After breaking a 14-year drought of victories on the BASS tour, the first person Kevin Wirth thanked upon winning the Elite Series Tennessee Triumph at Old Hickory Lake was Ken Hoover.
Hoover is the guy who, for the past two years, has been hard to miss at Bassmaster Elite Series daily launches, as he throws white plastic bagged "lunch pails" to anglers participating in his Athletes Outdoors program.
While often acknowledged, Hoover has never received praise from the weigh-in stage as he did from Wirth after his $100,000 first-place showing at Old Hickory Lake.
"I've got to say a special thanks to Ken," said Wirth, who celebrated his 46th birthday on July 20th. "I told him earlier this week that I'm getting up there in age, and I don't eat or drink all day long (during competition).
"That really takes its toll. By the end of the week, I'm so drained I can hardly hold my head up.
"He put that bag (of food) in there and I told my (co-angler) partner every day, 'You make sure you make me eat.' Even my (ESPN) cameraman, Wes (Miller), today, he was pulling (the food) out and making me eat.
"I felt so great all day this week. (Hoover) really proved his point."
Hoover's work with Elite Series anglers was detailed here last year. But the 58-year-old Pleasanton, Texas, resident continues to impress the pros and discover helpful performance-related information as his now two-year-old relationship with the Elite Series progresses.
The Tennessee Triumph may have been Hoover's biggest success, in terms of proving that his program works. Of the 106 Elite Series pros who started the four-day tournament on Old Hickory Lake in late June, 18 were participating in the Athletes Outdoors program. Fifteen of them made the two-day top 50 cut, and two others finished 51st and 52nd, respectively. Five placed in the top seven during Sunday's finale, including the winner, Wirth.
While he is a former jockey and maintains the slim frame required by that sport, Wirth isn't exactly the picture of health. Nicknamed "Old Smoky" by some of his fellow pros, Wirth seldom leaves for a day on the lake without a carton of cigarettes in his boat.
But those nicotine-fueled energy bumps weren't enough to keep the Crestwood, Ky., resident going all day long.
And based on the numbers Hoover has compiled over the last two years, that shouldn't come as a surprise. When he first began putting heart rate monitors on a few Elites Series pros at the start of the 2007 season, even Hoover, who has worked with Olympic-level athletes and NBA teams, was startled by how many calories they were burning during a typical day of competition.
The average number compiled after that first year was 3,600 calories per day. Hoover, with a career of experience in such matters, guessed it would be about 1,000 calories a day fewer than that before he started working with the BASS pros. (To put 3,600 calories in perspective, it's equivalent to a 23-mile run at a pace of 12-minute miles; in other words, a BASS pro is burning almost a marathon's (26.2 miles) worth of calories each day on the water.)
"I call this thing a fuel gauge," said Hoover, in reference to the Polar heart rate monitors he straps to the wrist of each angler enrolled in the program. "Sometimes I refer to it as an effort meter."
Peter Thliveros, the 48-year-old pro angler from Jacksonville, Fla., was one of the first enrollees in Hoover's program. Hoover documented Thliveros burned 18,300 calories while winning the Bassmaster Memorial last July in Syracuse, N.Y. — the highest number Hoover has recorded in his work with the BASS pros.
And it has been primarily through Thliveros that Hoover has begun to notice the influence "mental engagement" has on the number of calories an angler will burn during a day.
When Thliveros came off the water after a day of competition in the Pride of Georgia event at Clarks Hill Lake in May, Hoover noticed Thliveros' calories-burned total was significantly lower than the average Thliveros had established over the past year-and-a-half.
"The only thing I can figure — and this is just a guess — is that you're not into it mentally," Hoover told him. "You're just kind of going through the motions."
When Thliveros finished his second day of competition, he told Hoover, "That's it. You were right."
Since then, Thliveros has paid closer attention to what causes his heart rate to go up or down, other than simple physical exertion.
"We're finding out it's a lot more mental than everybody thinks it is," Thliveros said. "The first day of a tournament, I generally have a pretty high number. If I have a good day, the next day I fish a little more relaxed (and his total heartbeat count is lower).
"I'm catching the same number of fish, but mentally, I'm not as keyed up.
"My numbers will usually go up on the third and fourth days."
It's on days three and four when Elite Series pros reach the semifinals and finals of these $100,000-first place tournaments. And although you would expect a higher rate of excitement as the competition kicks into a higher gear, that's something not figured into the original plan of Hoover's program, but has provided Hoover with some interesting statistical information.
Thliveros, by the way, broke Aaron Martens' previous "record" among BASS pros for calories burned during a day when he topped 6,000 at Old Hickory. Martens burned 5,980 throwing a spinnerbait all day on Alabama's Lake Guntersville in 2007.
But, getting back to the basics of Hoover's "fuel gauge" application, the main thing it has clearly put into black-and-white for the anglers is that they need to take the time to eat and drink if they're going to stay at their best all day.
Typically, tournament pros have been reluctant to cut into any of their fishing time, no matter how sharp the hunger pangs.
"I've learned a lot about what I've always been feeling," Thliveros said. "I understand what it is now: I try to really key on the nutrition end of it; I try to eat a little bit throughout the course of the day.
"I feel a lot better. I have more energy. I sleep better.
"This has really opened my eyes to the fact that this is a physical sport. It's a lot more physical than I ever thought it was.
"I just took it for granted that I was tired at the end of the day because I got up early, fished hard all day and was up late the night before. I didn't realize that just taking time for some proper nutrition was going to change the way I felt at the end of the week.
"And, most important, it makes you perform better.
"I want to make sure I've got a full tank, so I can get to the end of the race. If you're out of gas by noon and you've still got three hours to fish, it's not helping you put any money in your pocket."
It wasn't just the Tennessee Triumph that showed Hoover is helping put money in the pockets of the pros enrolled in his Athletes Outdoors program. Winner Alton Jones was one of 10 pros in the program at this year's Bassmaster Classic — and one of three who finished in the top nine. There were 16 pros in the Athletes Outdoors program at the Florida's Citrus Slam in March; 14 finished in the top 50 and five were in the top 10.
Those are the highlights, but the pros catching a lunch sack from Hoover every morning have posted similar results throughout the 2008 season.
Hoover hopes to attract a sponsor, much like the PGA tournament has, that will provide a trailer of workout equipment and nutritional supplies for every Bassmaster Elite Series event sometime in the future.
But for now, Hoover has certainly proven the worth of his words. At no point has that been more apparent than the Sunday weigh-in stage at Old Hickory Lake, when winner Kevin Wirth said, "I felt so great all day this week. He really proved his point."
After which, a quick glance at Hoover found a man who was all smiles.