Remember the television show, The Millionaire? The scenario was simple: the millionaire gave an intermediary a check for a million dollars to give to a deserving, but unsuspecting person. The donor then stood back to watch what happened.
Foster Key of Trenton, S.C., put himself in the way of earning a million dollars by buying a new Ranger boat in January and catching a 6.54-pound bass during a February tournament on Lake Wylie.
It qualified him for a berth in the 200-boat Ranger Millenium M1 bass tournament at Florida's Cypress Gardens in November. It's for Ranger boat owners only and there are 200 pros and 200 "coanglers" in the field.
Guaranteed first-place payout is $400,000, but the winner stands a chance to make another $600,000 in sponsor bonus prize money. The winner of the co-angler division will receive $150,000 and a chance to win $100,000 more in sponsor bonus bucks.
"I really didn't take bass fishing seriously until this year," said the 41-year-old Aiken native, who has been tournament fishing since 1990.
He joined the Georgia-Carolina Bass Anglers, a club which originated at Kimberly-Clark in Beech Island where he and his wife, Lenora, have been employed for more than 20 years. She joined, too.
He and his wife are partners on the Guys and Dolls tournament trail. They've done well enough to qualify for the Guys & Dolls USA Couples Championship Oct. 14-15 on Lake Mitchell in Clanton, Ala. Winner takes home a new, fully equipped 461V Ranger bass boat worth $28,000. Forty-nine couples make up the field.
He's also teamed with good friend Jeff Jones of Aiken on the Fishers of Men bass tournament trail.
"I was signed up for six EverStart Pro-Ams, but got turned down each time," he said.
The Keys' fishing background is varied.
"I've been fishing since I was 6 years old. My father, Foster Sr., took me to farm ponds," he said. "I went bream fishing with my father when I was a child," she said. "We both still love bream fishing, especially when the mayflies are hatching along the Saluda River."
The Keys believe their 16 1/2 -year marriage has been strengthened by their love for bass tournament fishing, even though "we argue for the first four hours of a tournament and just fish the last four," he laughed. "She's much more competitive than I am, but I'm lucky because she lets me buy whatever I need in hunting gear and fishing tackle. She also loves to deer hunt."
Entry fee to the Ranger Millenium is $5,000 for professional entrants and Foster plans to fish as a pro. That way, he can control his own destiny because non-pro partners known as "co-anglers" must fish from the back of the boat. Co-anglers pay a $2,500 entry fee, he said.
"Even if I was to finish dead last, 200th place pays $5,000," he said. "I'd love to do well and if something was to happen and I did well, I'd have to consider fishing a tournament trail as a professional."
The 400 Millenium anglers vie for the top 50 spots in each division over the first two days and each top 50 face a one-day fishoff to determine the top 10 who'll fish for the big bucks on the final day.
The qualifiers come from tournaments held by the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Red Man Tournament Trail, Bass World Sports, Bassing America, Buck's Island, CAST, Central Pro/Am, Fisherman's Bass, Guys and Dolls, NEWBASS, Northland Bass, Pro Team Tournament Trail, Silverado Pro Bass, Sports Boat Team Championship, Sun Country Bass, Superior Bass, Tar Heel Team Tournament, Tradewinds, West Coast Bass, Western Outdoor News Bass and International Invitations. Anglers fishing in Bass Anglers Sportsman Society events are eligible to compete if they qualify.
An Operation Bass spokesperson said qualifying will continue through October.
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