Each morning, ESPN Outdoors reporter David A. Brown joins one of the Bassmaster Classic anglers on their drive from the boatyard in downtown Birmingham to the launch site at Lay Lake. Today's host: Denny Brauer.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — He's making his 20th Bassmaster Classic appearance and, while Denny Brauer is no doubt enthused about competing in the sport's most prestigious event, he's also clear on how the right mindset plays an integral role in an angler's performance.
"I think, to a certain extent, it becomes old hat and I don't think the excitement is still there like the first few times I qualified. It's not just another tournament — there's a lot of hype surrounding this event, but you have to be careful not to get caught up in that and still try to keep it a regular tournament.
FACT BOX: AT A GLANCE
Angler: Denny Brauer
Vehicle: GMC Suburban, Strike King Lures wrap
In the console: Toothpicks, Orbit Gum (spearmint)
Tunes: Country music station
Classic Record: Qualified 20 times, won 1998
Breakfast: Donut, apple juice
Lunch: Snickers Marathon energy bars, vitamin water
Favorite Winter Olympics Event: "The wrecks" (aka downhill skiing)
Quote of the Day: Of the police escort, Brauer quipped: "You get to run red lights and race cops — what a deal!"
"You can't get overly pumped up and caught up in the hoopla. From a mental standpoint, it's a little bit more of a challenge."
Brauer, who won the 1998 Classic on North Carolina's High Rock Lake, said his has been an evolutionary journey; one through which he has discovered a close correlation between purpose and outcome.
"The first few classics I fished, I was there mainly to try to look good and make my sponsors happy," he said. "I was really worried about having a bad tournament to the extent that I was probably keeping myself from having a chance at winning.
"The last 10 Classics I've fished, that whole attitude has changed and all of a sudden, your performance starts to change and you start to have those top-five finishes where you put yourself in position that if you do get the right bite, you have the opportunity to win."
The linchpin, Brauer said, is the clarity borne of experience.
"I think that is an advantage because you do process the crowds better, the activity on the water, the cameras and everything that does surround the event," he said. "You stay a little more level-headed and you learn what it takes to win at an event like this and how to fish it."
For Brauer, much of his Classic performance depends on fish management — a skill that requires careful calculations of not only one's individual actions, but also those of 50 other competitors.
"Managing your fish is tough because if you have several boats following you and you leave your fish, how many of those people are going to see if they can go catch one," he said. "You just don't know what's going to happen in this event. I try to factor all this in during my planning and then try to ignore it as much as I can so that I'm not distracted on it during the event so I can focus on my fishing.
"Still there comes a point where a crowd can actually ruin some areas. You have to be able to recognize that and make that change on the run."
Brauer's thoughts on ...
CLASSIC FIELD: "I think the level of competition has increased every year. I'm not so sure the top end is any higher than it always has been, but I think the bottom is closer to the top. It's no longer a tournament field where 20 percent of the anglers legitimately have a chance of winning. Now, probably 80 percent of the anglers could win."
BIGGEST CHANGE: "In 1984, when television got involved, that's when we really started to see the crows grow and the sport grow. Today, ESPN is focused on producing the best TV experience for the fans that they can produce."
BAITS FOR DAY ONE: Strike King Pro Model Jig, Strike King Flipping Tube, Strike King Red Eye Shad, Strike King Pure Poison Swimming Jig.
For fans of bass fishing, Brauer said the Classic offers much more than entertainment — it's a potential learning experience of peerless proportions. This year in particular, Brauer said, offers fans the chance to heighten their knowledge of fishing in adverse conditions.
After a brutal cold spell that saw snow falling during practice days, Lay Lake's water temperature is at an all-time low in the 43-45 degree range. Noting how the pros adapt to these conditions will provide invaluable lessons.
"These are the most extreme conditions that any Classic I remember fishing has ever had," Brauer said. "I'm a fan of the sport myself and after a week of practice I'll be curious to see what gets caught by whom and how it gets caught compared to what I'm doing. It will be a learning experience for all of us."