During the course of every bass tournament, and especially the Classic, sports fans get to see the essence of many sports wrapped into the actions of a group of anglers going about the business of catching some little green fish.
But there are obvious differences. For starters, anglers, unlike participants in any other sport, have to deal with the whims of Mother Nature (there are no rain delays or rain outs in this game) as they relate to the whims of the opposition. In this case that is the fish that seems to always have a personality of its own in any given body of water.
Plus, unlike other sports, there are no halftimes, inning changes or quarters. Once this thing starts, it is balls to the wall for eight hours.
The differences, however, isn't what we're talking about. As a sports fan for most of my life, one who has played at a lot of lower levels from semi-pro baseball, collegiate golf, high school football, Class A softball and even quarter-mile, dirt-track auto racing, I see the similarities every time I ever take off in an eight-hour competition.
Bear with me a little as I walk through some of those things.
Off the starting line
I too, often tire of the similarities given to bass fishing and NASCAR. Most of those are thrown up around the sponsorship/logo game. But in reality every day of a big-time bass fishing event has a race involved. Most of that is against the clock. At times, like in this event, where locking schedules for a small group of anglers means if you get there first, you get a longer fishing day, the all-out racing comparison fits exceptionally well.
Anglers in complete control of almost a ton of fiberglass and horsepower run a road course at 70 miles per hour to see who will get there first or who will get left behind. And that's in a vessel that has no brakes. In the process every part of the boat has to be steered perfectly, from reading the water for the fastest path to reading the other drivers for the safest trip.
Going for the Hole
But the race is only a segment of the overall relay. Once to the fishing area, new sports comparisons begin to develop. I watch golf every chance I get. I love picking apart a guy's approach to every hole, learning how he deals with his weaknesses and occasionally getting a glimpse of his personality when he goes for the hole (ala Kevin Costner in "Tin Cup") when a wiser decision might have been to simply take your lumps and lay up for par.
If you are a bass angler competing on the water and you have a realistic shot of boating 12 pounds for an average, or par finish, but abandon that approach to go for the elusive 20-pound sack, you should know what I mean. If you hit it, you are under par and atop or near the leaderboard; if you don't, it's bogie and a broken heart (ala Kevin Costner in "Tin Cup.)
Likewise in the golf game, there is nothing especially interesting about watching a golfer stand over a ball and stroking a ball around green grass. What makes it interesting is the strategy that he employs putting that ball where he wants it to go. You get to see the ball dance, roll and, in the case of Tiger Woods, spin and reverse.
The same could be said about anglers standing on the bow of a boat and casting a lure one-quarter the size of a golf ball to unseen destinations. There's not a lot of drama there, even less because you can't see the lure traveling through the air and finding its target.
But think about that lure that's just one-quarter the size of a golf ball being cast to targets that are often one-quarter the size of a golf hole, and the realization of the skill involved comes home.
It gets dramatic when a cast produces a bite, or for the sake of this discussion, actually goes into the hole and you have that verification with a fish jumping at the end of the line. But if you stop and consider that every shot a golfer takes is made to set up the next shot, you start understanding the business of cast after cast. Anglers aren't measured on how many casts they make each day. Maybe they should be and this analogy would be easier to make.
But almost every cast a professional angler makes is just as important as the one that actually goes into the hole. Watch an angler pick apart a laydown, or a Toho grass bed, and realize that each presentation begets another presentation, like each shot begets another shot, until the end result — the cast or golf shot hits the hole.
As we watch this match between man and fish take place like we would watch the match between golfer and the course he faces, the games allow us to learn more about the personalities. With each moment of action we start rooting for, or in some cases rooting against, guys like Ike, or Aaron or KVD.
And there are times when we see the true essence of sport. When a single man performs so flawlessly that it defies all odds, like Dean Rojas setting an unbelievable record, which could be compared to a baseball player hitting three grand slams in one game, and doing it without steroids.
But bass fishing can be a muscle game. The very activity of piloting a boat across rough water isn't for the faint. Follow that up with 1,200 casts, the amount of strokes the average golfer swings in about 15 matches, while the average pitches made in a baseball game by one pitcher is close to 100.
But those don't really matter either. If you are a football player and love the pounding, rushing style of Jerome Bettis, you are sure to like the methodical pounding of a flipper like Tommy Biffle or Terry Scroggins. They get close and personal, almost like hand-to-hand combat, hitting their targets and eventually wearing down the opponent.
If you are more into the passing game of a Peyton Manning, look no further than Kevin VanDam, who moves around the field with the grace of Manning and the quickness of LaDanien Tomlinson. If you want flash, he's got it. If you want flash and attitude (ala Randy Moss) then look no further than Ike.
If you are into defense, watch how an angler uses his boat (the same boat that had a NASCAR-style take-off) when he wants to quietly put himself in position to make a cast. It's like watching Derek Jeter read a batter's stance, the coming pitch and the possible play before he deftly moves in position to make the catch.
The comparisons can be tiring. But they are there for almost every sport that we've come to love and follow. About the only sport I have trouble finding a comparison with bass fishing is synchronized swimming, unless of course you start comparing sports to schooling activity.