GREENSBORO, N.C. — For an angler even to qualify for a Major such as the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts, he must be on the Elite Series tour, which pays tournament winners a cool hundred grand, so six-figure payouts are always a possibility.
But the top payout in the Majors is an exorbitant $250,000. For anglers who often are just hoping for a $10,000 tournament check to help cover entry fees and expenses, that's a hefty sum, one that will affirm careers, pay off debts and earn an angler the regard of sponsors. It's not about the money, some anglers say, but a quarter of a million bucks is a lot of money for it not to be about. Here's what it would mean to the anglers remaining in the field:
Fred Roumbanis, age 28. (1st place, 14 pounds, 10 ounces.)
"It would change my life. No doubt about it. It would help me land some sponsors, and maybe sponsors who were interested in me but not quite sure if I was capable of doing it. Not even to win the money so much, but to win a tournament. I took three seconds last year — the Busch Shootout, at Amistad, and actually in the October prior to that, at Lake Shasta, but it was all in a 12-month span. I just haven't won a Bassmaster tournament yet.
"I gotta thank God that it's a tough lake to catch five on. I'll be back in Oklahoma tomorrow, and if I win, I'm going to drive. I'll be so fired up. If I win this tournament, we'll probably end up buying a house on Grand Lake or something. You don't want to think about it. You don't even want to think about it as a tournament. Just go fishing, and everything will be fine."
Brian Snowden, age 34. (2nd, 9-0)
"It's major. It would mean a lot. We would start building on a new house. We got some land, and we've been waiting for the right moment to build. So I think that's where the wife would start.
"It would definitely alleviate some of the pressure. Traveling out here every day is expensive, so you could fish a year or two without any worries whatsoever. We'll spend 12 to 15,000 dollars a year just in fuel for boats and trucks. The prize money actually hasn't gone up as fast as our expenses have gone up.
"If you're going to be in position to win one, you want to make sure it counts. I've been in position a few times, and finished second or back in the pack. So this one you really want to do well."
Mike McClelland, age 39. (3rd, 5-14)
"The money would be great. The money would be wonderful. It would help secure some things. But it's really an opportunity to achieve another goal in my career. Last year I solidified some things by winning a tournament. This year, I solidified a little more by winning another. In my career, I still want to win a Major, win Angler of the Year and win a Classic. I've already achieved one of my goals this week by making the final six.
"Three years ago, the money would have been the first thing on my mind. Now it's not so much about the money."
Mark Tucker, age 46. (4th, 5-9)
"I would like to win it just so I could be a little generous with it. I'd like to buy my dad a new boat. And get my mom something, and my wife something, and my brothers something. My dad got me started, and I'd like to be able to repay him for that. My brothers, we fished growing up, and I'm sure they would like a little piece of it. They're part of it — I mean, sneaking into all them little ponds all the time.
"You don't ever think that you're going to make it this far. It's everybody's dream. You see a nice bass boat and a nice truck going down the road and you think, Man, I'd like to do that. I was a concrete finisher for 25 years, and I never dreamed of quitting that job and just fishing for a living. I don't have really paying sponsors. It's all out of my pocket. So that would enable me to keep fishing. If not, probably, it's getting to be way too expensive to stay out here out of your own pocket.
"That's a lot of money. I'm doing just fine without it. I'd probably do just fine with it. It would set you free."
Ish Monroe, age 32. (5th, 4-15)
"The big picture is financial stability and sponsor stability for a year or two when you win one. Sponsors look at you and say, OK, he can win. It changes everything. They're willing to support you even more. It's kind of funny, when you need the money, and you're not really doing well, it's hard to get it. But once you make it, you get more coming. Like they say, the rich get richer and the poor have got a little tough luck.
"Every single one of my sponsors, it made a huge difference for them when I won a Major last year. It was something for them more than for myself. It was, Hey, this guy can win, he got us on TV, he got us into magazines. That's when you win one, and when you win a second one, it's even better. You don't fish as much for consistency as you want to shoot for the win now. You win one, you want to win another, whereas before, you just wanted to get checks to get by. You look at guys like Denny Brauer and Kevin VanDam — those guys have won, so they shoot for the win every time they go out."
John Murray, age 42. (6th, 2-13)
"I'm actually cheering for Fred. He's having a baby, and he's a good fisherman — two-hundred and fifty would mean a lot to him. For me it wouldn't be life changing, but it would make things easier. You wouldn't have the stress for a while. None of us really do it for the money, obviously — you can go broke that way. It would make it easier. I've done it for 25 years in the west. I've won almost $2 million in bass fishing. You're never ahead in bass fishing, but I'm comfortable in that, my house, I've got everything like that.
"That's a life-changing amount for most fishermen. That would be a dream come true to someone like me, who's never won that amount of money at one time. I've won a hundred — a Busch Shootout and a couple of opens out West. A hundred's pretty dang nice. Two-fifty, that's living large right there. I like the idea, but personally, as a professional bass fisherman, I'd rather see the 150 paid down through the field. That's my look at it. Three guys a year get it. If you could spread that down, and have 10 or 15 or 20 guys get it, it would be better for the sport. "