September 2, 2014
There’s a fun article by Louie Stout in the new issue of Bassmaster called “The Intimidators: 10 Great Fisheries That Should Scare You.” I’ve spent many hours in a bass boat, in everything from glass-calm conditions to waves that would make Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet forget about the thrill of oceanic romance, and the further in the rearview mirror that my twenties move, the more I prefer the former.
While I expected to see Champlain and the Great Lakes on Stout’s list, I was slightly surprised to see my home waters, the Potomac River, at number two. I say surprised because while the Potomac has clearly shortened the life of some of my vertebrae, it doesn’t regularly produce the kind of tanker-sinking monster waves that some of the big bowls show off on regular occasions. After all, it’s just a river. Can’t you hide in the creeks or run the protected side?
Well, you can, but you can’t, either.
As Stout quoted Denny Brauer as stating, “When the wind blows against the tide, the waves really stack up, and you can’t get a rhythm and wind up spearing them.”
Having been there, done that, yes I’m man enough to admit that there have been a few times over the past 20 years that my bilge pump has come in handy. There’s nothing quite so deflating as zigging and sagging, popping and topping along for five miles, only to misjudge one and fill the boat with river water. You know it’s going to happen, too – as you come off that last one a bit too fast, you see yourself falling into the next wall. If you’re lucky, you’ll just clip a bit of spray. If you’re not, you’ll knock the wind out of yourself. Fortunately I’ve never been so unlucky (or so unnecessarily brave) as to knock off a trolling motor.
Someday, if all goes well, I will live on a lake that makes Louie’s next top ten list – something like “places that are always glass calm and where limits come easy.” Then again, if he ever compiles such a list, I hope that he doesn’t publish it, but sends me an encrypted version for my own use. My spine will thank him profusely.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 10:00
August 27, 2014
On the Sunday night of this year’s Bassmaster Classic, perhaps six or eight hours after Randy Howell received the trophy, one intrepid member of the media kept working at the Birmingham Sheraton bar. He had a pocket video camera and was going around asking various pros a series of harmless but goofy questions.
The answers, many of which are unprintable here, would likely be inadmissible anyway for alcohol-based reasons, but in general they were all over the place…except for the answers given to one question.
When asked which other Elite Series pro they’d like to have with them on a desert island, without missing a beat nine out of ten answered “Greg Hackney.”
They probably didn’t answer that way on the basis of his good looks or his knowledge of show tunes. Rather, to a man, they said he’d be able to forage for sustenance. He’d sneak up on something tasty, kill it, and grill it over an open flame.
Not one hundred percent sure why I’m repeating that anecdote here except to say that the dude is a badass. Still, we don’t really know much about him – even for a bass geek like me, I know little about his family life, his background before he became a bass pro, etc. He’s a serious bass ninja but assuming he closes the door on the AOY, we’re going to delve into every nook and cranny of his memory. He’ll be happy if he wins the title, but after a few months of intense scrutiny, he may wish for that desert island after all.
Last Updated on Monday, 25 August 2014 08:47
August 25, 2014
Maybe as I get further and further away from my comparatively careless/naïve 20s, I’m just more sensitive to it, but it seems to me that each year we have an increasing number of fatal or near-fatal bass boat accidents. I’m sure that there are a number of factors contributing to this, including: (1) the horsepower race, where everyone and his Uncle Leroy feels they have to have a 250 horsepower beat; (2) the increasing prevalence of the internet and social media, which enable word to spread more quickly, and (3) the glorification of fast rides and busting through 8-footers at full throttle, via the tournament circuits. Certainly the influence of those factors varies from crash to crash, and in some cases they may not play a role at all, but I’m sure that in most of them they have at least an indirect impact.
Even if the number is not increasing, the images of them – via social media, GoPro cameras, etc. – seem to be greater in number, and that etches the gory ones in our mind. Earlier this summer there was a bad accident here in Virginia on Smith Mountain Lake. More recently there was one of California’s El Capitan. Many of us will never forget the video of a BFL boater running an Okeechobee boat trail before coming nose-to-nose with another bass boat, with ugly results.
To be quite honest, I’m surprised that there aren’t more of these accidents. You don’t need any sort of training or license to buy a powerful bass boat, just half-decent credit. They don’t have brakes and there are no painted lanes on the water to keep you in a particular spot. We’ve all had near misses – a broken hot foot spring or an encounter with a drunk pleasure boater – that should give us pause. Similarly, most of us who’ve been around the game for a while can recall someone who swamped their tub, hit a big rock, or got sideswiped by a little old lady in a Buick on the highway.
I’ve had the new boat up to nearly 80 miles per hour, but for a variety of reasons I tend to spend much more time around 40 than I do above 65. Nothing worse than the sound of fiberglass crunching except, of course, bones getting snapped.
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.