Name a sport, and you can bet that its fans, insiders and pundits have argued about who should go on its hypothetical Mount Rushmore. That is, who are the four absolute best or influential people to ever play the game?
When it comes to bass fishing, the opinions regarding which faces would go on that mythical mountain are many and varied, and you may occasionally come across someone who doesn’t include Hank Parker in that conversation. Well, as the saying goes, everyone has the right to be wrong.
The fact of the matter is Parker, a Mercury Pro Team member, has had massive impacts on the sport of bass fishing – and fishing and hunting in general, for that matter – in just about every way imaginable. And 45 years after his first professional tournament, he’s still spoken of with the reverence reserved for only the true giants of the sport.
Parker was born in Maiden, North Carolina, and fell in love with fishing while chasing redbreast sunfish with his grandfather on the Ocmulgee River in Georgia. Parker hooked his first one when he was barely out of diapers, and it set a course that he has been on for more than 60 years.
“It was beyond anything I had ever done. It just captivated me completely, and I fell in love with it,” he said of his immediate obsession with fishing. “It was bigger than life to me. It was all I wanted to do from about 5 years old on.”
In 1976, at the age of 22, Parker started fishing professionally full time. He won the national championship of the National Bass Association Tournament Circuit that same year.
“That’s when I took the plunge to go wide open and make a living and risk everything I had to make it as a professional bass fisherman,” he said. “It was my passion, but it was far beyond that. It was a commitment for life.”
A couple of years later Parker started fishing the B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail, nailing down Bassmaster Classic® titles in 1979 and 1989. He was the first to complete what was then known as the Grand Slam of bass angling, winning a B.A.S.S. qualifying tournament, the Bassmaster Classic, the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and the Super B.A.S.S. Tournament. Throughout his storied B.A.S.S. career, Parker would earn a payday at an astounding 76 percent of the tournaments he fished.
And while Parker’s competitive resume stands among the strongest in the sport even today, perhaps his greatest impact has been in television and as a celebrated ambassador of all things outdoor. In 1985, he launched “Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine,” a TV show with national syndication. The show and its sister production, “On the Water with Hank Parker,” have since appeared on numerous major outdoor and sporting TV networks.
Parker said his migration into television – following the model most notably pioneered by the legendary Bill Dance – was an effort to make a better living by providing more value for his sponsors.
“By about 1980 the whole industry realized that the professional fisherman had a greater influence on the consumer buying their product than any other method of advertising,” he said. “I always went after sponsors that I use their product. I didn’t let the world or the industry dictate to me who I was going to endorse.”
“Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine” has been a treasured mainstay in outdoor programming for the past 37 years. Parker prides himself on always being authentic, educational and inclusive, and credits that with the success of the show.
“When I went into the television world, everyone expected me to approach it from the perspective of a tournament fisherman,” Parker said. “But I didn’t. I took it as an opportunity to instruct and to try to convey to people how awesome fishing is just to be a part of it. If you’re a tournament fisherman I’m going to give you some information that I’ve learned that may be beneficial to you. But the purpose of my show is to demonstrate how great it is to be in the outdoors with your family and to convey to everyone what a great sport this is to be involved in, even if you never plan on fishing a tournament.”
Parker is also an avid hunter and has produced hunting shows with two of his sons, Hank Jr. and Billy. As you’d expect, he’s no slouch in that arena either, and has shared his love of hunting with thousands of people over the years. He even dabbled in NASCAR® (as did Hank Jr. and Billy to a much larger degree) and participated in three Busch Series qualifying races in 1994.
His feats on the water and in the field have earned him inductions into some of the most prestigious institutions in the outdoor realm, such as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, the Legends of the Outdoors® Hall of Fame and the International Game Fish Association® Hall of Fame.
Hank and his wife, Martha, live in Union County, South Carolina, and have four sons, two daughters and 11 grandchildren. In his spare time Hank can be found hunting all manner of game or chasing fish – freshwater and saltwater – in one of his four Mercury-powered boats.
And while trophy bass and bull redfish remain his favorites, he’s still just as happy to reel in a little redbreast sunfish from time to time.
To learn more about Hank Parker and his television shows, visit hankparker.com. You can also follow him on Facebook.
BASSMASTER CLASSIC is a registered trademark of B.A.S.S., LLC. NASCAR is a registered trademark of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. All other trademarks belong to Brunswick Corporation. LEGENDS OF THE OUTDOORS is a registered trademark of Garry Mason. INTERNATIONAL GAME FISH ASSOCIATION is a registered trademark of the International Game Fish Association, Inc.