|Barton Lake, Michigan (photo by Nikki Dobrowolski)
Readers have been sending in photos for my Saturday Snapshot, which is very gratifying. Nikki Dobrowolski sent in a pair Monday, this lovely swan—taken under duress, as the male swan was making a beeline toward her—and a beaver dam, that I'll use on Saturday.
She prefaced her description of the pictures with, "I took these photos when my husband and I were out prefishing for bass tournaments."
I don't like to brag. But I am a man of parts, and couldn't help sharing a personal detail few readers know.
"These are nice, thanks," I wrote back then, unable to restrain myself, added. "If I told you I won $1,000 in the BASS Masters Classic, would you believe me? It's true."
She believed me—the power of the media.
"That sounds like a very interesting blog post," she wrote. "I'd love to read that story and congratulations on your win.
Bass can't be everywhere. Which is why bass boats have big 250 horsepower motors.
They blast across the water at 70 mph, a cheek-flapping wind roaring by and only a placemat's worth of boat bottom actually touching the water's surface. Then they pull up at a carefully scouted sweet spot where suddenly all is quiet, just the buzzing of insects on shore and the gentle zip of the fisherman flicking an expert cast, stalking his prey.
That's bass fishing: a combination of drag racing and chess.
Chicago is going to be hearing a lot about bass fishing over the next month as the BASS Masters Classic—the pinnacle of the sport—leaves the South, where it has comfortably played to the choir for 30 years, and dips into Northern waters for the first time.
Chicago seems receptive, so far.
"The mayor wants to go out," said Tom Gray, a director in Mayor Daley's office of special events. "We're trying to set it up."
The classic begins July 17, with 46 of the nation's top anglers trying to hook the fattest local bass, culminating with a "final weigh-in extravaganza" at Soldier Field on July 22.
"Taking the BASS Masters Classic to Chicago is a bold move that is really going to elevate the sport," said Davy Hite of South Carolina, last year's champ.
Bass fishermen talk a lot about elevating the sport. Although bass fishing has been moving into the big leagues (two years ago the Angler of the Year first appeared on a Wheaties box, and the Classic carries a $ 100,000 top prize), it isn't there yet.
"Tournament angling doesn't have the dollars that golf has, but we're right behind," said Chuck Ramke, past-president of the Illinois B.A.S.S. Federation, which has 1,800 members.
The competitors, in town last week to scout out Lake Michigan, grumbled about slim pickings. But they agreed that it is worth working a little harder if it means introducing bass fishing to an area perhaps unfamiliar with pros such as Gary Klein, with his quiet, intense demeanor.
"I've never had another occupation," said Klein, 42. "I graduated high school, and instead of going to college I went out on the bass circuit."
Weekend fishermen, who think of fishing as tossing a line in the water and waiting for a fish to bite, have no idea of the expertise that experts such as Klein, who earned $500,000 last year, bring to the sport.
Klein knows where the fish are. After a week of scouting, including flying over the lake in a rented plane, he roars up to a section of shore just north of Calumet Harbor and searches out a particular rock.
Standing at the bow of his 21-foot Triton boat, he eyeballs a smallmouth in the clear shallows, flicks his cast, sending a hand-poured tube lure under the fish's nose, practically, and gets a strike on the first try.
"When I get to the spot the fish likes to favor, I'm on his nose all the time, like a fly, until he gets mad and he bites," Klein said.
How does he know where the bass will be? Experience, and balancing dozens of factors, such as water and air temperature; wind speed; barometer reading; season, and the contours of the bottom.
"When we look at a lake, we don't just see water, we see all the subtleties," he said. "We are very fine-tuned when it comes to putting together patterns."
Though not a particularly physical sport, bass fishing takes a toll. Klein has a nasty scar on his right hand from a prize-winning bass that sank its teeth into him as he lifted it for the cameras.
"It was a $100,000 fish," said Klein. "I wasn't going to drop it."
—Originally published in the Sun-Times June 12, 2000