Rodney Marks may not be that well-known on the national bass tournament scene, but just give him a few years.
By then, if he's not as well-known as the Rick Clunns and the Denny Brauers, he'll be chomping at their heels.
Marks, 37, is a boyish-looking Apopka resident whose progress in just three years on the entry-level trail of the Wal-Mart FLW circuit has impressed some veterans of the bassing-for-bucks crowd.
The plumbing company project manager has progressed a thousandfold since 2001, when he climbed into the back of local tournament veteran John Bitter's bass boat armed with two mediocre fishing rods, a few packs of plastic worms and some spinnerbaits.
Last weekend, he blew away the 154 other anglers in the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League's Gator Division Super Tournament on Lake Okeechobee.
His two-day total of 37 pounds, 12 ounces was nearly seven pounds heavier than that of his closest rival.
The catch surprised even Marks.
His plan was to catch a limit of small bass in the edges of the currents roaring into the lake from the Kissimmee Chain. Then he would go elsewhere to fish floating grass mats for at least one big fish.
His second-day partner was tour pro David Givens of Hernando.
"He said he found some fish in practice, and we'd go to the running water to get a limit [of small fish], later go flipping for a big fish," Givens said. "His third fish was 7[pounds]-12[ounces] -- that was his flipping fish, then and caught a 5 and a 4 -- we never left the locks."
Marks said he never dreamed that the two days of fishing would produce as many bass as he caught.
"The water was roaring, it was like Niagara Falls, and I figured I'd catch 10-12 pounds by 9:30, leave and find grass mats to flip for bigger fish. But before 8 a.m. I had a 7-plus and a 5 in the boat," he said.
He was casting a spinnerbait and a hard jerk bait to an underwater rock pile and bouncing the lures off the rocks. Soon, he was relying mostly on the jerk bait -- a blue/white lipped diving model.
He soon was culling, releasing a smaller fish when he'd catch one larger.
"I must have been culling 50-60 fish a day. By the end of the first day, my total weight was 20 pounds, 13 ounces," Marks said.
When Marks and second-day partner Givens returned, they found the fishing good, but not as great as the day before. This time they were using blue/chrome lipless crankbaits and catching fish, but not as quickly.
That's when veteran Givens' experience paid dividends. He suggested they switch to a Japanese version that was heavier, but had a narrower body. With extra weight and less wind resistance, they were able to cast to water Marks hadn't reached the day before.
"We were able to cast 25 feet farther," he said.
He caught 16 pounds, 15 ounces, for a two-day total of 37-12. Givens won first place in the co-angler division with 36-1.
Marks credits his sudden successes to that day he first climbed into Bitter's bass boat.
"I learned more in five hours fishing with John than in five days practicing with someone else -- it was like fishing with [four-time world champion] Rick Clunn," Marks said. "John does not candy-coat it. You either like it or not -- he turned my life around."
While he didn't finish high enough in the BFL points standing to fish the regional championship on Lake Seminole that ends today, Marks has another achievement.
This year he started fishing the FLW EverStart Series, the next level in the organization's trails, as a co-angler.
He finished 36th in the ranking, high enough for a slot in the EverStart Championship Nov. 3-7 on Lake Cumberland near Burnside, Ky.
When he's not working, Marks spends all his free time fishing on local lakes, trying to perfect his techniques with different lures.
"Unless my leg's broken, I'll be on the lake -- I went fishing the day after each of the hurricanes," he said.
Bitter, a Longwood tackle store owner, is the brother of tournament pro Jim Bitter, a consistent winner on the BASS tournament circuit. Jim Bitter is also the only angler to miss winning a BASS world championship by just 2 ounces -- the narrowest margin in the history of the organization.
"Jim says I learned it [fishing ability] and he was born with it," John Bitter said in a telephone interview. "Marks still has a long way to go, but he's done a lot better this year. He has picked up on a lot of stuff and improved his techniques.
"He is probably like I wanted to be when my kids were young and I couldn't do it. He really gets into it -- he soaks it up."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun