Perhaps most importantly from my perspective, we caught the snot out of them. Kriet pulled up on one little ridge, lined me up for the cast, and told me to catch as many as I wanted. “They’re only 2- and 3-pounders,” he said. “They won’t matter in a tournament on Falcon.” He was right, but I had a good time swinging on them.
Finally, he’s one of the few pros who ever gave me a really solid piece of advice on how to improve my catch during the upcoming tournament. He pointed out that because the lake was very full, there was a ton of cover that couldn’t be seen from the boat. He noted that my pro partners would likely get the first and best shot at the obvious cover, but that I could level the playing field (and make them more comfortable) by casting in the lanes between the timber and bushes. I tried his strategy, and on the final day, it provided two good culls that moved me up 10 to 15 places.
Gary Klein was a last-minute addition to the field at the Pittsburgh Bassmaster Classic. He’d identified what he felt was an unfair wrinkle in the points system in the B.A.S.S. Elite 50 events, then lobbied B.A.S.S. to correct their mistake by putting him into the Classic (as well as the following year’s event on Toho – for scheduling reasons, anglers could qualify for two Classics through one year of tour competition). The powers-that-be eventually ruled in his favor, but it meant that he missed the entire pre-practice period for the tournament. All he’d really get was the single day of practice two days before the start of the tournament.
When I got in the boat with Klein that Friday morning, he knew exactly what he was going to do – drop shot the many bridge pilings in the vicinity near the launch. He’d determined that there were plenty of fish there and felt that he wouldn’t have to waste a lot of time locking through to other pools or idling through long no-wake zones. His strategy proved to be prescient as VanDam eventually won on similar nearby cover, albeit using a different presentation.
I had not drop shotted at that point in time, and Klein himself was relatively new to the technique. He’d “forced” Aaron Martens to teach him after Martens won the 1999 California Invitational at Lake Oroville. Klein, like Martens, is an incredibly detail-oriented tackle tinkerer, and six years after an on-the-water tutorial from Martens, he was still refining his system. I was privy to his thought process, and it helped me to determine not just the nuts and bolts of the system, but how a Hall of Fame angler teaches himself a new technique. It made me want to drop shot and it made me understand that there are no shortcuts (well, I suppose a lesson from Aaron Martens or Gary Klein counts as a shortcut) – reading about it in a book is a good start, but it takes hours upon hours on the water to really dial in any presentation.
It’s been just about four years since Wharton died, and I sometimes fear that his legacy will be lost because he wasn’t flashy and never won a Classic or AOY title with B.A.S.S. In a sport where you’re only as good as your next tournament, one thing that many of us have been bad about it is preserving the sport’s history (two exceptions to this rule are Ken Duke and Terry Battisti, the latter of whom runs www.bassfishingarchives.com, to which I contribute).