Most clients of Guide John Sappington never realize his celebrity status. That may change this month when the Field and Stream Total Outdoorsman Challenge season finale airs Nov. 13 (2013) on the Outdoor Channel.
Although the seven-day competition took place in August, primarily at Dogwood Canyon, the contests were filmed to air in weekly segments, so the winner has been kept a secret since the season started Oct. 3. But since the website now shows his photo, Sappington said, he can at least say he is in the finals.
That competition and all of his previous wins as a professional bass fishermen with more than $750,000 in winnings seldom comes up on his Lake Taneycomo trips, he said.
“I love taking people out here to show them what we have here,”Sappington said, since guiding is all about helping the client experience their best day of fishing ever. “I have a lot of poeple catch their highest amount of fish ever, whatever their age and experience. I have a lot of first-timers, such as mothers and their sons where the dad is not involved in their lives. It’s an honor to get to take them and show them what it’s all about.”
Parenting is a priority for Sappington himself, since he and his wife, Michelle, have a 20-month-old, Elizabeth, and a college son, Sean, studying at Drury University. He declined to “pratice” for the Outdoorsman Challenge, he said, instead directing his energies after guiding to the homefront.
Since this was his fifth time in the competition, with two third-place finishes, Sappington, 50, said he was thankful that the contests seemed tailered toward him. In his younger years growing up around Kansas City, he competed in archery and shotgun competitions. Even after a boating accident in 2004 ended his professional bass competitions, he still entered some benchrest rifle contests sporting the halo brace for his broken neck and back.
“I really feel like the Total Outdoorsman Challenge is really the culmination of my life. Hunting and fishing is what I’ve done. My favorite part is definitely the fly fishing at Dogwood Canyon. I love catching fish on a fly rod and Dogwood has some beautiful ones.”
After studying business at Missouri Southern, Sappington was bullding houses for a living until the market fell into a slump. He had two speculation houses tying up all his money when he started a custom home for a Federal Express executive which led to an offer to be a relief driver.
“Six years later I’m still delivering packages until I hurt my knee at work.” he said. “I was off of work for six weeks and living on Grand Lake fishing all the time. A fishing tournament came up at the lake and I took second place and won about $2,000. I got in another tournament the next weekend and came home with $5,000.”
It soon became apparent that it was more lucrative to fish full time, and that began his professional fishing career 18 years ago. He accrued more than 20 pro top finishes, was an FLW Tour Classic Champion, a five-time FLW Tour Cup Qualifier and a Bass Master Classic Qualifier. In 1999 he took second place in the Missouri Central Invitational Tournament on Table Rock.
But then came the day when he was pre-fishing a tournament in Louisiana and a ferry boat on the water jerked a cable up in front of him. “It came down on my boat, hit me on the top of my head and flipped me up on my back, breaking bones and scrambling my brain.”
Although his cervical-one vertebra was fractured, he amazingly was not paralyzed. Surgeons wanted to fuse three other vertebrae together, but Sappington and Michelle, a physical therapist, decided to let his body heal naturally, keeping up with his physical therapy and wearing the halo for six months.
“Doctors were telling me that I would never fish again, so it was a tough point for me,” he said. He did try to compete again, he said, but just had lost his competitive edge.
He had already been guiding for bass on Table Rock Lake, now in his 14th year there. But he only started guiding on Lake Taneycomo the last five or six years, enjoying the fact that “anytime is a good time to fish for trout on Taneycomo.”
“When I was competing in bass fishing, I never wanted to fish for bass on my off time, ” he said. Lake Taneycomo had been an oasis of enjoyment for 30 years, especially the lure of big browns.
“I am still blessed to be doing what I love to do. I get to go fishing every day — I just don’t catch the fish,” he joked, “but it’s not about me anymore. As long as my clients are catching fish, I am grateful. There aren’t too many jobs where you have something in common with everyone you deal with — and everyone I take out likes to fish.”
Bass Pro Shops in Springfield has planned a public watch party for the Total Outdoorsman Challenge, which will air at8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13.