Imagine if you were a casual golfer and were given the opportunity to play a team tournament with Tiger Woods. On second thought, forget golf. What if you were a weekend bass angler and had the chance to partner up with 11-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Edwin Evers for a two-angler team tournament?
Keith Vogel, 54, of Waukesha, Wis., did just that a couple weeks ago when he fished a Wisconsin Alliance of Bass Tournament Anglers (WABTA) tournament on Rock Lake. The pairing came through a promotion by Optima Batteries, one of Evers' sponsors.
"It was unreal — truly once in a lifetime," Vogel said. " To get to be in a boat for a full day of fishing with one of the best in the world ... it's just invaluable."
And Vogel wasn't the only one who enjoyed the experience.
"I got my start in competitive fishing through team tournaments," Evers said. "They're so much fun because you're rooting for your partner, which isn't always the case in a pro-am, where your partner catching a big one could hurt you."
Evers was in the area to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series Mississippi River Rumble out of La Crosse. He was looking for a little warm-up before the tournament, in which he finished 38th.
"I met Edwin at the launch," Vogel said. "He had never fished the lake before. We hit if off pretty well right away. He was glad I had some fishing experience, and we had a great day together."
Evers was a little nervous to come in and fish an amateur tournament. After all, he's universally regarded as one of the best bass anglers in the world. Showing up to fish an amateur circuit tournament might be being viewed like Alex Rodriguez stepping into the batter's box in your local church softball league.
"I was concerned the guys might treat me as an outcast — that they might be mad that I was fishing their event," Evers said. "Turns out, they welcomed me with open arms, like I was one of their friends. Wisconsin has some really good anglers and great people."
Because Rock Lake is only about 1,200 acres, Evers decided to let the entire field of 50 boats take off before him, so the locals could settle onto their spots without any interference. As they left, he and Vogel tied on lures and made a game plan.
"When we took off, you could see Edwin examining the fish locater," Vogel said. "It's like he was inspecting every inch — studying it, looking for spots that would hold bass. As we idled over a point, he found a rock hump that he liked."
Though his electronics didn't reveal any bass, Evers knew it had everything else he was looking for, and since the lake was fishing small, it became as spot number one.
"He let me cast to it first, and I caught a nice four-pound smallmouth," Vogel said. "Edwin out-fished me, but two of the bass I caught were big enough to be part of catch at the weigh in."
Many would have considered Evers to be at a big disadvantage since he had never fished the lake before and was pitted against 100 or so of the best anglers in the area. He wasn't concerned, though. In fact, the lack of experience on Rock Lake might have helped him.
"Sometimes, previous experience on a lake can hurt you because you have preconceived notions of where the fish should be," he said. "I'm not saying that practice days aren't important, but even before Bassmaster events, I only practice the few days allowed before the event. I don't want to overdo it."
Evers and Vogel were waiting to weigh-in when another competitor stopped by to talk.
"I didn't get his name," Evers admitted, "but he told us he had to leave early because he was supposed to attend a fundraising event for Cystic Fibrosis. As my partner and I were waiting to weigh-in, I told him if we won anything, we should donate it to the local fundraiser."
That decision was prophetic. Despite the fact that Evers and Vogel had never been on the lake before, they managed a second place finish.
"We donated the $1,200 check to the local Cystic Fibrosis event," Vogel said. "Edwin didn't think twice about it. He's one of the best in the world, but he has no ego about it. I have a new appreciation for pro anglers and what they do. I got to feel how your heart gets pumping in a tournament and had a chance to fish with a really good guy."