The bitter taste of second place

NEW ORLEANS — They were close, agonizingly close.

But close doesn't count in the BASS Masters Classic and the looks on each one of these two men's faces told the story. Scott Rook and David Walker had been almost close enough to touch the Classic trophy. But after Kevin VanDam's final day weigh-in total of 10 pounds, 14 ounces, close wasn't close enough.

"I'm happy, but I'm disappointed coming in second," said Rook, who missed winning the Classic by one pound, two ounces. "It's a long way from being Classic champ."

For Rook, it was the loss of a two-pound plus fish earlier on Saturday that spelled his Classic doom.

"I fished pretty good, I didn't really lose any fish," said the Little Rock, Ark. angler who pocketed a $40,000 runner-up check. "I broke a fish off the first day, I broke a fish off today. When I broke the one today, I told the guy I hope that doesn't come back to haunt me, and it did."

While many anglers struggled to find a consistent bite, Rook found enough fish to nearly win the Classic. Both he and VanDam were fishing in the Bayou Black area.

"I think the area that we were fishing, the water quality was real good. There was good hydrilla and the grass was good in there. I don't know, the Bayou Black area just seemed to be the place to be."

Walker was one of the only anglers to figure out the Venice area, which was influenced greatly by Tropical Storm Barry's storm tide. While he was able to sack enough fish to join VanDam and Rook as the only anglers eclipsing the 30-pound mark, it was the one that got away late Friday that left Walker greatly disappointed and thinking about what might have been.

"I had about 15 minutes to fish before I had to come on in," Walker said. "I was working a tube at that time. I was hopping it up and down. I felt a fish and he really thumped it pretty good, so I gave him a little slack line and set the hook on him. I popped the fish up through the grass there and he pretty much scooted across the top of the water — they do that sometimes. He was headed back towards the cane there and I saw the bait come flying off the front of him there and the fish just kept going the other way.

"I knew then that it was right around the three-pound range and I knew that that late in the day, with only about 15 minutes to fish, that I really could have used that fish with only three fish in the live-well. I had three that weighed eight pounds, so that right there gives me an 11-pound stringer."

As he reflected Saturday afternoon about missing out on Classic glory by one pound, three ounces, Walker posed a philosophical question.

"What are you going to do?"

The Cannon, Ky. angler, who won $19,000 for his third place finish, will deal with his disappointment by going back to work in two weeks when the 2001/2002 CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail kicks off on Lake St. Clair near Detroit, Mich.

"I'll just go onto the next tournament and try to make it again next year. That's all you can do when you make your living fishing. You need a lot of events, you can't just base your whole year on one event. This would have been a career-changing win for me, but to do all you can do is all you can do."