2008 Bassmaster Classic Lake Hartwell - Greenville, SC, Feb 22 - 24, 2008

A Connecticut Yankee In Ray Scott's Court

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"I was in my underwear…"

Up in New England here we have us some rules…

"…on the motel bed…"

…rules so we can live all squished together…

"…it was raining out…"

…and one of those rules…

"…Jackson, Mississippi it was…"

…concerns elevators…"

"…watching basketball on the TV…"

…and talking in them …

"…in my underwear…"

We Don't.

We just hit our floor button and look straight down at our shoes. It's not that we don't talk out of respect for the others in the elevator. It's because, frankly, if we talk, the others might as well, and we would prefer that there are no others in there with us in the first place.

Up here in New England, encouraging others is frowned upon.

I don't even like to get in elevators when there are others in there. Don't care how much room there is, or how the others shuffle around, if when the doors open and the others look at me, instead of continuing to stare at the floor, I don't get in. Period.

But for the last few days this is what I have been saying to myself, mostly non-audible-like in my brain but sometimes down there in my mouth and tongue where if others were around they might actually hear it, "db…this ain't New England no more."

This is Greenville, South Carolina (I never actually said that to myself in either my brain or mouth but I figure at some point you would like to know where I am).

Greenville, South Carolina, in front of a bank of Hyatt Hotel elevators, middle elevator, up button pushed in and all lit up. Just me. Got some sort of B.A.S.S. media badge around my neck which tells those in charge where I shouldn't be. Over my left shoulder and banging on my right buttocks is my briefcase, inside of which holds my MacBook, some pens, one squished jelly donut I bought in Pennsylvania two days ago while driving down here, one Ziploc bag full of vitamins, one Ziploc bag filled with prescribed narcotics and other wonders, a BASS blue notebook, plus — in a secret compartment — a well worn copy of the Constitution of the United States/Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta printed off the internet should the government try to pull some tricky stuff on a working journalist.

You can never be too prepared.

And I was looking at my feet even though this was the South and everyone else was smiling. I'm just visiting. I'm not joining.

As the elevator door opened up, I stepped right in and turned to hit the button for my floor and was about to go back to looking at my shoes, when a hand came out of nowhere, stuck itself in the elevator doors — which stopped them from closing — and then the hand and the rest of the body attached to it, stepped into my elevator.

Do that in Massachusetts and see how fast the laws are changed to prevent this privacy snafu.

So now I shuffle so close up to the elevator buttons I can see finger prints on the button panel metal, and I'm doing a mental countdown as to just when this box is going to rocket upwards to my own personal space.

And as I wait I can see the reflection of the person behind me, sort of, well actually all I can see is some cowboy hat. I'm in an elevator with a cowboy hat, and just as that starts to sink in the cowboy hat starts moving up and down, with a slight starboard lean.

The cowboy hat is talking — to me — in an elevator that was supposed to be only my elevator, and my neck and back get all tense like because up in New England some people were strapped to poles and toasted for doing a lot less than this, and then in spite of me not wanting to listen, my ears pick just that moment to hear perfectly, and this is what the right one picks up:

"I was in my underwear…"

Just then the elevator hits floor number three, and I mumble something about this being my floor, and I step out real slow and kind of amble around in the elevator waiting area there trying to wish the elevator doors closed, and when they do I walk over to the emergency exit and walk up three flights of stairs to my floor and room.

And that would be why throughout the rest of The Classic whenever I saw Ray Scott up on stage talking, no matter how many times I blinked, rubbed my eyes, or promised my maker I would give up all my bad habits, I could only see the guy who invented the sport I was covering, in a big cowboy hat, and his BVD's.

By the way, if somehow you end up covering this sport, and you get an email from the people who run the sport who tell you that you are, "all set with a media boat to take you around the lake on the last day of practice," do not assume anything.

Like I did.

It was 7:15am, freezing cold both above and below the water, and windy. I was standing on a rolling dock and I was waiting for my media boat.

And I was afraid.

Afraid that should the dock roll get any stronger, I would tumble over and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get up by myself. I was like the kid in the movie, "A Christmas Story." We're talking bundled. No lie; this is exactly what I was wearing on that last day of practice on Lake Hartwell:

White socks under thermal socks, silk long johns under white cotton long johns, under fleece sweat pants under fleece lined cargo pants. A Buffalo Bills tee shirt under a Buffalo Bills long sleeve thermal tee under a Buffalo Bills sweatshirt under a fleece lined vest under a down stuffed parka. On top of my head, my favorite ESPN hat under a fake fur flap hat that I had pulled all the way down and snapped under my chin.

If you read all the clothes tags and added them up I figured I was good until about -312 degrees. Should be enough.

It wasn't.

So there I stood, rocking back and forth waiting for my media boat. Below me a local guy was fiddling around in his bass boat doing boat fiddling things that I've never understood. But he looked happy, so what the hell. Finally he looked up and said, "You ready."

At which I replied, "Yep, just waiting for my media boat."

At which he replied, "All set, get in."

"Get in what?"

"The boat."

"What boat?"

"My boat."

"Where?"

"Right here."

"Here where."

And that's when it became apparent to me that my media boat wasn't some sort of enclosed Catamaran with a hostess serving Daiquiri's and food with sticks through it.

My media boat was a fiberglass rocket — a "my-open-face-to-the-wind" rocket. As I got in my, ah host, handed my what looked like two 3-foot long sausages tied together at the top, with some sort of buckle down where the butcher normally ties the sausage off.

"What's this?"

"Your life jacket."

"No way. It looks like a hors d'oeuvres."

"It self inflates, if you get catapulted off the boat and into the water, by the time you hit about two feet under it will sense it and inflate and bring you back up topside."

I have been on media boats before and never once did the hostess ever refer to me in the same sentence as "catapult." In fact, as we pulled away from the dock, me strapped into my two feet of water sensing sausages, I had never been on a media boat before that actually left the dock.

After a quick rocket ride across the lake that included my host saying twice, "Boy didn't see that coming," which referred to the icy wave that came crashing over my side of the boat and onto my face which wasn't stuck behind a windshield holding on to a steering wheel but just out there in the wind all jiggly and wet, we came across Boyd Duckett in a small cove.

Instantly our big motor was shut off and we used the trolling motor to stay several hundred feet away from where Boyd was trying to find fish.

I twisted the small lens off my camera and threw the biggest zoom lens I had on the face plate, locked it into place and zoomed in on Boyd, so close I could read even the tiniest sponsor name on his shirt.

And it was like watching, "Dancing with the Stars," 'cept, of course, it was just Boyd and his observer and not some beautiful woman in a gown on board.

Boyd's every move was choreographed so that not one bit of action was a wasted movement. I watched how on a rocking boat he effortlessly in a whirl of fingers and monofilament tied on a new jig while most of the time not even looking at what he was tying, instead scanning the water for where it was about to be cast.

When the effort comes that naturally, no one needs to tell you that you're watching something special. And when he stood and reached back to cast, through my lens I couldn't help but see Ted Williams at the plate about to crank one the Green Monster's way.

But it was Aaron Martens who made me mumble, "Sweet Jesus," into the back of my still camera. We found him in another cove, "eliminating water," my boat driver said, which thankfully turned out to be something quite different than what I was expecting, and why he looked at me the way he did when I replied, "But dude, it's a little windy to be doing that today what with me sitting just right here."

From somewhat close, but behind Martens, I watched as time and again he would cast his line and it would plunk in the tiniest of spaces between boats and the dock they were moored to. Thirty, 40, 50 feet away he would put the line square in what looked to be no more than a six-inch opening.

If there was a Dixie cup on the dock, I have no doubt he could have cast straight into the cup.

Later that night I was at a fancy suit coat and tie dinner to honor the 50 athletes who made the cut to compete in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic. Lots of nice looking, good smelling people at tables everywhere, the murmur of laughter mixing with the clinking of ice, the cutting of steak.

Once the heavy chewing was about done, Skeet Reese, this year's Angler of the Year, got up and gave an emotional speech in which he thanked his father for taking him fishing when he was a little kid on a raft in California.

Skeet came in 13th place at this year's Classic, and as I was walking out of a near deserted Bi-Lo Center, confetti was being swept up, popcorn locked away, ice dumped down the drains, Skeet's Dad came up to me and this is what he said.

"We'll get them next time."

Not, "He'll get them next time," it was, "We'll."

And as Skeet's Dad walked away, I knew that neither he nor Skeet have ever left that raft they fished together so long ago.

Fishing — their bond —really is The Classic part of this sport.

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