October 19, 2004

Future 'Bassmaster' Finds Appeal in Unique Sports

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Once I wanted to be a fireman. Then a baseball player. Then a professional surfer. Eventually I got serious, and decided to become a writer, or a lawyer.

But now, I”m happy to say, I”ve finally found my true calling — professional fisherman. Actually, professional bass fisherman, a.k.a Bassmaster.

Let me tell you how I stumbled upon my destiny. I”m flipping through the TV channels one Wednesday, as I study for a prelim, when all I sudden I see a lovely young woman with a rose in her hand. What is this? I ask myself. Who is this woman and why has she just been given a rose in an obviously uncomfortable and staged situation? I was intrigued, to say the least. And then I remembered — this charming young woman must be a contestant on The Bachelor.

I”ve never watched the show. All I know about this fun-filled hour is that some guy gets to pick his wife from a group of beautiful, surgically-enhanced women, who, for some reason, just can”t seem to keep a man. They”ve decided that the best way to meet the love of their life is to go on a seven-episode game show. Of course.

Anyway, I find out that the bachelor this season is a guy named Byron Velvick. His occupation: professional bass fisherman, a.k.a. Bassmaster. And then it hit me. I had discovered the mission of my life — to become a professional fisherman.

More evidence of my fate arrived the next day. While going to pick up a copy of this very newspaper, I happened to see a magazine I”d normally not care about. What magazine was it? Bassmaster Magazine. I read it (okay, I mostly looked at the exciting pictures of bass), and in a few minutes the entire world of competitive fishing emerged before my eager mind. Later in the day, ESPN2 had some bass fishing on. Yet another sign helping to confirm that, yes, this sport and I were just like J.Lo and Ben — made for each other. Wait a second…

I decided to learn more about what it takes to become an elite bass fisherman. The first thing I discovered is that many of our nation”s bass fishermen are old, from the southern heartland, like to hunt, and own guns. I”m young, from the coast, like to surf, and all I know about guns comes from 2Pac. But was I deterred by this? Not at all.

The major league of pro fishing is known as B.A.S.S., or the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. I kid you not. This witty abbreviation would kind of be like the MLB calling itself B.A.S.E.B.A.L.L., or the Big American Sports Executive Baseball Association League League. So I figured that bass fishermen must be intelligent, if they can come up with such a clever designation.

To win a tournament, you have to catch big fish. The judges add up the largest fish you catch over a three-day period, and then determine the winner. I found out that the heaviest fish ever caught on tour weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces. That didn”t seem very impressive to me, but then I realized that bass don”t grow much bigger.

However, for such a big-time sport, you would think these guys should be catching some really huge fish. Like 400-pounders. 2000-pounders. Or maybe just fish that capsize the boat and/or attempt to eat the fishermen.

Now, for some of the smaller guys on tour, it”s not easy reelin” in those eight pound bass. That”s why I think there”s got to be some major steroid use going on here. Top athletes will do whatever it takes to get a competitive advantage.

So what”s my guess on the percentage of the guys juicing? Twenty to thirty percent, easy. As I would never join any league tainted by doping, I decided to look for some evidence to confirm my suspicions. What did I find? Upon investigation, I discovered that, back in the eighties, most of the pros were fat, bordering on obese. And today? Well, today most of the pros are still fat. Okay, so maybe I”m wrong about the steroids.

The final thing I had to find out about the sport was the money involved. Now, I know most people fish for the love of it. And I”m all for amateurism. But a man”s got to make a living. For the biggest tournament of the year — the Bassmaster Classic — there”s a top prize of $200,000. Not bad for a few days sitting in a boat on a lake. But forget about the money. The real prize of competing on tour has nothing to do with cash. The real prize is that you”ll forever be known as a Bassmaster. And that is priceless.


Meanwhile, over in another professional league, the New York Jets are 5-0. It”s the first time in the history of the world that someone can say this. Sure, the Jets have played some mediocre teams. But five straight wins in the NFL? That”s very difficult, no matter whom you play. So watch the Jets against undefeated New England this upcoming Sunday. It”s my Game of the Week.

Archived article by Ted Nyman