A few years back, my late, great friend Harold Pack fished a Bassmaster Open event on Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake as a co-angler. His West Virginia sensibilities were offended when his Day One partner showed up towing a brand new Skeeter with a Lexus SUV. His common-sense-o-meter started clanging harder at midday, thought, when with nary a fish in either livewell, his “pro” put down his tackle, pulled the boat into a shady spot and started digging into his storage bins.
Out came sandwich meats, bread, condiments and chips, among other things.
“It was like he had a whole Food Lion in there,” Harold said.
Read more: Halftime – Thirteen for ‘13
We’ve got two Bassmaster Opens in the books, with seven left to go. We’ve crowned two winners, both of whom will fish the 2014 Classic on Guntersville if they’ve got half a brain and didn’t blow their winnings on cheap alcohol and expensive women.
Those are the success stories.
At the bottom of the Open standings sheets sits a lengthy group of donators, the 80 percent who make it possible for the other 20 percent to make a living at the sport. Sure, we need heroes and Classic qualifiers, but to invoke the late Judge Smails, “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”
The Opens are a weird beast. Top to bottom the field is not as strong as a typical Elite Series event, and many of the top Elites elect not to fish them anymore. At the same time, they’re loaded with Elite Series pros, FLW pros and top local talent. The locals don’t always win, but they tend to claim a disproportionate share of the top checks, and occasionally one pulls it out – like Kelly Pratt and Josh Wagy on the James or Bobby Ferguson on Douglas. There’s also a sizeable contingent of “Open Regulars,” guys who’ve fished the AAA level for years, are familiar with most of the waters, and can do some damage if a few good breaks fall their way. That means that the competition is pretty damn stout.
Read more: Are You a Hammer or a Nail?
We’re nearing the start of the Elite Series season, which means that anglers are finalizing their preparations for a new campaign. Every day the UPS man shows up with another package of line, lures, rods or reels. Every day the back of the truck gets a little fuller.
Boats are being rigged, motors are being broken in (some of them, anyway), and wrap designs are coming to life.
Most importantly, credit limits are being raised.
I fear that one important aspect of the pre-season prep is being ignored, though. Our hundred (and two) men of valor aren’t working on their excuses. A few of them won’t need them but the majority will. After all, you’ll have to be able to explain to sponsors, loved ones and your fan/s why everyone else caught a limit and you brought in 2 for 2 pounds. You’ll have to be able to tell them how and why you screwed up.
Read more: Instant Excuse Generator
I watched the one hour version of MLF this Saturday on NBC. That’s not the NBC Sports Network or MSNBC, it’s the real, honest-to-God, proud as a peacock operation that has brought us mega-hits like Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Friday Night Lights and of course your grandma’s favorite prime-time snoozer, The Golden Girls. No matter how you slice it, that’s big time.
I’m not here to quibble with the MLF rules or format. Whether you’re weighing in 5 fish or 500, it’s still fishing. Whether you penalize anglers for letting the fish flop on the carpet or allow them to roll up a dead smallmouth in a rug Tony Soprano style, you’ve still gotta catch them. Penalty box? I’m not convinced it’s a good idea, but I’m willing to listen to your rationale for including it. After all, this is largely a made-for-TV event, and if those tweaks increase the entertainment value, then you’ve done your job. Purists may cringe, but there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of experimentation.
Read more: MLF – What’s Up Dock?
In every competitive endeavor, from cat shows to professional putt-putt to the NBA, some participants eventually go from good to great, from great to superstars, or from superstars to Hall of Famers. Influential sportswriter Bill Simmons calls this phenomenon “making the leap” – the event or season in which an athlete breaks through some sort of glass ceiling and rises into the next echelon.
Last year was a hell of a season for anglers to make the leap. Chris Lane vaulted from solid-but-title-free pro into the Classic limelight. More recently, but perhaps less surprisingly, soft-spoken Brent Chapman who laced up his rocket pack and soared. He’d fished 11 Bassmaster Classics, including five in a row, and he’d won a couple of tournaments, but he was largely under the radar, even among knowledgeable fishing fans. Even though he’s only three years older than Lane, it seemed like Brent had been around for a couple of decades more, always doing well, but always falling short of the KVD/Skeet/Ike crowd, at least in terms of recognition.
Read more: Leapin’ Lizards
“We have to play them one day at a time. I’m just happy to be here and I hope I can help the ball club. I just want to give it my best shot and the good lord willing everything will work out.”
--Nuke LaLoosh (Bull Durham)
It’s fishing’s silly season, which means that by now most anglers have decided whether to make the leap to the Show. The big time. El Grande Enchilada. Major league fishing (not Capital-M, Capital-L, Capital-F, Major League Fishing, just the regular kind). In other words – either the Elite Series or the FLW Tour.
Deposits have been deposited, day jobs have been deserted, and families are ready to either be shoved in the camper like cattle or left at home without daddy until approximately May.
Read more: Welcome to the Show, Rook
On Day Three of the 2007 Elite Series event on the California Delta, I was paired with the legendary Denny Brauer and he quickly showed me how the legend had been developed. After making a long run to a downriver slough, he had me down 12 fish to none in no time at all.
You might think that his dominance that day could be explained by the fact that we were pitching to isolated targets and he had the first shot each time. You would be egregiously wrong. We were fishing suspiciously similar red spinnerbaits on very similar tackle over the same submerged grass, with no individual targets in sight.
Read more: Nice Guys Finish Last
It’s the most magical time of the year – the brief period when I’m still riding the high of my Halloween candy (I trick-or-treated dressed as Bo Dowden – no one recognized me) but before the extended family arrives for Thanksgiving.
Accordingly, from the home office next to the Sturgeon Bay Chamber of Commerce, here’s a list of the top ten things that make me happy as we head into tryptophan season (in no particular order):
Read more: Turkey Day Thanks
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