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Pete Weighs In - A Blog

By Pete Robbins

Good Service

June 24, 2009

I mail order a lot of fishing tackle over the internet.  I mean a lot of stuff. The UPS guy has a permanent parking spot in our driveway. Usually I’m anxious to try out some new products or something kind of obscure,  and that informs my choice of which vendor I order from.  They all have the basics – Senkos, lizards, the Tru Tungsten weights I like, various brands of big-box store favorite spinnerbaits – but often only one or two will have the latest, greatest, hottest item that I need, so that’s where I’ll shop.  Historically, that has meant that I probably patronize Tackle Warehouse the most.  They have an incredible selection of stuff that’s hard-to-find around here and their service is very good.

But this week I tried Susquehanna Fishing Tackle (www.sfttackle.com) for the first time.  Not only did they have a particular item I’d used successfully over the weekend (and hope to use in a club tournament this upcoming weekend), but they had a few discontinued items that TW didn’t carry, so I figured I’d give them a try.  Just like TW, they have free shipping.  Also, since they’re about 3,000 miles closer to my house, I figured that the free shipping deal was more likely to get them to my house in Virginia by Friday if I placed the order on Monday.  On lunchtime on Monday I hit the “complete checkout” button and when I got home Tuesday (yesterday) evening, the package was waiting at my front door.  Just awesome.

I’m sure I’ll be ordering from them again.

You Are What You Eat

June 23, 2009

When I was a teenager, I was hardly the model of experimental eating.  It wasn’t quite all meat and potatoes, but if I’d had my way it might’ve been close.  Part of that stems from having parents who were overly adventurous eaters – if it came from a country you couldn’t pronounce, from an animal you’d never heard of or smelled like a pair of gym socks that had been stagnating for a month or two in a 120 degree locker, they were on it like white on rice.

This intra-family tension came to a head on a family trip to Hong Kong (my dad was giving a speech there), at a restaurant where I couldn’t even get through the menu, let alone progress to the entrees.  The chef’s specialties included the parts of all sorts of oddball animals that you’d generally consider more suitable for fertilizer.  I can’t get too graphic here on a corporate website, but let’s just say there were genitalia involved and all sorts of digestive organs, oftentimes in the same dish.

Being the rebellious sort that I was, I left them to their zoological anatomy lesson and ate at the San Francisco Steak House, in one of Hong Kong’s underground labyrinths, all by myself.  Not only were there dishes that I recognized, but I could watch ESPN, too.  Now this was back in the mid-80s when the Worldwide Leader was still in its formative stages, so by the third night at the steakhouse, I knew how the CFL game was going to turn out (the Toronto Argonauts won – no wagering, please).  That’s what characterized the whole experience: predictability.

But as I’ve grown older I’ve gotten a little more adventurous and a little more open to the unknown, so on my various trips throughout the country I’m always looking for something that I can’t get at home, particularly when it comes to restaurants.  I didn’t figure I’d find anything too odd in Paris, Tennessee, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Each day on the way from the hotel to the ramp I passed Beck’s Oyster Bar and Grill and the affiliated Sinclair’s Fish and Seafood. 

It was the fish store that caught my attention first.  It’s not every day that you see the piscatorial holy trinity of paddlefish, buffalo and catfish advertised.  I’d already eaten catfish for dinner on consecutive nights up the road at Seaton’s, but never having seen paddlefish or buffalo on a menu I had to see what this was all about.

Fortunately, my good friend, outdoor writer Alan Clemons was also in Paris and has an adventurous streak similar to my own, so it wasn’t hard to convince him to go.  I made the overture on the premise that we could talk shop, but it really wouldn’t have taken even that much arm-twisting to get him there.  So after Friday night’s weigh-in, we wrote our stories and headed over to Beck’s, where we were disappointed to find no paddlefish or buffalo on the menu.  Still, thanks to the encouragement of a very friendly waitress, we embarked on a tour of the menu that I labeled the “bottom feeder sampler.”

We each had a catfish dinner (for the record, he had 2 fillets and I only had one) and we split the following:

When all of that didn’t do the trick, we got a couple more pairs of frogs legs (and yes, for the record, they did taste like chicken).  Alan, whose comparatively small stomach hides his immense appetite, added a dozen oysters to his tally. There were also a few beers and some sweet tea to wash it down.

As we were getting ready to leave (the wait-staff’s completion of their sweeping, mopping and cleaning duties was a clue), Becky Sinclair, the owner of the joint, stopped by to chat with us.  This gave us the opportunity to quiz her about the species that were not on the menu.  Buffalo, she told us, are prized for their ribs. It’s a flaky white meat (“like coconut meat,” she said) that falls off the bones.  The paddlefish, on the other hand, aren’t valued so much for their meat as they are for their eggs – aka, caviar.  Her husband Richard has one of the few commercial paddlefish licenses on Kentucky Lake and apparently the grueling work (getting the eggs out and cleaning them up is a labor-intensive affair) is worth it, because they can get about a hundred bucks a pound for them.  They export them to Russia through a broker.  A regular Paris to Moscow pipeline, if you will.

I’ll be back and next time I’m not leaving until they feed me the really weird stuff.

If A Tree Fell In the Woods . . .

June 16, 2009

Today’s quote of the day comes from Technorati chief executive Richard Jalichandra, as reported in the New York Times business section:

“There’s a joke in the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.”

I hope I’m in the minority.

Gas Served Two Ways

June 12, 2009

While driving from Wal-Mart back to my hotel last week in Paris, Tennessee, I noticed the aptly named "Service Station BBQ" -- as the name suggests, it used to be a gas station, now it's a restaurant.  Every time I drive to Buggs Island lake here in Virginia, I pass by a church that used to be an IHOP, so very llittle surprises me anymore.
Headed in the other direction from my hotel, toward the launch site, I passed Trolinger's, another "BarBQ" (note the different spelling) establishment.  Unlike Service Station, they didn't have anything expressly about petroleum products in their name, but they did in fact have a gas station attached.


Musings on the World of Professional Bass Fishing

June 11, 2009

• Now that OJ is in jail, is there anyone out there committed to finding the Alphabet Killer?

• When they film a biopic about the life of Aaron Martens (tentatively titled either “The Scrounger Kid” or “Dude, Where’s My Boat?”) I really hope they get Michael Cera to play the lead.  If they can’t find a role for that McLovin kid, I hope they take some artistic liberties and make one up.

• Last week in Tennessee someone pointed out to me that when lightning is crashing down around the tournament waters, Jason Quinn removes all of his earrings.

• What do you think Tony Christian is doing right now?

• Don’t look now but Todd Faircloth is in 5th in the Angler of the Year standings.  There has been so much attention focused on KVD and Skeet that some of the other superstars of the sport have been neglected.  It probably doesn’t help Todd’s media machine that he’s so soft-spoken and matter-of-fact.

• Regardless of what you think of affirmative action as a general principle, I think they should reserve at least one spot on the Elite Series every year for a New Englander, just for the accents.  Go back and read “Bass Wars” by Nick Taylor and you’ll be reminded of the shockwaves that hit the likes of Hank Parker when they first heard Danny Correia’s voice. Now he have Mark Burgess from Massachusetts, whose accent reminds me of one of the Kennedy clan.  I keep on expecting him to say “Ich bin ein bassmaster.”

• With all of the big electronics on the boats today, I’m going to find out who makes the RAM mounts and invest in them.  The side-imaging and HD units may be great, but they’re useless if they’re at the bottom of the lake and everyone seems to rely on the RAM.  It’s like the Mitch Hedberg joke: “The belt holds up the pants but the belt loops hold up the belt.  Who’s the real hero?”

• Who would you rather share a fishing spot with, Kevin Langill or that Lebron James puppet from the Nike commercials?

Places and Faces

June 10, 2009

I’ve always had an odd obsession with names of towns, people and teams with names that are a little bit off-the-wall.  In sports, I’ve had a good laugh over major league baseball players Coco Crisp and Milton Bradley, former NBA star World B. Free and my personal favorite, a Cleveland Brown wide receiver from the early 1970s named Fair Hooker.  My favorite team name of all time is the University of California at Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys and Delta State Fighting Okra are also high on the honor roll.

But for some reason team names and human names (remember basketball player Scientific Mapp and his broth Majestic Mapp? What about God Shammgod?) don’t strike me as quite as entertaining as place names.  A long-time favorite is Hooksett, NH (damn New Englanders can’t spell, but they know how to name a town.  This spring while driving from Houston to Zapata, Texas, we passed through the town of Bigfoot. 

I added a new one to my personal Mt. Rushmore of towns last Tuesday while driving from Nashville to Kentucky Lake.  I just about spit out my drink when I saw the exit for Bucksnort, Tennessee. 

All week long the Elite Series anglers have been talking about how good the angling is in New Johnsonville.  I once asked a girl on a first date if she wanted to check out New Johnsonville and she slapped me silly.

Would This Make Me Starsky or Hutch?

June 8, 2009

I’ve never been much of a car guy. As long as my vehicle will get me from Point A to Point B (and in recent years as long as it’ll tow my boat and hold all of the tackle and crap that I accumulate on road trips), I’m happy without a lot of bling, gadgets or technical superiority. Some people would rather spend their money on a Benz or a Corvette -- I like crankbaits, and lots of ‘em. Besides, if I got a fancy, shiny car, the first scratch or romp through the mud would just about kill me (and where would the dogs ride?)

But while driving from my hotel to the launch site every day last week in Paris, Tennessee, I spotted this 1973 beauty. Not being a car guy, I assumed it was an El Camino, until I got home and googled it – found out that Chevy, not Ford, made the EC, so a little more sleuthing determined that this was a Ranchero.

I guess there’s something of a little cult around these pickup/passenger-car hybrids. When I was in Tokyo a few years back, my friend Daisuke “Dodge” Katayama (the self-proclaimed “number one heavy metal and country music fan in all of Japan”) told me that he had previously owned an El Camino, which I assume is even rarer in Japan than it is in the US (and certainly rarer than it is in Tennessee). But when his wife gave birth to their first son they made the executive decision to trade in his vehicle. “They” decided that a minivan would suit their needs better.

Anyway, I have no need for another car – I tow with an Avalanche, my wife has a Blazer, and we have a beater 1994 Maxima that I use as a grocery getter – but this little Ranchero caught my attention. At $3,995 (or less, depending on my bargaining skills) it seemed like the steal of the century. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, when I finally stopped at the used car lot my last day in Paris they were closed so no deal could be struck.

I think the red-headed wife would have killed me if instead of taking the plane home from Nashville I had dropped a few grand and tooled back up Interstate 40 to Virginia in this early 70s beauty. The Ranchero was already equipped with a trailer hitch – with my luck, I would have come across a used Cajun Ricky Green Fishin’ Machine or an old 17’ Winner bass boat with a Force outboard and dropped even more cash. But if I go back to Kentucky Lake next year and it’s still sitting there (and if it starts – a big “if”), I might have to pull the trigger.

Paris and Pickwick

June 4,2009

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Paris, Tennessee, the sixth stop on this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series trail. Technically, this tournament is called the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph. I have not yet bothered to look up what SpongeTech sells or services, but regardless, I think the subtitle for this Kentucky Lake tournament should be “Are you sponge-worthy?” No one asked me my opinion on that one, but I’m starting to think that in these difficult economic times some of these organizations would do well to put a marketing genius like myself on the payroll.

This is the 2nd of three Elite Series events I’ll be working this year (check out my daily stories on www.bassmaster.com – shameless plug). The first was at Smith Mountain Lake and the last will be at Oneida Lake in New York.

Because I work a regular job on top of my writing business, I try to cover the events that require me to use a minimum of vacation time. That means something where I can leave after work and either drive to the site or fly directly and then add a short drive. This looked like a reasonable candidate. I could catch a 7:20 flight after work on Tuesday, arrive in Nashville two hours later (gaining an hour due to the different time zones) then make the two hour drive to Paris. I probably wouldn’t arrive until 11, but that didn't seem unreasonable.

Unfortunately, those well-timed plans just didn’t work out. The flight that was supposed to leave at 7:20 sat on the runway for well over two hours. About every five minutes, I mentally recalculated my ETA in my head. “OK, if we leave now I’ll be at the hotel by midnight.” “…by 12:30,” etc.

We landed in Nashvegas around 10:30 and by the time I got my luggage, picked up the rental car (a dashing gold Chevy HHR) and drove the 120+ miles to Paris (one bonus of the late arrival: no traffic), it was 1:30 a.m. With a 4:30 wake-up call to get to the launch on time to gather some recon, I was going to be in a pissy mood.

But then something small happened that perked me up a bit. I saw a sign for the Natchez Trace Parkway. Road signs typically don’t do much for me, but this one jarred a cool memory. It was almost exactly ten years ago (late June of 1999) that I drove the Natchez Trace for the first and only time, en route to pick up a boat at Pickwick Lake. I remember driving on fumes that time, too, leaving my house at 3:00 a.m. to make a drive that I remember being somewhere between 12 and 14 hours. Despite a terrible traffic jam in east Tennessee and one missed turn somewhere outside of Nashville, I was charged up and excited all day long. All over a fricking boat.

On the way down, I listened to a book on tape (or CD). I distinctly remember that it was “A Man in Full” by Tom Wolfe. How do I remember? It was the only audio book I’ve ever listened to. I guess getting XM Radio a few years later meant I didn’t need to do “no more book learnin’” but maybe it’s something I should try again. Anyway, by the time I hit the Natchez Trace, the early summer weather was so perfect, the ride so beautiful, that I turned off the audio and just enjoyed the miles.

That memory put me in a good mood again, helped me cruise the rest of the way to the hotel with a smile on my face. I kept that boat for almost seven years and it was very good to me, bailed me out of some tough jams, but to use a terrible cliché, maybe the journey mattered as much as the destination.

To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, I’ll always have Pickwick.

Recessionista Rods

June 1, 2009

Skeet Reese made some news in recent days by announcing that he had parted ways with longtime sponsor Lamiglas and signed with Eagle Claw. This was newsworthy in my neck of the woods for several reasons:

  1. It’s Skeet Reese, reigning Bassmaster Classic champion and one year removed from an AOY title;

  2. There’s not much going on in the fishing world right now; and

  3. It’s Eagle Claw, for crying out loud.

I’m not knocking the folks at Wright and McGill, by any stretch of the imagination. They’ve been around the block a few times and make some useful products, but fairly or not, I don’t know anyone who has considered them to be a manufacturer of high-end bass rods in recent years. I haven’t used their sticks myself, so it would be wrong for me to judge their rods on that basis alone, but I have to assume that if there was something unique about them I’d have heard about it from someone.

A quick glance at their website reveals that they do sponsor a number of tour-level pros, although it’s not clear from the site which of them use only their terminal tackle and who uses the rods, too. For example, I see Gerald Swindle and Shaw Grigsby listed, and I know both of them are affiliated with Quantum, too, so I’m guessing they’re “hooks-only” pro-staffers.

I talked to Terry Battisti last week after he interviewed Skeet for an article about the deal for the PAA website (www.fishpaa.com). Like me, he’d assumed going into the interview that it was a marriage of convenience – Skeet needed a new deal for some reason, Eagle Claw wanted to make a splash and both of them could tickle their financial funny bone by consummating the deal. But after conducting the interview, Terry was intrigued. Skeet’s explanation had gone beyond economics and had passed Terry’s sniff test.

We all know that there are pros out there who don’t use their sponsors’ products, or use them only sparingly. I’ve gotten in the boat with one superstar who had rods that clearly were not made by someone who paid him a lot of money to use their rods --- strike that, to endorse their rods. He admitted as much, gave me his rationale and asked me not to write about them. But with the advent of the Marshall program, TiVo and all sorts of other truth-forcing events, the pros’ equipment gets more scrutiny these days than the Zapruder film. I’m pretty sure Skeet will be using the EC sticks, especially since they’re likely to be yellow, or have yellow accents, and there aren’t a lot of other rods out there with that sort of color scheme.

In an email exchange between me, Terry and fellow writer Alan Clemons later in the week, Alan suggested that the pairing of Skeet and EC may be exceptionally savvy because it may attract two distinct demographic groups – the older guys who remember when EC was a superstar of the angling industry and the younger anglers who are drawn to the Classic champion like moths to a blonde-headed flame. Two birds, one stone.

The final element about this that makes it newsworthy is that the rods will be priced under a hundred bucks. While the $89-99 suggested price tag per rod is still nothing to sneeze at, especially in tough economic times, it’s substantially cheaper than the $150-200 window that has become the norm for near-enthusiast level performance.

For a hundred and fifty bucks, just about every respected manufacturer makes a stick these days with bells and whistles (e.g., split grip handle) that would only have been available from a custom builder less than a decade ago. What I extrapolate from that is that the next set of rods down the lineup are probably the functional equivalent of the poles that we raved about at the beginning of this decade, the ones that caught tons of fish and left us pretty damn satisfied. In fact, Bassmaster magazine recently had an article reviewing rods in the $70 and under category and found that there are some great buys there, too.

So what do Skeet and EC accomplish by pricing these new rods at a price point below what the market has shown it will bear?

One, it will likely draw in some customers who might not otherwise take the leap. Some of those customers might be older and long for the days when $19.95 bought the best rod in the store. Some of them might be younger (teens and up) and have less means than they’ll have in a decade or two.

The second reason might be a matter of simple economics: If you sell six rods at $90 each, you may pocket more than if you sell three at $150 each.

Finally, I wonder if there’s an image component involved in this. Skeet is not known to throw temper tantrums or insult fans, and I’m sure he signs thousands of autographs each year, but at the same time he doesn’t fit the old-school demographic – not southern, likes hip-hop, wears yellow, varies his hairstyle and speaks his mind.

When he first came on the national scene I remember that some of the competition referred to him derogatorily as “Hollywood.” I’m sure they called him worse names, too. So does he get the good guy seal of approval by taking this step? The analogy that pops into my mind is that of NBA player Stephon Marbury, regarded by some as a flashy, selfish- me-first ballplayer. In 2006, Marbury launched the “Starbury” brand of basketball shoes, available for $14.98. He said that this would give kids who couldn’t afford the hundred dollar plus shoes a chance to have a top-quality product for a fraction of the price. At a time when children were reportedly getting attacked or shot over shoes, it was hailed by Oprah and the like as an exceptionally altruistic move. While Marbury’s image has taken hits since then for other, unrelated reasons, there’s no doubt this one was a winner, regardless of his motivation.

I’m not sure we’ll see a Skeet Reese rod for $14.98 in the future --- especially since the Lucky Craft crankbaits he endorses typically cost that much – but assuming the rods turn out to be serviceable, the move to Eagle Claw seems to savvy for a lot of different reasons.

Quotes for the Week

May 29, 2009

Two quotes I liked from my interviews this week, but ended up not using in the articles:

 "I hope to stay around for years to come and get Guy Eaker status."

--Greg Vinson, Elite Series rookie

"You can take it to the bank on this one.  If you put 1240a flashers in everybody's boat and gave them a topo map, 80 percent of the field couldn't catch them."

--Kevin Wirth, talking about how modern electronics have made it easier to learn to fish offshore.

Pay to Play?

May 21, 2009

I went to the local Borders book store during my lunch break today and made a beeline for the fishing magazines, as I always do.  There aren’t many good ones that I don’t get and the number seems to be shrinking all the time anyway, but I still can’t help but look.  One item that caught my attention was the Bass Pro Shops “Bass Book,” not an informational magazine, but rather the same catalog that seems to show up at the house every few months. List price: five bucks.  Who is buying this when you can get the catalog for free just by calling? It’s all online anyway, right? What am I missing?