Winter found me a short drive from the Bassmaster Classic held this year in Birmingham, Alabama. Personally, I am not that much into fishing tournaments but Trixie and my daughter Kellee, I mean Cricket, were all about going to the Super Bowl of fishing shows.
If you are unfamiliar with the format this is the championship tournament of the 2013 season and the top qualifiers from all the contests year-round get an invite to come fish for prizes and bragging rights.
We arrived bright and not so early for the closing days' exhibition hall and tournament weigh in of the bass. The Expo was an enormous assembly of three huge convention halls filled with boats, lures, bait, fishing rods, food, drinks and people. Being a Sunday and the last day for determining a champion, every Tom, Dick and Harry and their offspring had come to the show.
Upon entering the showroom, the Toyota booth called to me and as I spent my time talking to a rep about a new truck, my daughter and her husband began competing for prizes of every kind. Soon it became apparent that we were there for different reasons and the kids took off on a treasure hunt to see what kind of good “swag” they could acquire.
Now it you are unfamiliar with the term “swag,” it’s basically stuff you pick up free at trade shows or acquire along the way which later ends up in your garage sale. Such items as key chains, fishing towels, tiny flashlights, magnetic stickers from Bob's Bait and Tackle, pencils, pens, spools of fishing line, a new lure that resembles some kind of road kill, cups and koozies plus a large foam hand signaling #1.
These are items that you just cannot seem to live without at the time of acquisition but suddenly lose their luster after sitting on the kitchen counter for a week or two after the show. They are then relegated to the “junk drawer” for a period of one to two years then finally put in the garage sale.
But, back to the Classic. The time came for us to watch the weigh in of the day's catch and the kids had somehow scored seats on the arena floor by participating in some contest. Trixie and I were left to sponge for ourselves and ended up in great seats next to the stage. That Trixie knows her way around those trade shows for sure.
A door opened in the 25,000 person hall and gorgeous trucks pulling expensive bass boats entered and would circle the arena while the fishermen weighed their catch all broadcast on ESPN. A local professional, Randy Howell, who was in 11th place suddenly appeared with a huge 29 pound, five fish limit bag and the stadium rocked with approval.
Time after time for the next two hours, fish were brought in and weighed but in the end, he was able to hang onto his first place finish. He cried and cried, blubbering through his acceptance speech and finally telling the entire world, “I have cried so much I am out of snot.” Now there is a memorable quote for his posterity.
A lovely blonde wife and two perfect children came onstage and the crowd noise grew to the level of a professional football game. Now these people like fishing.
Money was divided up and he walked away with $300,000, a huge trophy and the same wife and kids. He gave credit to God and his family as well as the nonprofit that he works with. I did appreciate that of him.
ESPN finally shut off their cameras and people began to ease their way up and out of the arena each with dreams of catching the next biggest fish and just knowing if it wasn't for work getting in the way, they too could be a professional fisherman.
But whether you do it for money or for pleasure, fishing brings a certain peace to our minds and souls. My daughter who never wanted to fish before, now wants to go this weekend and try her hand at it.
I do hate to take her out as once you get someone hooked on it, they say it’s like cocaine and you cannot quit. Her poor husband may end up a fishing widower after all.
These tournaments that are televised nationally give a jaded image to what fishing is really all about for the masses. We don't do it for fame or fortune so our equipment may not be a $70,000 bass boat but only a cane pole and a #3 tin can full with some worms we dug. But whatever the gear we have, we still love to get out and try our hand at an ancient craft.
And maybe just maybe, in some far away time, one of us lowly worm diggers will latch onto a record that will set even the bass masters back on their ears and lead us to tackle endorsements making millions of dollars. Then we can afford to get Aunt Millie those dentures she has been needing so she can pose for the requisite family portrait at Christmas this year without scaring the small children.