Friday, February 15, 2008 Updated: February 19, 3:26 PM ET
'I think some guys went fishing'
By Sam Eifling ESPNOutdoors.com
Editors' note: We asked some of the characters who have been behind the scenes at more than a few Classics to share some of their favorite memories. What we got back surprised even us. Take a look.
Matt Vincent, Editor of BASS Times and senior writer for Bassmaster Magazine
The Bassmaster Classic was once the Big Enchilada, the only show in town for the fledgling outdoor writer. If you received an invitation to the Classic, you had tapped into the motherlode, a vein of gold that could supply a struggling outdoor writer with enough material to solicit the big magazines for freelance assignments for the coming year.
My first Classic was in 1988 on the James River. Being in the same room with pros like Denny Brauer, Guido Hibdon, Hank Parker and Rick Clunn seemed surreal at the time, while jockeying for interviews alongside big-time writers like Tim Tucker, Wade Bourne, Steve Price and many other "masthead men."
The destination was Rome. The Classic was the Vatican. Ray Scott was the Pope, dressed in buckskins and a cowboy hat. And some of us sinners made the most of it.
Like a few hoodlum outdoor writers back then, once the daily deadlines were met and all social obligations complete (including an open bar at Ranger Night) the elites would retire to smoke-filled hotel rooms and begin the nightly defilement.
It didn't matter how much beer you consumed — as long as you could deliver final wisdom in the wake of four brutal boat rides as a Classic press observer, everything was good. But the system worked only if you didn't whine about a severely damaged spinal column and bruised ribs. Once you wimped out, you lost your ticket to the big show and the respect of your peers.
The highlight of the old Bassmaster Classics for many of us was not the fishing. It was The Band, an assembly of outdoor industry misfits who came to the Classic armed with guitars, tambourines and original music. Supporting members proved that it was indeed possible to drink enough beer to stagger a Clydesdale as long you could make the 4 a.m. wake-up call the next morning. Pity the fool who bailed on a boat pairing and had to explain it to Dave Precht, editor of Bassmaster Magazine.* Note to anyone who happened to be the adjacent hotel room those many years ago: We would like to sincerely apologize for the volume at 3 a.m., now and forever.
Among the original members of The Band were Lisa Snuggs, current director of the Southeast Outdoor Press Association, and Don McPherson, former advertising director of Bassmaster Magazine, along with several other loyal "cast" members. Special guest appearances were made by Toyo Shimano on lead guitar and Doug Hannon on bass — "bass" as in the guitar he played, not the fish that made him famous.
And who will ever forget BASS salesman Mike Swain, howling out the same Lynyrd Skynyrd song at least five times a night? Sweet home, Alabama indeed.
When Steve Bowman, editor of ESPN Outdoors, asked us to share some of our favorite Classic memories, I'm not sure this is what he had in mind. I was going to mention the time Gerald Swindle stepped into an open livewell — "Down goes Swindle!" — while exiting his boat in front of a capacity crowd in 2004. But never mind that.
Come to think about it, Bowman himself was among the late-night elite a time or two. Like the rest of us, he can plead the Fifth and deny any involvement. After all, we hit our deadlines and never bailed on a boat ride. And that was all that really mattered.
Like the good doctor said: "Free lunch, full coverage and final wisdom."
And we delivered the wisdom with red eyes and belly full of aspirin on more than a few occasions.
Wes Miller, ESPN cameraman
I don't know if it's funny, really, but I definitely remember the Classic when Gary Klein and I got shot at.
ESPN cameraman Wes Miller remembers well when he and Gary Klein experienced gunfire during the 2003 Bassmaster Classic.
It was on the last day of the 2003 Classic. New Orleans hosted that year, and Klein made the run down to Venice, La. We were between Venice and the Mississippi River, where there are a lot of little channels, with shortcuts between them, all in tons of backwoods swamps. Since Hurricane Katrina, a lot of the shacks probably are gone, but back then, the banks were lined with fishing shacks. A lot of people go out there to live, and they think if you're on the water, you're on their water.
We were running between spots, and I was down in the boat changing tapes when I heard that unmistakable sound. "Damn," I said to Klein, "that sounded like a gunshot."
"Looks like he was giving us a warning shot across the bow," Klein said.
He didn't really seem to act like it was a big deal at all. "Aw, they're just trying to scare us," he said.
"It's working," I told him.
We kept going, but when we left, we had to come back by the house. That time I had my camera up and rolling. The guy was out in his yard, and I think he decided not to make any more trouble when he saw the camera. He just waved at us — a weird wave, not really a friendly wave, but an "I see you" wave.
A little later in the day, some other guys let us know what they thought of us being in those backwaters. An airboat rode up behind us, then passed us in a narrow. They gave us the old blast of air, which blasted all the water back on us.
We got soaked; it was like getting blasted with a rainshower. Of course, in the video you just see the water hit the lens. But everything kept working. Klein had a great look when he looked around at the camera, like, "Are these people going to give us a break today, or what?"
Since then we've not been back to Venice for any tournament, bass-fishing related. I don't know if that whole episode made an impression on the powers that be.
Robert Montgomery, BASS Senior Writer
I attended my first Classic in 1983 in Cincinnati. What I remember most fondly is that the press and contenders had dinner one night at the Playboy Club. Bunny Jennifer looked great in black. Oh, yeah, I think some guys went fishing.
During Classic week in 1985, the press and contenders went to the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock for a barbeque with then-Gov. Bill Clinton. Hillary was "out of town on business," or at least, that's what Bill said. He looked pretty spiffy in his flannel shirt, jeans and top-siders.
During one of the practice days, I fished with Lonnie Stanley during a torrential all-day rain that blew in when a hurricane moved inland from the Gulf of Mexico. We were last to weigh-in, and my 1 pound, 9 ounce spotted bass, which I caught while dangling a Cordell Spot from the back of the boat, won $500 for each of us, as it was the day's largest press fish.
Trip Weldon, BASS Tournament Director
One of my fondest and funniest was 1992 in Birmingham.
BASS Tournament Director Trip Weldon has had to do some heavy lifting at events.
BASS always launches the boats in order of takeoff. To accomplish this we have staff on hand to make sure the boats leave the service yard in order behind the police escort. On the final morning, somehow the third flight of boats departed the service yard ahead of the second flight.
As you can imagine, we would look crazy if we pulled up to the ramp, in front of thousands of people, and swung about 18 boats around 18 others to get our order straight. Luckily the section of Pell City's Lakeside Park where we entered was closed to the public. As we entered, a staff person jumped out of a vehicle and stopped the third flight. Another staff person kept the second flight moving around the third flight and voilà, all boats were in order as we arrived before the fans. To this day, very few people knew what happened.
Tournament Director Dewey Kendrick knew, though, and shook his head in amazement as the crew got this done without a hiccup.
Steve Bowman, ESPNOutdoors.com Executive Editor
When I think about the Bassmaster Classic, so many moments over the past 20 years pop into my head. But two specific scenes say so much about this event and the organization of BASS.
The first occurred in 1989, at the James River. I was still trying to get my head around the Classic in those years, undergoing a transformation of thought that more than just a fun event, it carried huge weight in the industry and the fishing world.
I remember huge crowds chanting "Woo, Woo, Woo" as hometown favorite Woo Daves entered the arena. And every morning, spectators lined the road, waving signs for their favorite angler on their way to the launch.
I started thinking, "This is really something." But none of it hit home like the final day of that event. Jim Bitter was leading and seemed poised to win this Classic, but, as most bass fans know, he lost it by 2 ounces, after he let a small keeper literally slip out of his hand as my good friend Tim Tucker photographed him.
That moment won't be lost by many longtime fans. For me, the gravity of his loss didn't take hold until that final day news conference. Hank Parker, the winner, sat beside Bitter, and as Parker reveled in the glow of victory, tears streamed down Bitter's face.
It was an amazing scene, with Bitter — a huge man by anyone's comparison — weeping openly. I've never seen a more powerful statement since then about what the Classic means to these anglers.
My other favorite memory was on Angler of the Year night in one of the early-'90s Classics in Birmingham. The Classic had yet to take on the type of media frenzy we see today, and the crowd was a much more laid back, to say the least. Since then, Angler of the Year night has become the black tie affair it ought to be. Then it was Carnival night, where you went from booth to booth, playing games for kewpie dolls and other prizes.
Among those prizes, some intellectual giant decided to include water pistols. It didn't take long before the anglers started filling those with water, and not much longer before everyone broke into a full-fledged watergun fight. And I mean everybody was involved.
My favorite vision is of Helen Sevier hiding behind a couch and jumping up shooting Ray Scott, who returned fire. And of guys like Larry Nixon and Kevin VanDam drenching each other. The atmosphere of that in the face of such a weighty event was profound.
While the Classic has always been able to bring tears to the largest of men, it is still fun for those who make it. The credit for both of those goes to BASS — because both of those are still present today.