Last Updated on Friday, 22 August 2014 05:10
August 22, 2014
Dribs and drabs of information about the 2015 Elite Series scheduled have filtered out to the press. Some of the longstanding rumors have been confirmed, others have been modified and still others have yet to be confirmed or denied. We know for a fact that BASS will go to the Upper Chesapeake as well as make a western swing to Lake Havasu and to the California Delta.
Based on what I saw in Philly, I’d love for BASS to visit 8 or 9 completely new venues, but for a variety of reasons that’s probably not practical. I know that many of the Elites are already concerned about the amount of truck gas they’ll chew up next year. Still, I can’t help but be excited about the Havasu event. It’s not truly new – BASS has been there three times before, but the last time they visited was for the 2003 Western Open. Arizona pro Josh Bertrand, who may be a stick there, was ineligible to fish that tournament because he had just turned 15 two days before the tournament started.
Eight current Elites participated in that event, with Clifford Pirch finishing the best out of all of them, in 2nd place. Five years earlier, nine current Elites fished a BASS Western Invitational there, and Skeet Reese was the best finisher of the bunch, ending up 4th. Nine years before that, eight current Elites fished the Arizona Invitational , with Clunn coming out on top of the others in 8th at event’s end.
While the current Elites who fished the 2003 and 1998 events were all originally from the West (except for Kota Kiriayama and Yusuke Miyazaki, who are both originally from Japan), Gary Klein was the only nomimal westerner who fished the 1989 tournament. The three winners of the BASS Havasu events, Jack Gadladge, Mike Baldwin and Ted Miller, last fished BASS events in 2005, 2003 and 1992, respectively.
I’m sure many of the western Elites have fished it outside of competition, but this would seem to me to be one of the more even battles, especially for those who’ve only been there once, because previous BASS events were held in November and January. Of course Dean Rojas, who lives spitting distance from the lake, would seem to be a pre-tournament favorite, but he didn’t dominate in the 1998 and 2003 tournaments, fishing 43rd and 20th. Based on what little I know about the fishery, it wouldn’t seem to set up for some of his strengths, but I’m willing to be surprised. No matter what, it’s the one event I’ll have circled on my calendar in a darker shade of ink than all the others.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 04:12
August 19, 2014
I can’t let August go by without writing about an important milestone in my career as an outdoor writer. Ten years ago this month, I was writing (for free) for my Federation’s website, maybe churning out one short article a month, and now I’m fortunate enough to write for outlets like Bassmaster. It all happened because I got frustrated writing (for free) for my Federation newsletter and decided that if I was going to continue to do that I had to see some sort of benefit out of it. I decided to ask for a press pass to ride in a competitor’s boat during the 2004 Bassmaster Classic. At the time, there was no formal observer program and little did I know that most members of the media would rather saw off a finger than sit and watch someone fish in crappy weather for eight hours. When I was approved for a media pass, I figured I’d summited some sort of professional mountain.
Then I was confronted with the list of the anglers who still had open spaces. I’d previously fished with Chad Brauer several times, so I opted to ride with him on the official practice day as an ice-breaker [Memo to self: never ride with someone on practice day. It’s worse than watching someone fish a tournament, with no offense meant to Chad]. For the first day of the tournament, I was given several options, but eventually narrowed it down to Tommy Biffle and Aaron Martens. For no real reason, I settled upon Martens. Biffle went on to have a good first day, but AMart, you may recall, burned about 3 ounces of gas and sat under the Buster Boyd Bridge using all manners of oddball lures – horsey heads, mini-swimbaits, hair jigs, stuff like that. But for a last minute fish by Takahiro (the famous “I knew it” five-pounder), Aaron would’ve won.
When I got home, I realized that I was sitting on a story with a wider potential interest than just my Federation website, so I cold-emailed Jon Storm, then the editor of Bass West, with a draft of my article, which he bought. That would be my first published articles in one of the glossy mags. Before it was published, though, Jon decamped for BassFan (I remember his parting words to me: “It’ll probably get published. I hope you eventually get paid.” It did and I did.) A few months later he called me with a question about something he was writing for BassFan. After that, I hounded him relentlessly for writing opportunities and he gave me an ever-increasing number of them.
One of the BassFan assignments was the briefly-lived “On Tour With Lucky Craft” column, through which I met industry mover and shaker Doug Cox. The column went away, but I continued to pester Cox for work with his clients. Cox and Steve Bowman (from JM/BASS) subsequently produced a coffee table book chronicling the first year of the Elite Series. A year or so later, Steve asked Doug if he knew anyone who could help him cover an Elite Series event on the Potomac. I’m sure Doug’s response was something along the lines of “Well there’s this guy who keeps on pestering me....” Now, about eight million words with BASS later, here I am.
That day in the boat with AMart seems like a million years ago, but at the same time it also seems like I wrote the article yesterday. I can still remember specific pictures and word sequences from it. On the one hand, I’m grizzled, and every conversation with a pro doesn’t excite me the way it once did. In fact, I dread some of them. On the other hand, just about every day there’s something I want to write about. I hope it stays that way forever. I’m not going to denigrate all of the hours and effort I’ve put in – at some time while you’ve been watching Monday Night Football or working on tackle, I’ve been sitting over a computer in complete brain-lock – but as I write down all of the steps and coincidences that it took to get me to this point, I’m amazed at how fortunate I’ve been.
August 15, 2014
Hometown victories are nothing new in pro bass fishing – off the top of my head I can remember tournaments where Scott Rook, George Cochran and Tommy Biffle won while sleeping in their own beds each evening. Robert Lee did it about 57 times on the Cal Delta. But none of them won in Philly, so none got quite the raucous hero’s welcome that Mike Iaconelli received this past week as he demonstrated a mastery of the Delaware River. Even if Jason Christie had won the Grand Lake Classic last year, the public celebration would’ve been a polite “golf clap” compared to the deafening chants that greeted Ike.
Ike said it was particularly special and gratifying to win at home. So did Ott Defoe, who received a slightly less ear-piercing cheer when he won at Douglas earlier this year. I wonder, though, whether the “specialness” is not just a factor of claiming the trophy in front of friends and family, but also a huge sigh of relief. After all, for every pro I named above who has gotten the job done, there have been plenty of highly-qualified local pre-tournament favorites who crashed and burned when the tournament started. Maybe they succumbed to the pressure. Maybe they fished history. Maybe they took a major league gamble. No matter what the reason, it seems like the local boys are just as likely to finish 90th as they are to win.
The Delaware’s tides may have enhanced Ike’s advantage, but either way he closed it out like a pre-meltdown Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams. Not as easy as it sounds, and far better than feeling like you missed the best chance of your career for another win. He hadn’t won a regular season Elite Series tournament in over eight years – the temptation to push too hard would’ve been hard to resist, and the disappointment of not capitalizing might’ve been crushing.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 04:11
August 13, 2014
This past week’s Elite Series event on the Delaware River threw some of the pros for a loop, not only because it was a new and comparatively stingy venue, but also because of the extreme tidal swings. Depending on who you listen to, the difference between high and low tide on that stretch of the river is somewhere between 6 and 8 feet. According to BASS blogger Steve Wright, the effects of the tide were increased by the “perigree moon,” which meant that this past weekend the moon was closer to the earth than it had been in 20 years. In turn, that meant low tide could be up to 30 percent lower than normal.
Believe me, we felt it. As my boat driver tried to extract us from Rancocas Creek on a low incoming tide, we bounced over cover, dug through mud flats and had to reverse course several times in order to make headway. Fortunately, we did not have to swim, wade, push or sink up to our waists in mud. Been there, done that, usually not fun, even if leeches don’t make an appearance.
While the tide can be a pain in the butt, the corollary to that pain is the fact that it makes the fish predictable. They go certain places at certain times, and you can plan to be on your best water at the best time, which in this part of the country usually means low outgoing tide. As the strength of the movement increases, so too does it make the fish more tide sensitive. For example, here in Virginia it flows harder on the Pamunkey than it does on the James, and harder on the James than it does on the Potomac. By the transitive theory, the bass on the Pamunkey usually bite less (for me at least) on the “off” tide and those on the Potomac have a little bit more flexibility. The effect on the Delaware was even more pronounced. Scott Rook reported catching a dozen or so fish in quick order one morning, then went 6 hours without a bite, even though he knew there were more.
We could try to test my theory to the extremes, but the highest tidal range in the US (12.2 meters) is in Anchorage, Alaska, the only state without bass. The greatest swing in the world is in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. The difference there between high and low is 16.3 meters – if you’re metrically-challenged like me, that’s over 53 feet, more than the length of two bass boats. While there are stripers in the Bay of Fundy, it appears there are no largemouths or smallmouths. That’s too bad because it would certainly be a new venue for any professional tour, and I’m all about new challenges for the best in the world.
Last Updated on Thursday, 07 August 2014 06:37
August 7, 2014
There’s been a fair amount of coverage of Shin Fukae’s win at the Bassmaster Open on Lake Champlain, but I’ve yet to see one important point made: Fukae’s victory, completed on Saturday, August 2, 2014, came pretty darn close to being exactly 10 years after Takahiro Omori’s Classic victory, which Tak closed out on Sunday, August 1, 2004.
I don’t know if there’s any grand karmic reason for that symmetry, but it somehow seems significant to me, at least symbolically. Ten years ago, when Tak won the Classic, he and BASS were criticized for placing a Japanese flag in his boat during his victory lap. Besides the fact that it can’t truly be a “World Championship” if you limit it to one country, the anger seemed to be born not of some reasonable objection, but rather out of pure xenophobic anger – the idea that one of “them” had taken what was rightfully “ours.”
Slightly over 11 years before Tak’s Classic win, Norio Tanabe became the first Japanese angler to win a Bassmaster event. In fact he was the first angler from outside the United States to win one. At the time, he and his countrymen were viewed as something of a curiosity. Going back to Nick Taylor’s 1980s book “Bass Wars,” the few Japanese pros who dared to come over and fish US professional events were portrayed as timid and out of their element. He quoted Jimmy Houston as telling those pros at the 2006 US Open who were paired with Japanese anglers to watch out because “they’re liable to dive in your live well and eat your fish for lunch.” It probably wasn’t mean-spirited, but it showed that their presence was still a complete novelty.
Working with those four snapshots in time – 1986, 1993, 2004 and 2014 – I have to wonder where bass fishing stands today on inclusivity. I suppose I should take the fact that no one saw any connection between Tak’s win and Shin’s win as a sign that they’re no longer lumped into the “anomaly” or “novelty” category by bass fishing fans. Indeed, they are very different fishermen, despite the fact that they both drive Rangers, have both enjoyed the personal and professional support of Gary Yamamoto, and both get their mail delivered to Texas. One fishes the FLW Tour (at least for now) and the other fishes the Elite Series. One is a longtime bachelor while the other depends on the assistance of his devoted wife. One is known as a power fisherman while the other is a finesse guru. One didn’t start his fishing career, or really learn to fish, until he came to the US, while the other had a sterling career as an angler in Japan before he made the move.
I can’t help but wonder how hard it is to for foreigners to establish a toehold in a sport that often seems unwelcoming to outsiders of all stripes. Am I correct in my perception that Shin’s Japanese nationality is no longer such a big deal to the bass masses, or is the prejudice just better hidden? Shortly after Manabu Kurita tied the world-record largemouth, I ran into a major industry figure in an airport, someone who I’d only met once or twice before. He proceeded to rue that fact that “that Jap” had caught a record fish. You could say that was a one-off experience, but at last year’s Classic, while weighing in his fish one competitor referred to his friend’s “gay” shirt. At an Elite Series event later in the year, another angler made mocking use of a Pakistani accent. As far as I could tell, no eyebrows were raised, no concerned statements issued by the brass. Maybe the bigotry and xenophobia that I perceive on occasion does not occur at higher levels than it does in other sports or other segments of society. Perhaps it does, though. The secrecy of the endeavor makes us unwelcoming in many cases to start with, and if you throw in other prejudices, the opportunities to “grow the sport” (choke, gag, hate the term) seem to dwindle by the minute. The nice thing about tournament fishing – for green bass, brown bass or something else – is that they really don’t care what you look like or where you’re from. The scale is all that matters. Unfortunately, making it in this game is more than just putting ‘em on the scale, and I’m afraid that if you don’t fit the mold, sometimes you still come into it with a strike against you. We’re probably moving in the right direction, but progress is awfully slow.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 August 2014 06:51
August 6, 2014
This week I wrote a piece for Bassmaster.com called “Just Shin, Baby!” in which I praised Shin Fukae as the smiling assassin of the bass world. Along the way, I made mention of Day Two leader Scott Siller, who struggled the third day of the Northern Open on Champlain and eventually fell behind a group of Hall of Famers.
My goal was to make clear that anglers like Shin, Dave Wolak, Aaron Martens and Mike Iaconelli are world-beaters, anywhere and everywhere that bass swim. I tried to emphasize that I didn’t know the first thing about Siller. Along the way, I may have gotten a little sloppy. In a paragraph about Shin/Wolak/Martens/Ike, I said that none of them was “a got-lucky-for two days jackleg.”
I was trying to say that all of them can manage three days of fish, but by putting that language so close to a paragraph about Siller – who had two exemplary days – it may have looked like I was calling him out. For that, I apologize. I struggled with whether a clarification was necessary or appropriate. Over the past decade, I have been on the receiving end of angry emails, phone calls and face-to-face accusations from numerous bass pros, most of them asserting that I’d treated them unfairly. I’ve become pretty immune to them. If I think I’m right, I’ll tell them so, or at least explain myself. My goal when I write is to be fair and accurate – and that means that sometimes I have to stand up for myself. It’s tough to do – I’m friends with some of them, so when I receive an angry text or message I worry that if I stand my ground I’ll be jeopardizing a friendship or a source. At the same time, one of my guiding lights as a writer has been a speech that Philip Seymour Hoffman (in character as Lester Bangs) gives to an aspiring writer in “Almost Famous”:
Oh man, you made friends with ‘em. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong….Because they make you feel cool, and hey, I met you. You are not cool….We are uncool. Women will always be a problem for guys like us, most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Good looking people they got no spine, their art never lasts. They get the girls but we’re smarter… Great art is about guilt and longing. Love disguised as sex and sex disguised as love. Let’s face, you got a big head start…. I’m always home, I’m uncool. …The only true currency is this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool. My advice to you, I know you think these guys are your friends, you want to be a true friend to ‘em, be honest and unmerciful.
Every time I read that (or, better yet, watch the movie), I become a flag waving zealot for unbendability. It makes me want to spit in the face of anyone who even dares to think that I should change a single word of anything I’ve penned. At the same time, when I reread some of my work, I just about always realize that something could have been better, or certainly clearer. And when I realize that I might have unintentionally belittled someone like Siller, who is out there competing against a virtual Mount Bassmore, it makes me realize that words can and do hurt when they’re imprecise.
The struggle as a writer, particularly when writing an op-ed, is to find a balance between uncool and unmerciful honesty and a reasonable amount of sensitivity. It’s not always easy. Proofreading helps, of course, but it’s not everything. Our sport has never had a writer who has really dug deep and been willing to address our collective failings, and maybe it’s high time for that, but you have to be careful how you get there. I think that much of good writing hurts someone by picking at scabs – whether they be on the writer or the subject – but sometimes the bandage has to be peeled off slowly and carefully.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2014 08:42
August 5, 2014
Do you remember the first day of middle school when you showed up wearing the same old color-matched Garanimals that had allowed you to blend in the previous year….and everyone else was wearing some new brand of designer jeans you’d never heard of? Maybe they were hideous peg-legged, acid-washed, super-stiff denim made by handicapped kids in third world countries, but you still wanted a pair. More than that, you wanted to know how everyone else knew about them. Was there some memo sent to every house on the block except yours? Did you miss that episode of “Saved by the Bell”? Why the hell were you so out of it?
I have a feeling that a lot of Elite Series pros feel that way at times. They get to the water, practice their hind ends off, figure something out, and then catch just enough to fall outside of the money cut. Meanwhile, it seems like select groups of others have been clued in to some garage shop bait that whacks the snot out of the fish on this lake and this lake only.
That’s how some of them must’ve felt when Jacob Wheeler and KVD used a freaking hair jig for part of their catches at Chickamauga. The hair jig is certainly not a secret. If you’re old enough, you probably remember AMart using one at the 2002 Classic on Lay Lake. If you’re really old like me, you probably even remember Bobby Padgett setting records with the hair jig back in 1996 on Eufaula. But unless I’m missing something, it’s not a lure most of the pros use regularly, or even consider regularly. Many of them probably don’t even own any.
So how does the certain contingent get clued into these little niche baits – whether it be a hair jig or a black Bandit crankbait or a particular topwater prop bait? I’m sure some of them have local contacts who key them in. I’m not implying that they get any info outside of the rules, just that they’re good networkers. On top of that, there are little cliques on tour, guys who help each other out and know that if they help certain friends they’ll get payback down the line. There are also pros who probably have encyclopedic memories, and can apply a particular oddball presentation to an appropriate new situation that arises. I’m guessing that last category is a distinct minority. Most of the time you hear about two or more pros “happening” upon something off the beaten path, it’s probably mostly the result of good networking and gladhanding.
It pays to eat lunch with the cool kids.
July 31, 2014
Clubber Lang may have pitied the fool, but you should pity my boat driver.
Next week I’ll be in Philadelphia to cover the Elite Series event on the Delaware River. As a no-fooling member of the Robbins crew, of course I have already checked out the dining options, with a special emphasis on the local grub. When in Zapata, you look for tacos. When in Philly, you’ve gotta get a grip on the cheesesteak.
Normally, I save the gutbusting meals for the evening and try to eat a little bit lighter (although not necessarily healthier) in the boat. After all, you don’t want to develop a case of the green apple quickstep (AKA, Randall Cunningham’s Revenge) and have to go to the bank, especially on an urban fishery where there may not be that much accessible, non-populated bank to utilize.
The need to stay in the boat often directly conflicts with the boredom factor. Even when the action is fast and furious, watching other people fish can be painful, and the only antidote is to eat and drink. On many occasions, I’ve downed my BASS-provided lunch at the Classic before 9am. With so many good cheesesteak options to try (Google “best Philadelphia cheesesteak” you’ll see that opinions are varied), and so little time in the boat, I’ll need to try them all in a condensed period of time.
While most cheesesteak freaks argue about what kind of cheese to use (whiz or no whiz? Look it up), a truly nontraditional option has piqued my interest – the Donut Cheesesteak Burger from PYT – a cheddar cheeseburger with Cheese Whiz and fried onions in between two halves of a glazed donut. In a little-known scientific phenomenon, the donut actually neutralizes the calories and grease, thus making the whole shebang the nutritional equivalent of a kale salad.
Upon further investigation, I learned that PYT has a number of other creative options, including the Eggo Monte Cristo Grilled Cheese, the Fried Chicken and Beer Burger, and the Hot Pocket Burger. The latter item includes “Deep-fried ‘Philly Cheese Steak’ Hot Pocket buns. Juicy PYT-blend beef patty topped with American cheese and truffle-drizzled wiz wit cheesesteak.’ Wow. They also have the TV Dinner Burger, which uses mashed potato cakes for buns. Obviously, it wouldn’t be legit without gravy. At this point, I think I might have to stay a week. Screw Bob Swerski’s Superfans – the good people of Philadelphia might rival them in the heart attack category.
No wonder they booed Santa Claus – it’s tough to remain humble and thankful when your city offers you culinary gifts like these 365 days a year.
July 29, 2014
Pictured above are two guys who know a little bit about crankbaits. On the left is Lee Sisson, who built his name through Bagley’s, although over the course of four decades he’s worked with just about every hard bait manufacturer under the sun. By his own description, as a lineman at Louisiana Tech back before most of you were born, he “taught Terry Bradshaw how to scramble,” too. On the right is Phil Hunt, owner and mastermind behind PH Custom Lures.
I got to know Lee a few springs ago while “researching” an article called “The Baron of Balsa” for Boat US Angler magazine. At about that same time, Elite Series crankbait fiend Bill Lowen introduced me to Hunt. It’s Hunt’s Crazy Ace topwater in the mouth of that big bass.
When I met them each independently, I had no idea that they would eventually collaborate on some projects together, although I guess I should have. As plastic increasingly takes away balsa’s share in the hard bait market, the woodcutters have to stick together. If they don’t, there may someday come a time when you have to go to a lure collectors’ convention or search ebay to find some old school “hunting” cranks. The really cool part, as far as I’m concerned, is that Sisson understood all of this, and didn’t want his knowledge to be lost, so he actively looked for someone to mentor who could keep the tradition going. When we fished together, he mentioned one potential candidate who he didn’t feel was fully committed to the process, so he was continuing to look. By the time he found Hunt, the latter luremaker was hardly a novice, but Sisson knew he’d found a like spirit, someone he could trust to keep the fires burning, a craftsman who knows that in some cases it is the wood that makes it good.
July 24, 2014
I’ve previously written about “ICAST Creep”, the phenomenon in which each year the introduction of new tackle to the media moves forward in the calendar, far in advance of the show.
This year we may have seen the corollary to that concept for the first time in Ben Parker’s Magnum Spoon. If he’d introduced the spoon to the world in February, at the Classic, every other manufacturer from Seattle to Shanghai would’ve had time to copy it, but because it emerged during the Tennessee River lovefests of May and June, it caught everyone else by surprise – no time to call up the factory and knock it off.
I don’t think that was intentional on the part of the innovators – just a matter of happenstance and inadvertent timing – but it might provide a lesson to marketers going forward. In other words, if you don’t want to be one of many manufacturers at ICAST with some riff upon the latest and greatest “revolutionary” product, it might pay not to spill the beans too far in advance. I’m sure that many other companies will flatten hubcaps and license plates and make spoons of their own, but right now Parker/Nichols have the market cornered and they can pretty much name their price.