Denny Brauer–A True Legend

Lews Fishing
Lews Fishing
Atlas Jack Plate
Strike King
MonsterTopAd
Power Pole

story by Dan O’Sullivan (originally published in Bass West USA, March 2009 issue) – photos by Dan O’Sullivan and courtesy B.A.S.S.

In March of 2009, as the Field Editor for the publication, I was fortunate to write my first of 11 “Legends of the Sport” features for Bass West USA Magazine. “Legends,” as we would call it was the centerpiece of the publication for my two years there.

DennyBrauer RiggingtoFlip
As a person who began as – and remains to the core – a fan of the sport of bass fishing, I wanted to do something to give these Living Legends a tribute that they deserved long before they were not with us any longer to experience our gratefulness for their contributions.

The first angler I selected to write was Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Denny Brauer, from Camdenton, Mo. In light of the news this week that Brauer has decided to retire from the competitive portion of his career, I thought I – as the author of this piece – would re-publish this story.

But, before you read, let me add a few updates. Since this feature was published, Brauer has qualified for two more Bassmaster Classics, won his second Elite Series event on the Arkansas River in 2011 and added another $294,492 to his career earnings.

He retires as one of only 12 men to have won the Bassmaster Classic and earned the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title as well. He walks away ranked third on the list for total career Bassmaster earnings with $2,579,394 and his 1998 year earnings of $406,000 ranks 8th on the highest single years earnings in Bassmaster history. These are remarkable feats, especially when you consider that his largest single paycheck has been $151,000 for his 1998 Bassmaster Classic win.

So, below is a re-printing of my 2009 Bass West USA feature – Denny Brauer, Legend of the Sport

According to online dictionaries, the term ‘Legend’ has several meanings, it can mean; ‘an unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.’ It might mean; ‘An explanatory table or list of the symbols appearing on a map or chart.’ Or in the case of the bass fishing world, a ‘Legend’ is; ‘one that inspires legends or achieves legendary fame.’

DennyBrauerPitchingJig
A Legend of the sport is someone who has made significant contributions or achieved uncommon accomplishments en route to leaving an indelible mark on the history of the sport. These are individuals who have set new standards, created new trends and driven the bar to new heights as they have blazed the trails of their careers.

Without these individuals, the sport of bass fishing would have nothing to measure itself against. The industry, minus their involvement, would likely be in a much less advanced state that it is. The drive of dominating competition, on and off the water has left a trail of history that many are witness too, yet few are a component of.

One of those anglers is Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo.

Brauer by the Numbers
The discussion of a career with the magnitude of Brauer’s must start with the numbers. According to Bassmaster.com, the Camdenton, Mo. angler’s BASS career began in August of 1978 when he entered the Federation Chapter Championship on Lake Eufala in Alabama. His 40th place finish at that event would earn Brauer a $107 paycheck, his first in 180 such paydays over a career that has spanned 30 years and 283 entries into BASS competition. He has qualified for 19 trips to the Bassmaster Classic.

Over that 30 year career, Brauer has pocketed an average $8,073.86 per tournament entered, bringing his BASS career earnings total to $2,284,901.80, second only to Kevin VanDam. Over that span, Brauer has racked up 16 career victories, including the 1998 Bassmaster Classic on High Rock Lake in North Carolina, the 1992 Bassmaster Megabucks on Lake Guntersville in Alabama and the 1993 Bassmaster Superstars on the Illinois River. All told, Brauer has won major tournaments in three decades and nine different states.

Those are just the tournament victories. Including his victories, Brauer has placed in the top 10 in 74 separate events, 10 times in the runner up position, nine times in third, a total of 46 times in the top 5. Over his BASS career he has finished in the money 63 percent of the time, and in the top 10 and astonishing 26 percent of his total entries. He has also earned another $130,350 and nine top 10’s in FLW Tour competition.

In his 283 Bassmaster entries, Brauer has bagged a little more than 7,716 pounds of bass across the country, an average of nearly 32 and a half pounds per event. The magnitude of his accomplishments includes the 1987 Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, an FLW Tour Angler of the Year Title, the Bassmaster Classic, Superstars and Megabucks championships, and he was the first angler to be featured on a box of Wheaties cereal.

DennyBrauerCloseup
To put his career further into perspective, Brauer ranks 2nd in all-time BASS wins behind Roland Martin, 2nd in all-time career earnings to VanDam. His 1998 season is the single best season for an angler ever. No other angler has been on a roll like Brauer was that year. His 1998 earnings of $406,000 placed him 6th in single season earnings; in that one season he won four BASS events including the Classic, and placed in the top 10 five out of seven times on the FLW Tour.

During the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series season Brauer finished 43rd in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, he placed in the Elite 12 three times. Those accomplishments would be enough to make many anglers happy. But, at 59 years old, Brauer only saw that he didn’t qualify for the Classic or win a tournament, which are his goals as he starts each year.

In 2009, as he turns 60 years old before the first cast is made, Brauer stands poised to launch his 29th full season as a professional angler, and to be sure, his goal is to make the Classic and to win an event, if not more than one; nothing less than that would be in keeping with his history, nor would it be worthy of his competitive nature.

All of those accomplishments would be enough to call any angler great, and should they be the only measuring stick, they would stand alone. However, that is only part of the Denny Brauer story. Brauer is a tireless worker, spending multitudes of hours working with his sponsors to develop new products that help him win, and other anglers to catch more fish. He is an active public speaker, having traveled the country for years teaching others the knowledge he has gained throughout his long and distinguished career.

The Beginnings
His storied career began in Seward, Neb. As he was one of the founding members of the Blue Valley Bass Club, a club that still exists some 33 years later. “I’m really proud to have been there at the beginning of the Blue Valley Club,” said Brauer. “They won a BASS club of the Year award a few years ago which is a testament to how that club works. They are very active in the community, and with education; it’s where I got my start.”

After competing in the West Valley Club out of a 12-foot aluminum boat with only an electric motor for power, Brauer made the big leap to a 17 foot glass Ranger with 115 horsepower Evinrude in 1978. “Before I got that boat, the club used to let me trailer my little aluminum to different parts of the lake to fish,” said the 16 time BASS winner. “With only an electric motor to motor the boat with I couldn’t go very far, but it’s how I got started. Stepping up into that 17 footer was huge.”

Weigh in Denny Brauer - Day 4 - Champion's Choice - Plattsburgh, NY
Although he is extremely versatile, Brauer is primarily known for his prowess with a flipping rod in his hands. While he spent much of his early fishing years as a spinnerbait angler, it was a 1975 article with the Godfather of Flipping, Dee Thomas that made him rethink his strategy.

“That one article made me realize that I had to really get into the thick stuff to catch the biggest bass,” he said remembering his past. “So, realizing that Dee was on to something, and was winning everywhere he went by doing it, I set out to learn flipping.”

The story of his practicing the flipping technique in his living room while on winter layoff from his job as a mason is humorous. “I think Shirley was questioning my sanity the whole time,” said Brauer of his wife’s feelings on his practicing indoors. “I would set up one of her plants in the corner of the room and practice flipping with a jig; by the end of the winter, the plant had no foliage left and the wall had no paint left.”

That is the Brauer way: all in, no holding back. It was the same when it came to the application of the technique on the water. “A buddy of mine and I went out on Pawnee Lake in Lincoln, Neb. to learn about flipping in his bass boat,” Brauer said they chose his friend’s boat because it was more stable than his aluminum john boat. “We took off from the ramp and drove into the middle of the first bunch of willow bushes we could find. We caught four bass that day, all of them in the two pound class; I was hooked on flipping immediately.”

For a man who has had lucrative endorsement deals with major multinational firms and manufacturers, his first flipping stick is one that he treasures, and still owns to this day; it has seen the battles and has the scars to prove it. “My first flipping rod was a Bass Pro Shops Dabbler, if I remember correctly,” he said that a friend help him keep that rod in working order. “I broke that thing so many times, and a friend of mine would epoxy other rod tubes inside of it so I could keep using it. It was basically a solid bottom end by the time I retired it, but it’s where I got my start.”

Brauer is largely responsible for the evolution if flipping into pitching, and like so many innovations, was one of necessity. “We moved to Missouri, where I started fishing Table Rock and other clear water lakes, and you couldn’t get close enough to the boat houses and trees to flip, so I had to adjust,” he said he’s used it ever since. “I rarely ever flip in the purest sense of the word anymore, it’s usually a pitch, or some sort of hybrid flip / pitch, but I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years.”

Family and Memories
Shirley Brauer started traveling with her husband in 1984, and she hasn’t stopped since. Brauer said that having his family on the road with him made things much easier and more enjoyable. “Shirley has always been there for me, she and Chad (his son) have been a part of every major occurrence in my career, and that means so much to me,” Brauer said of his family. “She takes care of all of the day to day operations so that I can go out there and fish, I couldn’t do it without her, and wouldn’t want to. Besides, she gives a great back rub, which is important too,” he said with a giggle.”

DennyBrauerArkansasRiverTrophy
Of all of his accomplishments as a world class angler, Brauer is proudest of his son. “I’ve watched as Chad has become a world class angler, a television host (of Academy Outdoors television show) and more importantly a tremendous husband and father to his children,” the elder Brauer said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the man he is or the career that he has built for himself, but I’m proudest of the family man he is. He really is a great father, and he loves his family so much.”

With all of that love and support around him through the years, Brauer has always had someone to share his successes with. “From sealing up the BASS and FLW Angler of the Year titles, to winning Megabucks and the Superstars to finally winning the Bassmaster Classic; they’ve been there for all of it,” said Brauer. “Shirley has seen it all, and Chad was even a competitor in the field of the Classic when I won in 1998, it was really special to share all of that with them.”

Another thing that was special in claiming his Classic trophy was that his mother was able to witness it as well, “we flew mom out that year, and it was her first time being at a Classic,” he said. “It was my 16th trip to the Classic, and to lift that trophy in front of my mom, my wife and my son made it all that much more rewarding.”

Decades of Change
Having been a part of the sport for nearly three decades, Brauer has seen all of the advancements made in technology that the sport of bass fishing has brought forth, and he has been a part of much of it. “When I think about where the fishing world has come in the past 30 years, it’s almost staggering,” Brauer said of the new products he has seen over the years. “It’s impossible to pick any one item that has made the biggest impact, but each category has some amazing examples.”

“Boats and Motors are probably what most folks would look at as the biggest impact makers because they are such a big ticket item,” he opined. “If I compare my first Ranger / Evinrude package in 1978 to the big Rangers and Etec outboards I run today, I can’t help but be blown away.”

He said that technology has played an important part in every other category as well. “From my first flipping stick, to the rods and reels I use today, everything is so much more advanced,” he said. “The material in rods is space aged, and the reels have come so far. In fact, we’re seeing our first ‘technique specific’ reel in the Ardent F500 Flip and Pitch, which I was skeptical of at first, but have seen a difference in my fishing with it.”

“Trolling motors and fishfinders have improved, as have the lines and lures we use today; every improvement has made the sport more enjoyable, and anglers more effective,” he said of the industry. “I’m grateful that I have been able to be a part of the evolution, from lures with Strike King, hooks with Mustad, to fishing line, to boats and motors and rods and reels, I’ve been a part of some pretty cool stuff.”

Brauer Moments
Anyone who has competed and won at the highest level of sport leaves behind a body of work through photos and film, and Brauer is no different. Some of the sport’s most vivid memories involve Brauer’s shining moments.

From the 7-pound fish he caught on the final day of the 1998 Bassmaster Classic, a fish that all but closed out his victory. “In the end, I didn’t need that fish to win, because I ended up winning by almost 10 pounds, but I didn’t know that at the time. I can play that fish back in my mind from strike to landing, and it still gives me chills,” he revealed.

Weigh in Denny Brauer - Day 4 - Champion's Choice - Plattsburgh, NY
History can also point to his dominating performance in winning the 2006 Elite Series Champions Choice event on Lake Champlain. At 57 years old, when the young men were supposed to dominate in a young man’s circuit that he was supposed to be too tired and too old to win on; he did. To make it more appropriate, when the fishing pundits were talking about smallmouth dominating the New York State fishery, Brauer grabbed his flipping stick and took advantage of the high water.

“Things just lined up at Champlain, and I was able to make two spots last for the event, an offshore ledge where I got my first day weight and a limit the second day, then I went to the reed patch,” he said. “There was a stretch of reeds that was 50 yards wide by 50 yards deep with water all the way back, and I was able to work the edges with my Strike King signature Denny Brauer Premier Pro Model Jig and Denny Brauer Chunk enough to take a lead, and then really go after them on the final day.”

“I can’t recall having a more fun tournament,” he said. “I caught upwards of 100 fish in that event, some of them back in the reeds more than 20 yards, and I only lost one fish; it was an amazing event.” He won by nearly eight pounds.

With all of the moments that make up the Denny Brauer portfolio in mind, the Classic trophy, the Anglers of the Year titles, the millions of dollars won, one moment is forever captured in time and it sums up Brauer’s workmanlike approach to tournament fishing.

It was in his winning performance at the 1992 Bassmaster Megabucks event, the biggest available payday in the sport at the time. Megabucks was special, featuring a rotating, format for the finals, where anglers fished the holes for 50-minute periods before rotating. Late on the final day, as Brauer approached a dock many of his competitors had targeted that day, he flipped his trademark black and blue jig under the cover.

As the strike occurred, Brauer snapped his flipping stick back with an authoritative hookset, pulling the fish from the dock into open water. The fish, nearly six pounds, burst from the cover and broke the surface of the water, going airborne several times with the afternoon sun behind it. The resultant images were of a backlit, glowing ball of fire with water bursting from the scales of the angry monster. The backlighting had an effect of making it appear as showers of sparks that were exploding around its struggling, fighting body.

As the winning fish neared the side of his boat, Brauer knelt to the deck of his Ranger to grapple with the surging behemoth, and clamping onto her jaw he hoisted her over the gunnels, into the boat. With the daylight and the docks behind him, he turned to face the camera, then pursed his lips into a smile and merely pumped his fist once, like a hammer dropping on a nail.

Denny Brauer Showing Off
“I suppose I would like to be remembered as a guy who did it right,” Brauer said in closing. “Both on and off the water, I fished fair, I fished hard, I treated people fairly, just as I would want to be treated, that I did it right; in business, in relationships and on the water, I did it right.”

In that Megabucks made for T.V. moment, without much fanfare, Brauer presented the fishing world with the perfect exclamation point to a career that had yet to reach its crescendo. He won Megabucks by a mere six ounces that day, and he did it his way, for him, the right way, with composure, and a flipping stick in hand. In workman like fashion, the skills of an expert craftsman on display, with poise and control, he placed his seal on the moment; Denny Brauer, Champion, Legend of the Sport.

Sidebar

The flipping stick and his trademark black and blue jig will always be the first image in the minds of fishing fans when the name of Denny Brauer is mentioned. While the first thought will be only that, his partnerships with his sponsors have brought several products to the market that will forever bear his touch.

The first release of the Denny Brauer Pro Model Jig brought the best of all facets of a flipping jig to the forefront, the head designed by Brauer penetrated cover perfectly, and anglers the world over experienced the benefit of his experience.

DennyBrauerLureLegacy
When tube fishing became popular, not solely for deep, clear water with a jig head, but rather for flipping into heavy cover, it was Brauer and Strike King that made a bait designed for the application. The Pro Model Flipping Tube was the first to incorporate a thicker head design that would accept his large Mustad Flipping hooks without tearing, and the longer 4 1/2″ profile made for a better presentation in the water. When paired with his Strike King Flipping Weights and a Mustad Flipping hook, they make a perfect flipping package.

When he went back the drawing board with Strike King and came up with a new jig design that incorporated new rattles, a new head design and a better way to hold onto jig trailers, especially his 3X Plastics Denny Brauer Chunk, which is made with Elaztech material.

Each of them are products that he uses on tour, they have been his tools for decades.