Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part I)
By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson
On a warm summer’s day, as you sit in your boat and hopefully hook a bass or two, it’s easy to forget that bass fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry.
One minute at the Bassmaster Classic Expo will be all it takes to remind you of that fact.
I am on a pilgrimage to the Super Bowl of the sport, the Bassmaster Classic, held from February 17th through the 20th, 2011 in the historic city of New Orleans. Not only would this be my first Bassmaster Classic, but it would also be my first Bassmaster Classic Expo, the enormous exhibition of all things bass held at the New Orleans Convention Center.
Along the way, I hope to better understand the sport of bass fishing, and more importantly, the bass fishing tackle industry. What is the mood of the average bass angler? Are they optimistic about the future? How about the vendors?
I am looking at this as a unique opportunity to gauge the state of professional bass fishing. But I’m also looking forward to having a lot of fun.
As a history professor and publisher of fishing history books, I fear I will be out of my element in this world of bass. And even though I prepare myself as best I can, it turns out nothing can adequately get you ready for your first Bassmaster Classic experience.
It doesn’t take long to discover exactly how over my head I am in this brave new world of bass. In fact, I realize it before I ever get to New Orleans.
PART I: THE LONG DAY’S JOURNEY
Glen Lau has forgotten more about big bass than most people will learn in a dozen lifetimes. It’s Thursday afternoon and I am standing on the Bassmaster Classic Exposition floor next to Glen, an imposing figure who has been deeply involved in the bass fishing world since he first burst on to the scene in the 1950s as a noted Lake Erie fishing guide.
In the ensuing years he has made his mark as a tournament angler, underwater photographer, filmmaker, tackle manufacturer, and television producer. Many people know him best from the movie Bigmouth, which he filmed and produced in 1974 and had narrated by Emmy Award winning actor and director Rod Serling.
He’s here to launch his new book Bass Forever, which I’ve published through my company The Whitefish Press.
I’ve just driven 1000 miles alone with a truckload of books for the booth Glen has rented on the Expo floor. The trip itself was eventful, as these things always seem to be for me, and defined by two seminal moments and two fascinating phone calls.
* * * * *
Even though I just turned forty I still can’t shake the childlike wonder I get whenever I enter the South. After all, I grew up in Northern Minnesota where the South was anywhere below Minneapolis, and the Deep South was the Iowa border.
Georgia? Alabama? Mississippi? Those were just teams that regularly hammered my Big 10 schools in football. I am reminded of this as I pass a sign in a construction zone outside Tuscaloosa that says “Speed Kills.” I think to myself that must be what Ohio State says every time it plays the SEC.
I am also reminded that for most of its (relatively) short history, professional bass fishing was predominantly a Southern sport. Growing up in a fishing family, I was a BASS member from the mid-1970s, but secretly felt the kind of fish that they pictured Paul Elias or Rick Clunn struggling to hold up were somehow a different species from the bass I pulled out of the Northern Wisconsin waters. Where I grew up, three pounds is a big bass. In the South, they fish three pound shiners for fifteen pound bass.
My thoughts are broken up by two bass-related phone calls, which I perceive as good omens.
The first is from the granddaughter of George W. Perry, the world record holder who caught the most famous game fish in history—a 22 pound 4 ounce monster bass that he hooked and landed in Lake Montgomery in Georgia on a fateful June day in1932. The second is from the daughter of the late bass fishing legend Bill Plummer, inventor of the Super Frog, arguably the greatest frog lure ever made.
If those two phone calls are good omens, I am not quite sure what to make of the two memorable highway incidents. The first one occurs somewhere near the Alabama-Mississippi border, when my Saturn turns the odometer to 66,666. It has a temperature gauge right above it that reads 66 degrees. It is 6:16 P.M. This must be a sign, but I’m not sure what kind. I take a picture with my cell phone because no one will believe me otherwise.
Then, a few minutes later, a song comes on the satellite radio I haven’t heard since 1985—the “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. Now, you can’t listen to this song without actually DOING the Safety Dance, but since I am from Minnesota, and we take driver safety seriously, I only allow myself to do a one-handed Safety Dance. The other remains safely attached to the steering wheel.
It’s then I notice a lady in a pink Cadillac next to me watching in horror. Yes, it was an actual honest-to-God pink Cadillac, and it even had the famed make-up company moniker emblazoned on the side. I had heard they existed but never saw one until now. The look on her face makes it clear she does not like the one-handed Safety Dance. All I can think in return is she looks exactly like the kind of person you would imagine driving a pink make-up company Cadillac.
Think Mimi from the Drew Carey show.
When you get to the point where you are doing any form of the Safety Dance in a car, you know your mind is not working right, so I pull off in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for the night. I choose Hattiesburg because my best friend in graduate school was from there. I don’t know what it says about me that nearly all of my closest friends are Southerners—from places like Knoxville, Charleston, Mobile, and Austin.
If you ask my Southern pals, having a Yankee as a friend is the kind of charitable act their mother’s raised them to embrace. They don’t hold it against me, except during football season.
The truth is, I have a deep and abiding affection for the South, and for bass fishing.
I imagine I am no different than thousands of others drawn to the Mecca of bass fishing, because that night I dream of bass.
TOMORROW: INTO THE MOUTH OF THE BASS
-- Dr. Todd