Thursday, September 13, 2018

Flashback 2000: Top-flight bass anglers to hook up in Chicago

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.

    Consider it done. But first, a bit of background about BASS Masters, a Southern phenomenon that ventured northward, to Chicago, in 2000. Someone with a sense of humor at the City Desk thought it would be a hoot to make me the bass fishing reporter for the week, and I rewarded them with this. On Sunday, I'll share how reporting the below put a grand in my pocket, temporarily.

     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."     
Gary Klein

     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


  1. Kudos to Nikki; a beautiful photo.

  2. Very interesting indeed. That's a great description of what the tournaments are like, only I'll add the wind at that speed really messes with your ears, plugs are a must for long runs, and it is a physically demanding sport. Tourneys are 6-8 hours long. That's a lot of casting, reeling, catching. The bag limit is 5 bass, but you could be hauling in 50+ fish, all of them fighting to not be hauled in. By the time you get to weigh in, you've had a rather great upper body workout. Oh, plus Gary Klein is still fishing the circuit. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Ever since my Mom refused to clean the 15 or so blue gills and perch I tried to bring home from a miraculous day on the 79th Street Rocks, I've considered fishing a big waste of time. Little did I know how much time I would waste in lesser pursuits.


  4. Nothing to do with this fish story, but Neil describing himself as "a man of parts" brought to mind something my first commanding officer in the Naval Reserve said long ago. He was a scholar of 18th century literature and sometimes talked that way. Uniform pants had at that time had, instead of a fly, a flap secured by 13 buttons, evidently representing the original states. When I observed that this archaic design made going to the bathroom difficult, he agreed, saying "Yes. It calls for a person of large parts and great penetration."


    1. Are you certain that time hasn't intruded upon that memory. Thirteen buttons seems like an awful lot of buttons for a fly.

    2. It wasn't a fly in the conventional sense but a large square flap. I thought my memory was playing tricks, but Mr. Google confirmed it existence.


    3. Imagine a large rectangle of fabric, more similar to the back flap on the seat of a union suit, one-piece long underwear. This flap has seven buttons across the top and four buttons vertically on each side, near where pockets would be, the bottom is part of the leg's fabric, so the buttons are three sides of the rectangle. The outer two buttons of the top row doing double duty as the top button of the four on each side, making thirteen total buttons. When I received my issue in 1969 they had recently changed to a zipper fly, but still had some of the button variety, which looked terrific on long legged women. I opted for the zipper.

  5. Ho-hum, call me when my grouper's ready, I'll skip the sunburns and mosquito bites.


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