Bassmaster Classic: Reporters' Notebook

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.24.08: Yes, we have no bananas

In a work trailer, up the hill from the launch dock, ESPN cameramen gear up each morning for eight grueling hours on the water.

There, under the irritating hum of flourescent lights, this sturdy gang of shooters is briefed about who they are to film each day of the 2008 Bassmaster Classic.

During these predawn hours, the crew recounts a previous day's experience as they snap clasps on their camera bags, pack batteries, stow digital tape and pack rain gear for the back-breaking adventure.

But before they leave the warm confines to join the anglers, they grab box lunch. Sunday morning, the combination of anticipation and hunger pushed James Massey to explore his. It was a darnn good thing, too.

Inside his lunch sat one bright yellow banana, the snack equivalent of a flashing red light.

Anglers the world over consider bananas a bad luck charm on any vessel. Thinking quickly, Massey slyly removed the fruit and ditched it on the dock. He then motioned to his colleague in the boat next to him to do the same.

In less than five minutes, piles of bananas laid across the already slick dock. One crisis, at least, had been averted. Now only comedy awaited.

— Nick Gebhardt

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.23.08: K-9s for KVD

Sometimes stories are hard to come by. Other times, a half-mile from the launch ramp you see two guys walking a yellow lab with "KVD" spray-painted black on her side.

That would be David Petrisko's dog Liberty Bell, known to her close associates as Libby. She, like Petrisko and his buddy Dan Williams, both of Baltimore, is an avowed Kevin VanDam fan.

Petrisko helped her out with the paint job because he was hoping to get media attention (mission accomplished!). Usually folks with designs for press attention just want to flap their gums about some self-serving jive. Petrisko, though, flagged down Mark Zona in a bait shop and welcomed a print reporter to talk about — his amazing girlfriend.

Tricia Gould, a Johns Hopkins University nurse, gave Petrisko a big, fat check for Christmas to pay for a bass boat. He took the change and came to the Classic, in part to try to get some air time, somewhere, to tell Gould he's crazy about her.

"I fish seven days a week, and all she says to me is, 'Please, you and Libby have a good time,'" Petrisko said. "There are not enough adjectives in the world to describe how good a person she is."

Before the scene got too mushy — Petrisko could go on and on about his lady — a black pick-up truck towing a boat pulled up, and a guy with an accent thicker than week-old cheese grits hopped out to get a shot of Libby.

"This is how real rednecks do it!" the man said. "I love that dog!"

In all, a real heart-warmer. So long as Libby doesn't lick her letters.

— Sam Eifling

GREENVILLE, S.C. — 02.23.08: Expo, exposed!

No one who fishes the Elite Series is exactly thrilled to be working the sponsor booths at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo. Randy Howell on Friday said he was going to cut a swath of the carpet at his booth to keep in his boat, so every day on the tour he'll see it and tell himself, "Remember the show. Remember the show. Fish hard. Fish hard."

Over at the Tackle Warehouse exhibit, Mark Menendez was sanguine about his post. "I was the first guy out," he said. "But I've been the last guy in. There will be another day. Everybody gets a turn."

Menendez barely missed the cut at 38th. A little further back was Jason Quinn, the South Carolina native whose sentence for barely missing the Classic was to sign T-shirts for a steady stream of locals who would have loved to see him fishing the Classic.

On Saturday, here was his prediction for Day Two:

"Yesterday, a lot of the shallow water guys struggled because when that weather comes in, those fish are still shallow, and Kevin VanDam proved it. VanDam caught those fish 7, 8 feet deep — but they're suspended on some deeper banks. A lot of the shallow guys didn't figure that out.

"Today, with this weather change, we've got some new water, we've got some colored water now in the back of those creeks and coves. The suspended fish want to get on the banks. The guys in the afternoon are really going to catch 'em.

"I think you're going to see some flip-flopping. A lot of guys with 9, 10 pounds are going to get 20, 22 pounds. The deep guys are going to catch them, too. But the guys that are fishing the ditches, Casey Ashley and guys like that, those guys could wreak havoc."

— Sam Eifling

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.23.08: Letting Go At the Expo

Notes from the 2008 Bassmaster Classic Expo...

Between covering the morning Bassmaster Classic progress on Lake Hartwell and reporting to their secluded cave deep within the bowels of the Bi-Lo Center, ESPNOutdoors.com took a side trip to see what was happening at the Bassmaster Classic Expo being held at the Carolina First Center.

Fighting charter buses and their armies of fishing, hunting and boating fans, this detachment of writers and photographers explored every nook, cranny and exhibition booth within the massive hall. Expectedly, the industry showcased the best of their biggest and brightest products and services, and provided a sneak peak of what is yet to come.
Up first was the Bath Filler company's display. Although its "one day bath remodeling" slogan was prominent, perhaps more interesting was the decision as to why Bath Filler chose this venue to increase exposure.

"Well, my boss told me that 82 percent of bass fishermen take a bath or a shower at some point," Brandy Wofford said before a playful smile crossed her face.

The friendly representative from Bath Filler went on to explain that the sheer number of people at the Expo made it a great opportunity to spread the word about the services of the company's over 200 franchises.

Overheard outside the Venom Lure booth was a quick interaction between two swag-laden fishing fans. The focus of the banter was the name of the popular lure company.
A bearded man questioned the marketing decision to use venom as a name for a bait manufacturer. His slender, sunglasses-wearing friend (why he wore sunglasses inside the hall was never clarified) reminded the man that the company markets its product to people, not fish.

The last observation made during the hour-long excursion came from watching an 8-year-old boy named Kevin. The youngster was captivated by a virtual bass fishing game just outside the Yamaha experience. He violently jerked the half-reel and rod connected to the machine by a cord. Once his game was over, the angler-to-be asked his father if they could go take a simulated boat ride. But with sunshine beaming and temperatures in the mid-sixties, the father led his son in the direction of where the real action was — outside.

— Nick Gebhardt

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.22.08: Keep an eye in

Before you decide to get on Lake Hartwell with Bassmaster Classic anglers, you might want to know all the facts.

This is a photo of a dock I saw when I was with Skeet Reese on the final practice day, Wednesday.

If you can't quite tell, the box on the end of the dock says, "We don't skinny dip, we chunky dunk."

I don't care how big the fish are in that area, you might want to stay away.

— Kyle Carter

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.22.08: Hard at work

Again, this story comes from practice with Skeet Reese. And again was fishing near a dock, and again I was taken back by something sitting on the dock.

They had a fake owl sitting out on the deck, but it looked exactly like a cat, and it freaked me out a little. I mentioned something to the guy who was trying to put together a pattern with the possibility of winning $500,000 and adding the new missing piece to his career.

"Oh man, that thing is creeping me out," I said, figuring of course he knew what I was talking about. He looked confused.

"That owl; It looks like a cat," I enlightened him.

His response: "Huh. I guess that's the difference between doing something and sitting there doing nothing."

And he went back to fishing.

— Kyle Carter

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.22.08: Topless teen-agers crash Classic

It was cold this morning. Rainy, too. The rain was as cold as rain gets. Any colder, and the stuff freezes. Most spectators were clad in hats and coats and boots to watch the 50 anglers launch on the first morning of the Bassmaster Classic.

In another category were the four boys standing in a puddle near the set of "Mike & Mike in the Morning," broadcasting lakeside.

Their T-shirts were off, tucked into their belts. Their chests read, in green paint, K, I, C and K. Their backs read, in black paint that was running a little in the rain, B, A, S and S.

They looked like die-hards. They looked like troopers. They looked like a dumb BASS.

"We're from Anderson," explained Rhett Hanks, age 16, the B and the K. "There ain't much to do around here. As you can tell."

By Hanks' side were C/S Dustin Hooper, age 15, I/A Heath Cox, 16, and K/S Michael Mosher, 15. They should have been in school, though by the look of things, not much of what goes on there had done them any good.

The shivering, goosepimpled lads said they wanted to get on camera, to be considered for SportsCenter's Top Plays.

"It's always been a dream to get on ESPN," Hanks said. "We figured this would be the only way to do it, is do something crazy."

They were asked whether they were worried about the aftereffects of standing in a cold rain half-naked. Clearly future employability wasn't on their radar. But hypothermia, at least?

"Who cares?" Hooper said, his ninth-grade education on display.

At least someone cared. Seeing a reporter interviewing the kidsicles during a break in the program, Mike Golic called to them, "You getting some love?"

"Yeah!" Hooper yelled back.

"Good," Golic said. "Put on your shirts before you freeze."

— Sam Eifling

GREENVILLE, S.C. — 02.21.08: Kelly Jordon, shutterbug

As a reporter sat down to interview Charley Hartley and Fred Roumbanis at Thursday's so-called media day (exactly which day isn't a media day at the Bassmaster Classic?), Kelly Jordon made some comment about journalists having to pay to sit at that table.

So the reporter handed over the only object of worth he owns: a Canon EOS 30D and lens, which cost more than the blue book value of his car.

Jordon made like Ansel Adams and came back with a few shots — some decent, some less so. Hereforth, a tour of media day through the untrained eye of an Elite Series angler.

— Sam Eifling

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08: Man on fire

Three weeks ago — wouldn't you know it — a massive pine tree fell on Steve Kennedy's double-stack trailer as it was parked at his house. He and his wife, Julia, were at Lake Amistad, and for once, didn't drag along the massive trailer that normally carries his boat and their car to tour events.

By the time they returned home, a neighbor had removed the 15-inch tree from the trailer, which was only dented. "I'm impressed it held up," Kennedy said.

For Kennedy, that's a fairly minor vehicular mishap.

Last year, he and Julia had the experience of watching their ancient, 300,000-miles-on-the-odometer Nissan Pathfinder had left in their backyard for two years catch fire when they were parked at Lake Amistad. (The fuel lines had dry rotted.)

Kennedy said his wife kept a cool head and grabbed one of the many fire extinguishers they keep handy on his boat and in their RV.

Recalling that story Wednesday reminded Kennedy of another one from four or five years ago. He was dragging his trailer on an interstate "somewhere up North — I forget" when the wheel popped off.

So hot was the dragging metal that when parts began to spraying off the rig, they started small grass fires along the highway. Those became large grass fires.
He estimated a mile of roadside grass burned, drawing fire engines and police, who shut down the interstate for 20 minutes.

When it was suggested to Kennedy the trailer incident proved he has some sort of gremlin plaguing him, he said that normal automotive rules are suspended for pro anglers.

"Most people drive 10,000 miles a year," he said. "We drive 60 or 70 thousand."

But, he was reminded, the tree fell on his trailer when it was parked in his yard.

He paused. "This," he said, "is true."

— Sam Eifling

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08:
"Fat-Daddy Rims"

Bass boats may be tricked-out to the nines, but pro anglers' boat trailers rarely get noticed.

So when the dripping-wet chariots pulled the exquisitely wrapped Elite Series boats out of Lake Hartwell after Wednesday's practice, it was hard not to do a double-take glancing at John Crews' trailer.

Talk about bling: The rims on Crews' boat trailer sparkled in the South Carolina sun like a polished diamond.

"It was a BassCat option," Crews said proudly. "I just asked for the fat-daddy rims."

— Nick Gebhardt

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08: Fishing the friendly waters

Before Wednesday's launch, angler Jeff Kriet admitted his wife wasn't crazy about the fact his observer for the final day of practice would be the loquacious, the bodacious, the one and only Mark Zona, resident cut-up of fishing television. The question surely on her mind, as Kriet prepared to fish for a half-million bucks, was whether he'd manage to get anything done.

After practice, though, Kriet said Zona was an asset: "He kept me really calm. Every time I got worked up, he rode my back."

Zona left the water convinced Lake Hartwell would produce for this weekend's tournament.

"You can go a long time without a bite and you can still get well in a hurry," Zona said. "It seems like all the fish have a lot of friends."

— Sam Eifling

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08: Change of Hook

After Wednesday's practice, while Elite Series pro Mike Iaconelli waited his turn at take-out, the New Jersey angler wasted no time in preparing his tackle for Friday's first day of competition.

As a small crowd of fans and videographers documented his work, the angler changed out the hooks on four different crankbaits.

And even though the shelter of the dock provided minimal protection from howling winds, Iaconelli was still able to sort through his Sharpee-labeled boxes of #4 and #2 treble hooks and change out his baits, despite the occasional gust almost sending them overboard and into the drink.

— Nick Gebhardt

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08: Shameless plug alert

After Wednesday's practice — the fourth and final for the Classic contenders — angler Scott Rook said it was the best he'd had so far.

Want to know how we know? Go ahead. Take a guess.

— Sam Eifling

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08: All the kids are above average

They say your first Bassmaster Classic is the one you always remember. Matt Sphar, a rookie on the Elite Series last year, who finished 29th in Angler of the Year points, is of course hoping it's also the Classic for which everyone else remembers him.

Asked what would constitute a successful Classic for him, Sphar paused for a moment. "A win?" he said. "I don't know. If I could stay in the top half of the field, I would say it was fairly decent.

"But you know what? There are so many guys gambling for those five big bites each day, it almost doesn't matter how you finish."

Without points at stake, he figured, you might as well go for broke, even as you're just getting broken in.

— Sam Eifling

LAKE HARTWELL — 02.20.08: McClelland: "A day of water elimination"

By 2 p.m. Wednesday, Mike McClelland had run 42 miles of Lake Hartwell but had spent hardly any of it in areas he explored during practice last week. "I feel good enough about what I found last week that I feel like I can go there (when the tournament starts)," he said. "But I feel like I need to add to what I found."

McClelland had caught three fish by 2 p.m., but mostly what he'd accomplished was finding out where he couldn't get a bite. "This may be a day of water elimination," he said. "That's important, too, so you don't have that in your mind about what you might be missing in some of these places I've been today."

McClelland remains convinced you will see some big moves up and down the leaderboard of the three-day tournament that begins Friday. "Absolutely," he said. "I agree with that 100 percent. In my research of tournaments on this lake, I saw that a 20-pound stringer is pretty commonplace. With what I've caught today, you can see it's easy to catch 10 pounds, too. I just think it will be hard to catch them consistently in deep water. And I'm still struggling to get a bite in this clearer water."

But McClelland believes someone will be at the right place at the right time each day of the tournament — and put 20 pounds in the boat. That place will be anywhere a school of bass happens to push a school of blueback herring to the water surface and start a feeding frenzy upon them. "You can put 20 pounds in the boat in 10 casts," McClelland said.

Whether anyone can be at the right place at the right time more than once during the Bassmaster Classic remains to be seen.

— Steve Wright

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08: "Game over, man. Game over."

Speaking of the weather, the topic came up as Alabama anglers Gerald Swindle and Timmy Horton prepped to take off from the dock this morning. Precisely no one is looking forward to sitting in a mid-February cloudburst on Friday, but that's the likely fate for the 50 Classic competitors.

"'Damp' is the lightest forecast that you could get," Swindle said. "'Wet' is more like it."

"I would rather it be 33, 34 and snowing," Horton added. "Because then you don't get as wet and cold."

"There's an area on a man that once it gets wet, the game's over, no matter how hard mentally he thinks he is," Swindle continued. "It's not so much up in here, it's what goes on down in here. And about noon, when you sit down and the water runs front to back, it's like, 'This game is slowly ending, folks.'"

— Sam Eifling

ANDERSON, S.C. — 02.20.08: DQuiet, please!

Mark it: The first mention of the "d" word came this morning during takeoff.

A guy literally shivering on the dock — in sleeves and a ballcap, who would have been comfortable if the temperature were 20 degrees warmer — approached Greg Hackney as the angler waited for some help on a glitch in his GPS unit.

"Hey, the Hack Attack," said the shivering guy, who introduced himself to Hackney as John. "I watch you guys every Saturday, whether you're on or not. Hey, you should try a number. . ."

"No, no, don't tell me!" Hackney said, graciously but urgently. "You can't tell me anything. I'll get disqualified."

The lure talk could be costly. After disqualifications in the 2006 Classic (Mike Iaconelli, for a televised tantrum) and at the 2007 Classic (Gerald Swindle, for driving his boat too fast too close to people), the specter of the DQ looms large.

Fishing fans of the world, remember: These anglers are under information blackout from everyone but active competitors. The good Mr. Attack and his colleagues need you to save the Monday morning quarterbacking for, well, Monday.

— Sam Eifling

GREER, S.C. — 02.20.08: It's comin' down.

GREER, S.C. — If National Weather Service meteorologist John Tomko is correct, the weather for this weekend's Bassmaster Classic may be nothing short of brutal.

"Thursday, Friday look just terrible," Tomko said Tuesday as he examined three monitors covered in maps and colors and scientific what-not at his desk. "It's going to take a hearty angler to fish Thursday, Friday."

That would be because of rain. Cold rain. Rain that might evolve into sleet. Sleety, freezing rain stoked by a huge channel of chilly air stuck between the mountains and the ocean.

Basically, you're looking at gusty, sleety/rainy high-pressure, fish-slowing stone-cold nastiness. Friday is expected to be perhaps the coldest day of Classic competition in the past 30 years. Probably the first Classic day both so cold and so wet.

Shy of a hurricane, thunderstorm or some other act of divine retribution, "you're getting about the most challenging outdoor weather you can get in the Carolinas," Tomko said.

Tomko said he expects a front to dry up the region by Saturday afternoon. Until then, don't wear suede. The chance of rain on the first day of the tournament, Friday, is 70 percent, with an overnight low in the mid-30s and a high just a couple of degrees north of 40.

The upshot: If the fish sit still to wait out the weather, they may be positively famished by the tournament finale Sunday.

— Sam Eifling

Bassmaster.com will provide unprecedented live video coverage of the Classic this week, Feb. 22-24. We'll have live "Hooked Up," daily launches at 7:15 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards starting at 4:30 p.m. ET broadcast live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.