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Pete Weighs In

By Pete Robbins

Bass Fishing Urban Legends

September 3, 2008

It’s probably not true that . . .

Economics

September 2, 2008

The recession’s not all that bad.

I don’t mean to make light of the situations that have befallen those who have lost their homes, regardless of whose fault that loss was. And I certainly feel concern for those with no health insurance who are one accident away from financial and physical ruin, as well as the hard worker who can’t afford to feed his family. [Notably, I don’t feel as bad for the guy down the street who bought a Benz in the good times and is about to get it repossessed. We all have our sympathy limits and that’s mine.]

Times are bad for a lot of folks right now, but I’m willing to look for a silver lining.

It’s called “space.”

When people were flush with cash you couldn’t go to a decent restaurant around here at a prime time on a weekend evening and wait less than an hour. I won’t wait that long for food, so there were a lot of good places I just ruled out altogether. It brings to mind Yogi Berra’s famous line: “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too popular.” But in the past few weeks we’ve gone to two of the most popular restaurants in that group at such times and breezed right in.

Of course this phenomenon is not all-encompassing. Outback Steakhouse, to name one restaurant, is still as crowded as ever. I’m not a huge fan of the Australian-themed restaurant (that, upon further examination, seems to have almost nothing to do with Australia), but their meals are decent and predictable. I’ve been to a number of them around the country and you always have to wait. I’m convinced that you could go to one at 10pm on a Tuesday night in a town hosting a huge vegetarian conference and you’d still find a line of 50 herbivores waiting to gorge themselves on Bloomin’ Onions.

Another restaurant that doesn’t make the list is Cracker Barrel. Have you ever gone into one and just been whisked right to your table? I haven’t. There could be 50 open tables and 10 waitresses doing their nails or Sudoku puzzles by the hostess stand and they’d still make you wait at least a few minutes, if nothing else to encourage you to buy the sock monkeys, penny candy and John Deere memorabilia that is the real source of their income. Oddly enough, this is the reason my wife likes to go there when we take a long drive – our kitchen is full of kitschy signs that say things like “Eggs 5 cents” that were procured from Cracker Barrel and other purveyors of manufactured nostalgia.

Over a decade ago, my wife worked as an accountant for a poultry wholesaler and somehow that experience affected her so positively that our kitchen’s theme is “roosters” (as opposed to when I was single and my kitchen’s theme was “cereal out of a measuring cup). We have rooster plates, rooster potholders, rooster cookie jars, rooster pitchers and other avian knick-knacks. While it’s mostly chickens and roosters, we have a few pig and cow items and one of the most treasured pieces is a small cow figurine with a chicken’s beak on it. Don’t ask. You would think that after being surrounded by chickens for days on end she’d never want to see another one in her life, but apparently that’s not the case. The lesson, as usual, is don’t try to understand your spouse. If you’re not in the doghouse (or chicken coop, as the case may be), just accept things for what they are.

On a related tangent, an older gentleman who was in my bass club a few years back always ordered liver and onions whenever he found it on the menu when we were away fishing a tournament. Since that is probably the last thing on the menu I would order, I once asked him why he liked it so much. He explained that during The Depression (note capitalization) his family had leased a small piece of land from a wealthier farmer, and that in exchange for doing odd jobs the farmer would give him “all the liver I could carry.” The lesson here? Don’t try to understand old people. If they’re happy with prune juice and Matlock reruns, leave well enough alone.

I know that whether or not we’re in a recession, a depression or just a brief economic hiccup is still subject to debate and most people determine their position largely on the basis of how their personal fortunes are going. Like the old joke said, when your neighbor loses his job you’re in a recession, when you lose your job it’s a depression. All I know is that because I’m generally not a financial risk taker, I didn’t feel the great highs when everyone and their brother was building a new McMansion, and I’m fortunate that my economic conservatism has left me largely immune to the downward swing, too. I’m not happy about it, but I can still afford to put $3-plus gas in the tank – I can fish when my schedule allows and not worry about the cost of making the runs I want to make or buying the baits I feel I need to catch a few now and them.

On Friday, I had a rare weekday morning free and I hitched up the boat and headed to the Potomac. Paid $3.37 a gallon for gas (and filled up the truck and both boat tanks due to rumors that prices are about to spike), freaking $12 to use the state park boat ramp (those of you who live in the land of mostly free or $2 boat ramps should thank your lucky stars).

I was so amped up to go that I was the first one to the park at 5:45, even though it wouldn’t be light enough to run until around 6:15. It was raining pretty hard at that point and while I don’t mind the rain, lightning freaks me out, so I waited for the electrical skewers to end and launched at 6:30. I headed across the river to a popular community hole that always holds some fish. About a month ago, I fished there on a day when there were two large tournaments and by the time I got there 10 minutes after safe light, there were 20-plus boats within sight. Yesterday, I was the first boat there, and I had the area all to myself until 9am.

Fishing wasn’t lights out, but it was good enough to stay interesting – missed a few frog blowups and everything I landed was on a beat up old Sugoi Splash topwater. Knowing that I needed to be home in the afternoon to meet with some contractors, I had to be off the water around noon. Close to 11 o’clock, I made a move to another area that typically gets a lot of pressure. Once again, I had it all to myself and caught a few more topwater fish there.

I don’t know if it was the economic times, the weather, the fact that people were away for Labor Day weekend, or some combination thereof, but it was a perfect storm of conditions, so to speak. No one crowding me. I could fish at my own pace, catching one here and one there, putting on my rainsuit when necessary.

The weather was clearing when I got back to the ramp at 12:15 and I expected it to be packed with dozens if not hundreds of trailers. There were six, including mine.

Like I said, I don’t wish tough times on anyone (well, at least not an anyone for whom I haven’t had an opportunity to develop a distaste), but if anything good comes out of this recession, maybe it’ll be less traffic on the water, and fewer yahoos who can get credit at will and decide to plunk it down on metalflaked fiberglass.

Let 'em keep Outback and Cracker Barrel. Those of us who are here to stay can keep the water.

The Medal Round

August 27, 2008

Unlike many of you, I can’t seem to get terribly excited about the Olympic Games. It’s not that I don’t have the requisite levels of jingoism and xenophobia – I’m sure that some people would say that I have more of my share of those traits. Nor am I underwhelmed by the athletes’ efforts. The few I’ve seen have bordered on breathtaking.

But for some reason the Olympics just don’t get it done for me. To be honest, most of the professional sports leagues have fallen a bit in my esteem in recent years, too. I trace it back to free agency, which I believe to be a fair and just thing in its organic state, but which has made it harder to cheer for a particular team or athlete (as Jerry Seinfeld aptly noted, we’re cheering for laundry).

The few moments I’ve seen of these Olympics have been impressive. I got to watch Usain Bolt, the mostly appropriately named competitor since Mike Wurm and Pete Ponds, shred records. The women’s beach volleyball was amazing for a variety of reasons (what’s with all the butt-patting?). Dara Torres and Michael Phelps both did the unthinkable in the pool (that sounded dirtier than I intended it to). I haven’t seen the “Redeem Team” take to the hardwood yet (have they already finished?) but I’m sure I’d enjoy watching them.

For me, the two stories that have stood out have both taken place in the realm of sponsorship dealings. Perhaps it’s just that I like a little controversy, perhaps it’s that I have fishing on the brain, but both of these issues, while reported, seem to have been given less attention than they deserved.

The first was Michael Phelps’s victory in the 100 meter butterfly. He won gold by one one-hundredth of a second. Putting aside the jackasses who claim to have been able to see his hand touch first with their naked eyes, is it really possible to win by that small a margin? Is that meaningfully measurable?

Count “one, one thousand” and divide that by a hundred. Can you do it? I really don’t think so.

What’s interesting about this to me is that Omega timepieces are the official stopwatch of the games. They also sponsor Phelps individually. Isn’t it in their best interest for him to win? If he wins, isn’t a win by such a small margin an additional feather in their cap in that they were able to discern such a small margin? [I checked and there are a bunch of websites “explaining” the conspiracy theories involved here, so it’s not just me and the NY Times who are intrigued by this.]

Analogized to fishing (which may explain why this interested me), what if the sponsoring boat company (Ranger for FLW, Skeeter for BASS) had some hand in determining who had won? It makes me think back to the situation a few months ago where Greg Pugh was not disqualified even though he admitted being in an off-limits area during the tournament. I don’t mean to impugn Mr. Pugh (say that ten times fast). I don’t know him and I wasn’t there, nor have I spoken to any of the parties to the incident. But so long as Ranger has a vested interest in the outcome of events, indeed of a whole circuit, it stands to reason that there will be suspicion any time something like this happens, especially since FLW is notoriously tight-lipped about their official decisions on issues of this nature.

To extend the issue one sport further, what if this had happened in track and field, where I’m sure Mr. Bolt’s records are already subject to scrutiny and doubts? I have no reason to think that Bolt achieved his records in any way but through practice and good genes, but because of the sport’s history, everyone assumes that everyone else is dirty and it tarnishes honest efforts.

Likewise, everyone outside of fishing assumes that we’re a bunch of cage-planting liars (remember Tony Christian? Do we know what he actually did or if he did anything at all?). If we want to “grow the sport,” however you define that term, and gain respect among the non-fishing public, we can’t have Omega-type conflicts of interest.

The other Olympic story that intrigued me was the widespread acceptance of the Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit.

To quote the NY Times, “(t)he corsetlike suit is made by ultrasonic welding instead of stitching, can require a half-hour to put on and shoehorns the body into a more streamlined position.” Like the “banana hammock” suits of the past, it still leaves very little to the imagination. But it seems to deliver on its promises of increased speed and has led to dozens of world records since its fairly recent introduction.

The technological advantages of the new suit are thought to be so great that some other swimwear companies have authorized their sponsored swimmers to wear it in competition. Other swimmers have left their sponsorship relationships, afraid that continuing to swim with the old technology will leave them in the dust.

Can you imagine if this happened in the fishing world?

Sure you can. We all know, or suspect we know, that anglers sponsored by rod company “A” or lure company “B” may instead use products from companies “C” and “D.” Most of what they do is not caught on camera, certainly not the types of cameras that can tell which Olympic swimmers may have missed a spot or two shaving their legs. And there’s a gentlemen’s agreement among much of the fishing media to report things as the anglers state them to be.

But what if an angler determined that some highly visible piece of equipment was essential to his success but not available through his sponsors? For example, if a BassCat owner decided he could get a huge advantage from running a Ranger, or vice versa. Could they get away with it? Are there any circumstances where that bargain with the devil would be acceptable?

It’s NOT the Steve Kennedy situation. Kennedy, you may remember, has put black electrical tape over the manufacturer decals on his outboard. He doesn’t think he can get what he’s worth from the motor companies and elected to power his rig himself – and therefore does not wish to give the particular power provider any free advertising. But the Speedo analogy would be more appropriate if he had a deal with one outboard company and felt it imperative to run another brand.

I doubt we’ll ever see a situation like that in fishing, but in the meantime maybe Kennedy will look to pick up a deal with Speedo.

Livin' the Dream - L-I-V-I-N'

August 20, 2008

Last week I worked at the BASS event at Lake Oneida, near Syracuse, New York.  Clark Reehm, now a rising sophomore on the Elite Series was there, too, but while I did my work with a pen and computer, he tried to make a few bucks with a rod and reel. 

Now, a week later, we’re in the same place again, but our paths have diverged.  I flew back Monday morning and went straight to the office.  He stayed a little over a day more to fish, then made the drive down to Virginia Wednesday night – needed a place to store his boat for a few days while he flew to Tulsa for a family event, before heading down to Smith Mountain Lake and Guntersville to scout for next year.

So I’ve had a wrapped Skeeter and an extra truck in the driveway for a week or so and an innocuous houseguest most of the time.  He bought some unbelievable steaks yesterday for dinner, and my wife’s dog hasn’t tried to kill him yet, so he must be a pretty good person deep down.

The most surreal part of his stay took place while we cleared out the TIVO Sunday night.  Both of us missed the Oneida event, so we had to watch that one, but then we noticed that the Amistad derby was saved.  He finished 2nd at that one, so even though we’ve both seen it before, we decided to watch it again.  I spent more time watching his reactions (to both the high and low points) than I did with my eyes fixed on the screen. 

Last night I got home and it looked like Al Queda had blown up a Bass Pro Shops in my driveway.  In addition to the hundreds of Plano boxes, Rubbermaid storage containers full of muskie plugs and buckets of Gulp, I thought the spare lower unit in the bottom of the boat, the one he knocked off at Oneida, was a nice touch.

Live From New York

August 12, 2008

Well, not so live anymore. I’m back home in Virginia.

Just to tie up a few loose ends:

On stage at Oneida, Gerald Swindle said this has been the type of year where “It could have been raining $100 bills this year and with the luck I've had, I'd get hit with a sack of nickels.”

He was in the right place for it. For some reason they’ve got a bunch of toll booths in Syracuse that charge ridiculously low amounts – 10 cents, 20 cents, a quarter. It seems like they’d collect less than they have to pay the toll booth workers, who by the way were unusually cheery. Save those nickels, G-Man.

Before I left, everyone recommended a bunch of places to eat and drink and I didn’t get to any of them. Particularly disappointed that I missed out on Dinosaur BBQ, which I heard (from non-Yankees) is quite good. Next time.

Another Swindle quote, heard over continental breakfast at the Ramada in between the two hours of the Sunday XM radio show I do with Mark Jeffreys of BassZone: “Sometimes if you want to suc-ceed, sometimes you have to just suck first.” Go deer hunting, Gerald, it’ll make you feel better. I think most of the pros like to hunt more than they like to fish – just about everyone seemed to comment that was their number one priority this offseason.

I interviewed Dean Rojas before blastoff on Sunday and he was so sure that he was going to catch ‘em, that even had he been behind by three-plus pounds instead of ahead by that much, I would’ve bet the house he was going to win. Come to think of it, though, Ike, who weighed in a ridiculous 20 pound bag on Day 2, was every bit as confident. I think that’s the major difference between “them” and “us.” They can go out, not get bit at all, and be convinced that they’re going to crush them the next day . . . most importantly, they usually do it when they say they will. The competition out there is just scary good.

RIP Isaac Hayes.