Russell Phillips has two in the boat and maybe a third. The maybe is right on the line and he said he'll have to check it again before he heads in.
This is a tough style tournament to cover. The fish aren't exactly easy to find. A game of cat and mouse with the fish causes a game of cat and mouse between the cameraman and the anglers. One or two of the right bites is all that will separate 1st from 25th this week. Getting those bites will be very difficult and most likely spot specific so it's in the angler's best interest to do the most he can to conceal and protect any area he has confidence in. Now some of these guys will tell me exactly where they are. But it's still not as simple as just running to where they are and snapping a few pics like it would be if we were fishing a lake. These guys have figured out, through a process of beating and banging off a bunch of stumps, the best way to get into a certain area while making as little noise and stirring up as little mud as possible.
Now if I come rolling onto the scene and try to pick my way through, careful as I might be, I'm still going to make a lot of noise and muddy the water and then I'm affecting the game. And that's something that no journalist wants to or should ever do. You won't see a cameraman on at an NFL game stagger out into the field and plop down on the 25 yard line (although that would make things a little more interesting). So back to flirting with the fine line between coverage and interference.
Any hope as a journalist that this might be a tournament where anglers lined the river bank and were easy to find has gone out the window. After about 30 minutes of running around, we finally stumbled onto our first competitor, John Soukup of Oklahoma. He has two in the boat and is way away from civilization. This river system sets up like most in this part of the country. There's a navigable river channel with a few navigable offshoots and tributaries and then a labyrinth of backwater mine fields. Acres and acres of open water blanketed with gnarly, nasty stumps, typically just under the surface. The water stays a pretty consistent brownish green until it rains and hides those stumps quite well. The best way to find them is with your trolling motor in the water but it's hard to stay in the boat that way if you got it on high. And it seems for some reason that the fish are all the way in the back, so the anglers are also.
I've been here when the fish are on the river, so there was an optimism that allowed me to hope the guys would be catching them in plain sight of my camera this week. But no such luck. We're on the prowl again looking for something to shoot at. Looks like it's going to be a backwaters kind of tournament here this year. Then again, if you found something working on the main river you could have it all to yourself. Too early to say for sure.
Competitors representing Japan, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Spain, Portugal and Australia head out on Ouachita River on Day 1.
The 2013 B.A.S.S. Nation champion spent his practice days scoping out spots, but not fishing them. Today he's hoping they produce some big fish.
"I didn't catch any during practice, but today I'm going to catch some good ones on those spots. I'm ready," Lugar said. "I've got some spots that I'm hoping are going to produce. I'm looking to get back to the Classic."
Members of the B.A.S.S. Nation had the special honor tonight of hearing from Ginger Gilbert Ravella and her son, Greyson Gilbert.
The two spoke on behalf of Folds of Honor, which hosted the sponsor dinner for the competitors in the 2014 Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, as a way to introduce the organization’s new Patriot Fishing Days.
Ginger’s husband, Maj. Troy Gilbert, was 34 years old when he was killed in Iraq flying a mission in an F-16 fighter jet in 2006. Troy and Ginger had five children, all age 9 and under at the time.
“I just didn’t know what to do,” said Ginger tonight at the dinner. “But those kids kept me going. They’re all so good. They gave me a reason to get up every day.”
Ginger travels often to give her testimonial about Folds of Honor, an organization that supports education for family members of soldiers who were killed or wounded in battle. But her son, Greyson, almost never speaks. He made a special trip – which included taking a couple of days out of school to travel from San Antonio to Monroe – because he loves to fish, and his dad did, too.
“This is really special to me to be here,” said Greyson, 14. “I know my dad would have wanted to be here, too. I wish I could be going fishing with him.”
There was not a dry eye in the house. After the pair finished speaking, a line of B.A.S.S. Nation members had formed to thank Ginger and Greyson for coming to the championship and for their work to support other military families.