It takes many talented people to film and produce a show as complex as The Bassmasters. The public sits down in front of ESPN each week and watches the finalized glossy version of the event, yet we may not realize the tremendous effort and time a show like Bassmaster takes to bring to air; and it all begins on the shoulders of the cameramen.
Wes Miller, a 34-year-old JM Associates cameraman from Little Rock, Arkansas has spent the past eleven years refining his own craft, and has become a top professional in his field. His approach has been noticed by not only his superiors, but also by the anglers.
Mike McKinnis, son of JM Associates founder Jerry McKinnis knows the attributes of a professional cameraman, and speaks highly of Miller; "We have some tremendous cameramen here, men who stand for twelve hours a day with that camera on their shoulders, but, Wes is definitely flamboyant, his approach gets some tremendous shots."
The anglers themselves are perhaps their most outspoken proponents, Weatherford Texas based Gary Klein feels that the presence of the cameramen has added to the sport. "They have been doing this for as long as we have, they are dedicated individuals who make us look good, they are true professionals"
Bassmaster pro Shaw Grigsby, a television veteran himself knows Miller, and speaks highly as well, "Wes is the best, he is extremely creative, and that is the name of the game." Grigsby knows that an over the shoulder shot can become quite mundane, and likes the extreme approach to filming. "Camera work like his makes us and the sport more interesting to the consumer."
That creativity will often find Miller in precarious situations. It is not unusual to see him seated on the trolling motor bracket, feet straddling the pedal while an angler fishes over his shoulder. Another favorite perch of Miller's is to stand atop the motor cowling and shoot from a higher position.
One might think that having an active cameraman in the boat would be distracting to the angler, but Grigsby says no. "Most of us have worked in front of cameras for so long, that we know the deal, and we realize that their work enhances ours."
Klein echoes those sentiments, "with these guys being so active, you would think that they would get in the way, but I cannot remember even one time that I have been interfered with, or have lost an opportunity or fish because of them."
"I have to be honest," says Miller, "I get bored rather easily, and filming fishing can be slow from time to time, so I end up creating new angles to get shots from. I figure that if I can keep myself entertained, then the viewer will be as well."
Aside from the slow periods, Miller finds that filming the fluidity of fishing is the hardest part. "This is different from other sports, in basketball or golf for example, you know basically where the ball is going to go, so you can anticipate." Filming a creature with its own will can be challenging. "You can never tell what a fish is going to do, the angler might tell me that the fish is going to jump, and it doesn't or it may turn the opposite way you expected, so the best thing to do is just shoot a lot of film, and hope you didn't mess anything up when it counted."
Miller enjoys capturing the emotions of the angler when he lands or loses a key fish, and his favorite moment to date has been capturing the image of Robert Lee landing his 9 pound 12 oz lunker on the final day of the Citgo Bassmaster Tour event on the California Delta. "That is the biggest fish we have ever got on tape here at JM Associates, and the moment of Robert landing that fish coupled with the raw emotion of his joy made it a perfect shot."
An important piece of the puzzle to the camera work is the boat handler, and Miller says that there have been two handlers that stand out in his mind, for entirely different reasons. "I have had a lot of fun working with pro angler David Walker, we were at one event at Lake Okeechobee, and he turns to the camera and says 'Wes, I am so terrible, you fish, and I'll film.' It ended up being funny enough that we put it in the show." However, Bernie Gaunt, a Northern California angler who volunteered his time at the ESPN Great Outdoor Games on Folsom Lake made a huge impression on Wes. "Bernie knew where he needed to be at the precise moment, he handled the boat smoothly and professionally, and that kind of dedication really makes my job a lot easier"
Not everything in the life of a cameraman is fun, Miller was a part of one of the scariest moments of televised bass fishing at the Citgo Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta. Miller was assigned to cover Gary Klein, and was a part of the now infamous incident involving a camper and a gunshot. "We were idling, and I was changing the battery in my camera so I wouldn't miss any action when the gunshot rang out." Miller made sure to film the perpetrator on the way out for identification purposes. "He was much nicer the second time through, probably because he saw the camera. It was scary, but thankfully, nobody got hurt."
Along with his education at University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Miller says the mentoring of a friend has been a secret to his success. "Carey Barrett is a tremendous cameraman, most of the time you will find him filming from one of the helicopters, but he has helped me learn so much about this craft, that I am entirely grateful to him."
The world is becoming educated to the sport of bass angling since the acquisition of BASS by ESPN. The anglers know that the time is now for bass fishing to step into the limelight. “We are entering into a new era with ESPN, and we will have to use every advantage to showcase our sport to the world," said Klein. "With the help of professionals like Wes Miller, this sport will continue to grow into what we all know it can be."