff event for the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series tour Feb. 7-10 at St. Johns River in Palatka, Florida, past and prospective supporters can start thinking of an appropriate name as well as give him a well-deserved sendoff for 2019 at a fundraising event Thursday afternoon at Haney’s home in rural Iberia Parish. For the second straight year, the former district attorney has scheduled the get-together to help the city’s first-ever Bassmaster Classic qualifier and regular on the Bassmaster Elites.
Haney, an avid bass angler who has a camp at Toledo Bend, right next to Bobby “Cajun Cannon” Hebert’s, has been getting the word out to the 80-plus people who attended last year’s event held in mid-February.
“It’s to support our hometown guy, just to let him know his hometown is behind him. It’s a gathering of people who support him financially,” Haney said Thursday afternoon.
“I think he’s been very grateful about the people who have supported him and I believe he thinks about us when he’s out on the water.”
Those who were unable to attend last year’s event and want to help the local bass pro financially are welcome, Haney said, noting the personable young man is seeking sponsors, also. Just text him at (337) 519-1577 with an RSVP so there will be enough food for all.
Thursday’s event will include a shrimp stew, potato salad, French bread and cold beverages. The event starts at 5 p.m.
Sumrall, the 31-year-old local all-around outdoorsman who loves to hunt and recently shot a big buck in northern Louisiana, will be there again. This time the man of the hour will share the stage with a featured guest, Jack Hains, the Rayne native who won the Bassmaster Classic in October 1975.
Haney met Hains, who was inducted in the Louisiana Sports Writers Hall of Fame in 2018, this past October in the parking lot at Quintana Canal Boat Landing, where both had launched to go speckled trout fishing in and around Vermilion Bay. They introduced themselves and in the conversation that followed Haney learned about the accomplishments of Hains, who he eventually invited to come to the next event for Sumrall.
Hains won that fifth annual Bassmaster Classic championship with 45 pounds, 4 ounces, at Currituck Sound, North Carolina. It was a mystery lake revealed at the last minute by Ray Scott, who had the 30 qualifiers meet in New Orleans before flying to North Carolina.
He was a 25-year-old cropduster at the time. That win fueled his career as a pro bass angler that included qualifying for seven more Classics and fishing the FLW Tour.
Hains retired from the pro bass fishing circuit in the early 2000s and today serves as the recreation director for the Broussard Sports Complex, which he designed.
The Louisiana legend, first to win the Classic, will talk about his career and more Thursday.
Many Teche Area residents believe Sumrall can and will be very successful as a bass fishing pro. “I think he did extremely well last year,” Haney said about the young man who opened the door by winning the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in October 2017.
The victory was worth entry fees into the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments and the Bassmaster Central Opens. Sumrall fished them all, traveling an estimated 40,000-50,000 miles, towing a high-performance bass boat given to the champion for the year, a specially wrapped Phoenix proclaiming the B.A.S.S. Nation’s Best.
Sumrall finished 65th in the Bassmaster Elite standings and sixth in the Bassmaster Opens. All the while, his wife, Jacie, their daughter, Clélié, and their infant son, Axel, and hundreds of area bass anglers followed the rising star from New Iberia.
He’ll be riding in a new boat this year, a Bass Cat Cougar.
His goal, Sumrall told The Daily Iberian in December, is to finish in the Top 40 in every Bassmaster Elite tournament in 2019. His main goal is to qualify for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.
He won’t be fishing Bassmaster Opens, he said, choosing to focus on the Elites.
“I’m going to pass on the Opens (Bassmaster Central Opens). I think last year I fished 16 events. That’s a little too much,” he said in December.
DON SHOOPMAN is outdoors editor of The Daily Iberian.