When Carroll Electric Cooperative’s Ryan Butler casts his line next month at the GEICO Bassmaster Classic, he’ll be angling for big bass and big donations for children with terminal illnesses.
As one of 52 contestants in the “Super Bowl” of bass fishing tournaments worldwide, Butler wants to promote a $100,000 fundraising campaign for the national Catch-A-Dream Foundation, which grants hunting and fishing trips to terminally ill children and their families.
For as long as he can remember, Butler has dreamed about qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic. But the weekend angler’s other passion is giving back to his community.
“A guy like me from southern Missouri doesn’t get an opportunity to make a difference on this level,” said Butler, 36, a development design coordinator at the Berryville, Arkansas, co-op. “I was telling my wife, ‘Let’s not waste this platform. Let’s try to do something really special.’”
“I’ve attended [past Bassmaster Classics] as a fan, and remember thinking, ‘How cool is this? Millions are watching online and thousands are watching in the arena,’” said Butler.
As for the foundation, now in its 18th year, it’s been the recipient of small fundraisers but never one “of this magnitude,” said CEO Marty Brunson, a former fisheries and wildlife professor and a member of East Mississippi Electric Power Association in Meridian.
“I feel like we’re friends,” said Brunson, after learning about Butler’s quest. “It’s an honor to help him accomplish something bigger than himself.”
Catch-A-Dream includes a fundraising portal on its website and a text-to-donate platform—text keyword bass to 71777. If Butler meets his goal, Catch-A-Dream will be able to fund about 20 hunting or fishing experiences for families—about half of its annual trips—with enough money left over to pay another family’s way to attend the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, said Brunson.
That family will be in for a treat. The event is a three-day spectacle with weigh-ins taking place in packed arenas, hours of live coverage and trade shows with hundreds of vendors. Now in its 48th year, the tournament will be March 16-18 on Lake Hartwell in Greenville and Anderson, South Carolina.
“When that time of year gets here—and I’ve done it myself—people will load up their RVs and make a week of it,” said Butler. “On the first day, there’ll be a couple thousand people on the shore at the boat ramp, watching us as we pull in. It’ll be lit up with music blasting and a guy emceeing it, getting the crowd pumped up.”
As a full time co-op employee competing against the world’s top professional anglers, Butler said he could be considered a longshot to win the grand prize of $300,000.
“I’ll have an opportunity to tell a compassionate group of fishing fans and outdoorsmen about this great cause and what we can do if we all rally together to help these children and their families during a difficult time,” said Butler. “That will truly complete my dream week.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.