This piece was actually inspired at the Bassmaster Classic and immediately afterward while watching the Bassmaster Classic television coverage on ESPN2. Then, while waiting to formulate how I was going to write it, I decided to add to it after fishing in the Lake County Chamber Tournament this past weekend.
I'll start with some observations of the Bassmaster Classic.
While at the tournament, I was hearing anglers talk about spectator boat traffic a little more than usual. That's not the say that there were more spectator boats than usual, but there were more of a certain type of spectator boat - the kind that influences tournaments. I also noticed that there was significant mention of spectator traffic by Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona on the television broadcasts of the Classic.
I stated wondering just how bad it was; so I called Zona. He was in the middle of driving through Arkansas to head to his appointed rounds at Bass Pro Shops Spring Fishing Days after wrapping up filming The Classic Winning Ways show with Randy Howell; so, his perspective on the event was complete.
I asked him. "Hey Z, was spectator traffic bad enough at the Classic, that you guys felt it needed to be covered on the show more than usual?"
His response. "We could have shown a lot more, and a lot worse than we did," he said. "There are three kinds of people out on the water during an Elite event or a Classic. One that doesn't even know a tournament is going on. Another that is there to watch the show, and a third one that is there to prove they could out fish the guys on tournament day - we had more of those 'fans' at Guntersville than usual."
He told me that everyone who finished high in that tournament had their water impacted on the first two days of the event by "spectators" who would fish spots after they left to move to a new spot.
You may have seen this yourself. Bassmaster photographer extraordinaire James Overstreet mentioned on the TV Show that he stayed behind a move of one of the leaders on day two to secure camera gear. While he was packing up for the move, several of the boats in the pro's flotilla stayed, pulled rods out of their boats and started fishing; making the same casts he had been making only moments earlier on his key starting spot each day.
Fast forward to this weekend on Clear Lake. While Fishing the Lake County Chamber Tournament, (formerly known as the Record Bee, the Lakeport Ford, The Holder Ford etc.) with my friend Billy Hines, I got to be a part of the combat fishing scenario from a competitor standpoint for the first time in a while.
I fished the event last year with Billy and we elected to avoid the combat zones (my new name for community holes) that were so obvious at the mouth of every creek, ditch and prop wash divot on the lake; and we paid a price for it. We finished something like 800 million out of a 125 boat field trying to stay away from the crowds.
This year, we decide that we were going to have to gird our loins, pull up our big girl panties, or whatever cliché used to get ready for fishing in close quarters. When our boat number 117 was called, Billy hit the throttle and pointed his Gone Fishin' Marine Nitro straight to combat zone Echo Zulu; otherwise known as Rodman Slough.
There were so many boats at the mouth that we decided to fish inside and work our way out. By the time we got finished inside without a bite, we went out there to join the fracas. Hearing some of the chatter and seeing the crossed lines, we decided no amount of armor was worth that; so we left, found a few fish and weighed 19 pounds.
The next morning, before takeoff, I was talking to one of the Clear Lake Generals in charge of combat zone Echo Zulu; Paul Bailey of Big Bait Posse fame, and told him we would see them in the area now that we were going to have a better boat number. I also told him not to worry that we would give them a wide berth as we were in 32nd place and they were in third. The day one leaders of the event were also fishing in the area, and we would give them space too.
Paul said probably the funniest thing I'd heard in a while about fishing in close quarters. He told me that the previous day, he and his partner Matt Newman from iRod arrived in the area and within a few minutes they had several boats moving in close enough to cast near their boat. Paul said he laughed and said out loud "Wow, we must smell really good." To which he got puzzled looks and a question as to why he would say that. He replied, "because you're all wanting to get up here and marinate in it for a while." HE and Newman shared a good laugh and went about their business.
Here's my point; and it's two fold. First. Learn to have a little respect for people on the water. If you are a spectator at a major event, have enough decency to let the angler fish. It's three to four days out of your life that you don't get to fish that isolated brush pile you planted seven years ago and have caught the biggest fish of your life out of.
Instead of being annoyed that the "so called pro that you would beat any time, any place" was sitting on your spot on your day off, admire the fact that an angler had the skills to locate it in the first place, and then go and fish something different. Learn something new about your lake which might help you become a better angler overall.
Secondly. There are going to be times that we are going to be fishing a tournament and it will look like we are all parked at a drive in movie. When that happens, try to keep your sense of humor. The fact is, it's not your water only. The truth is that those 30 boats didn't just happen to discover that Rodman Slough held fish this past weekend because somebody was leading a tournament on the first day of an open team tournament..
Rodman Slough has held bass two days after Clear lake was formed, and will hold bass for 50 years after you catch your last bass and are in your grave. So, have a sense of humor about it, joke around with the other boats on the water and catch what you can. It will pay off in the long run to have a little respect for each other while we're out there.
Besides, isn't it about time we answer Rodney King's question... "Can't We All Just Get Along?"