01.Mar.2000 by John Pitts
When he was a youngster, Mark Rose dreamed of finding fame and fortune as a baseball center fielder. But it may have seemed as if he had come out of left field when he made the final five last summer at a Wal-Mart FLW Tour stop in Memphis.
“He was an enigma, this guy in a small aluminum boat. And a borrowed boat at that,” recalls one observer on hand for Rose's professional coming-out party on the mighty Mississippi.
Rose finished third in the professional division on the Memphis tour stop – only the second tour event of his career. He won $20,000.
Inspired by his early success, the 28-year-old Rose gave up his job in mid-1999 to pursue life as a fishing professional. “It was anything but a snap decision,” he says. “Whenever I started thinking about this, I knew I wanted to do it right for my family and myself.”
Rose has come a long way since growing up in West Memphis, Ark., though he still lives only a mile from his boyhood home.
In many ways, he's still the product of his small town. How many pro athletes, after all, would call a writer just a day after a lengthy interview, concerned that he not sound too full of himself?
Those closest to him aren't shy about speaking up on his behalf.
“I'll talk about him as long as you want to listen,” says his father, David, with a hearty laugh. “He was a good kid, never any problem at all. And he was always very competitive. I can remember him fishing in little rodeos when he was 5 or 6.”
Says his wife, Christi, a kindergarten teacher: “How often does a person really get the chance to fulfill something they've dreamed about? We're all very proud of him.”
Rose says he learned to love the outdoors as a youngster, and he also fell in love with baseball.
Rose played junior college baseball in Mississippi then went to Arkansas State, where his team won a Sun Belt Conference title. After a serious knee injury, he says, “I knew I would never play professional ball.”
College baseball did pay some significant dividends, however. “I got my college paid for. I got myself a degree in business management. And I began to think about the future,” he says.
He knew one thing for sure – it would be a future with some involvement in competitive sports.
“That competitive spirit really never went away,” he says. “For a while I thought about coaching, then maybe selling sporting goods.”
As his dreams of success in team sports faded, Rose got more involved with outdoor activities. “I began to compete in 3-D bow hunting, and I did a lot of duck hunting,” he says. “And always, there was fishing...” Rose recalls fishing at age 4 but can't remember who first taught him. Maybe it was his grandfather, commercial fisherman Walter Rose, or one of his uncles.
“My grandfather trapped in the winter and fished in the spring and summer,” Rose says. “He's 91 now and still fishes every chance he gets.”
Rose can remember accompanying his grandfather, who was surveying Arkansas rice fields. “There was a ‘dollar hole' near the house, and he would drop me off there. I would fish just about all day. I had a Zebco 33 and a can of worms.
“I got a lot of knowledge about fishing as a young man just fishing in the ditches and ponds near my home.”
In those days, could he have dreamed of fishing being such a big sport that people would quit their jobs to turn pro? “No way. I couldn't have imagined it like it is now with all the big sponsorships,” Rose says. “As a kid, I just thought it was something fun to do.”
His first job at a big Memphis sporting goods store after graduating from college in 1995 kept Rose connected to the outdoors. “I worked for a year as the manager of the hunting and fishing department,” he says. “I got to know a lot of the guys who were fishing Red Man tournaments.”
Another major life change was on the horizon as Rose married his longtime sweetheart, Christi. “We first dated in the seventh grade,” he says. “When I asked her father about us getting married, he said he wanted us to wait until she was finished with college. She did, and we got married in 1996.”
Their romance has a storybook quality to it. As Christi recalls: “We didn't like each other at first, but he was always coming over to play baseball with my brother. One day he called me for a date…we've been together ever since.”
Their daughter, Natalie, will soon turn 2. “She's a joy for us,” he says. “I can't say enough about what it's meant to both of us to have her in our lives.”
After spending a year in the sporting goods business Rose heard about an opening with the local Boy Scouts council and arranged for a job interview. “It just so happened that the guy who interviewed me was in a bass club that I was in,” Rose says. “I was hired on the spot.”
Rose spent three years as district executive for the Chickasaw Council. “I went into schools to speak about scouting and recruit kids to join. I also recruited new troop leaders and did a lot of fund-raisers,” he says.
During his last year of working with the Boy Scouts, though, Rose says he “really began to think seriously about competitive bass fishing. I looked at how the sport had developed, and I could see the opportunity to make a living doing something that was in my blood.”
Rose says he noticed that the Wal-Mart FLW Tour was coming to Memphis, so he entered a nearby event beforehand “to get my feet wet” and finished “90-something.”
Then came Memphis, a weekend that changed his life.
“I sensed that this might be my big opportunity,” he says. “I was pretty sure that I could fish with the pros, and I thought this would be the experience that told me whether I might have a future in the sport or not.”
Rose admits to feeling like he might have a “homecourt advantage” in the tournament. “I know that stretch of the river, because I grew up fishing there.”
But the spot he most wanted to fish was difficult to reach during practice, and the forecast was for the river to drop even more as competition began. “The night before, I was talking to my father and a friend and somebody said, “What about a john boat?” I knew I could get a johnboat in there, and there wasn't anything in the rules against it.
“I spent a couple of hours on the phone and found one, a 16-footer that was just about the oldest boat you can imagine. When I showed up with it for the first day of competition, I got the strangest stares.”
There were some nervous times on the river that weekend. “The third day, it was 12:30 and I still didn't have a fish. I went to my last spot, a sand bar, and caught four fish for almost 15 pounds,” he says.
“That's one of the most important lessons I've learned in my first few months: If you have a bad day, don't dwell on it. And don't pack your bags too quick.”
The last day, Rose says he let a fish estimated at 6- to 7-pounds get away while fumbling for his net. After that setback, he caught four bass for 15 pounds, 15 ounces to finish third.
“Really committing myself to fishing was something I had been praying about and talking to others about,” Rose says. “My finish in Memphis gave me the funds we needed to really do it.”
Christi says her husband insisted it would be business as usual after the Memphis tourney, but she could tell he was thinking about pursuing his dream. “He had always said it was something he would like to do someday,” she says. “I kept asking, and finally we had a long talk about it. I was glad he made the decision to go for it.”
So was his father, after some initial skepticism.
“When Mark first started talking about quitting his job to pursue this full-time, I have to admit it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of in my life,” his father says. “But then I started learning more about it, and I could understand.
“There's nothing to make me think he won't make it. If he survives the next year or so, and I know that he will, then he'll be up there among the top pros.”