The video screen at center stage lights up with the image of a brawny largemouth, gills pulsating as if the finny brute is about to annihilate a topwater plug. The fish disappears and a lively montage of bass fishing scenes plays until the video concludes with a satisfied angler holding a double-digit trophy.
The screen goes black and a spotlight shines on the smiling angler in the video as he strides across the stage wearing a cowboy hat and boots, neatly pressed jeans, starched shirt and a guitar slung across his shoulder. He strikes the first chords to a hit country music song, and the crowd goes wild.
The angler/guitar player is Brad Paisley, and the song he sings is called "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)." It was Paisley's first No. 1 hit, and it set him on the course to stardom in the world of country music.
Fishing and country music have danced together for decades. Hank Williams Jr.'s 1981 hit "A Country Boy Can Survive" underlines the fact that the lifestyles are often intertwined. And you'd be hard pressed to find an angler who doesn't have at least one country station preset on his truck radio. But Paisley's "Fishin' Song" (which takes a whimsical look at how fishing influences relationships) speaks so directly to bass fishermen that it has become the unofficial anthem for a horde of tournament anglers across the country.
In spite of his meteoric rise to the top of the genre with a blazing streak of hits and industry accolades, Paisley remains deeply tied to his West Virginia roots. And he is undeniably country music's most fanatical bass fisherman.
"I'm just like anybody else who is crazy about bass fishing," says Paisley, 31. "I do it to get away from the grind, spend quality time with friends and apply what I learn to get better at it."
For Paisley, making hit music and videos pays the bills, while bass fishing feeds the soul. Like anybody wrapped up in the sport, he lives to fish, although sometimes picking a guitar takes precedence over casting a line. His infatuation with the sport reads like the profile of any devoted BASS member — or maybe even someone who has crossed the line to the hard-core ranks.
Paisley recently took scuba lessons so he could go diving around the clear underwater points of middle Tennessee's Center Hill and Dale Hollow reservoirs in search of smallmouth habitat. His wife, actress Kimberly Williams, co-stars in the ABC hit "According To Jim" and as a result, Paisley spends a lot of time at the couple's Los Angeles area home while the series is in production. So, Paisley decided to not only keep a bass boat at their home near Nashville, but another in California, so his free time can be spent angling Western waters.
On the flip side, Paisley's music career finds him writing ballads and love songs, not unlike the works of his peers in the business. "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)," is just one of many Paisley hits, including "We Danced," "He Didn't Have To Be" and "Celebrity." Since making his debut in 1999 and earning the Country Music Association's Horizon Award in 2000, Paisley has been showered with a total of 13 CMA nominations, Grammy nods, an Academy of Country Music award and his induction into the Grand Ole Opry.
Fishin' from a mustard-green boat
Paisley grew up in Glen Dale, W.Va., his childhood home a cast away from the Ohio River. His interest in wetting a line for anything swimming in the meandering waterway was fueled by weekend fishing trips with his father, Douglas, and grandfather, Warren Jarvis.
"They viewed fishing as a common bond and as an outdoor activity that we could all share together," he recounts. "It really was a special time because it gave me the chance to spend time with both of them at the same time.
"It was all very simplistic and fun. It hooked me for life," he adds. "Dad bought a used mustard-green-colored fish-and-ski boat from a buddy. It sure was an ugly thing, but looking back, it was a means of shaping memories that I will hold on to for the rest of my life. Best of all, those great memories of dad and grandpa are centered on fishing."
Pickin' and fishin'
Paisley eventually moved to Nashville, where he enrolled in the music industry school at Belmont University. There, he discovered a bass boat on the campus and was befriended by its owner, fellow student Brad Thompson. For the remainder of their enrollment, fishing and school became intertwined 12 months out of the year.
"We had classes until 2 or 3 o'clock and then it was off to either Percy Priest or Old Hickory," Paisley recalls of trips to the suburban Nashville fisheries. "We'd fish until dark, weather permitting. And then on weekends, we fished every tournament we could enter. We did lousy, but it taught us a lot about the sport."
While at Belmont, Paisley got serious about his bass fishing. When he wasn't studying or picking a guitar, he poured through the pages of BASSMASTER. The VCR in his apartment was set to record episodes of Hank Parker's "Outdoor Magazine" and "The Bassmasters." In the case of the latter TV program, he took notes of the patterns and techniques used by the pros to win tournaments and applied what he learned on Old Hickory and Percy Priest.
"During that time I started getting scientific about it, learning how to pattern fish in different situations," he says. "Having Old Hickory, a river impoundment, and Priest, a typical hydroelectric impoundment, was a plus since they were both nearby. Depending on the season, I could go to either lake and try something different."
Paisley graduated from Belmont in 1995, with a degree in music business. As his career took off, he signed a recording contract with Arista Nashville. While his peers would indulge their first royalty checks on extravagant homes and cars, Paisley cashed his in to buy a used bass boat. When he did buy a house, it was chosen based on close access to Percy Priest, which he still considers his home lake.
The reel deal
With their dual careers, Paisley and wife, Kimberly, divide their residency between Nashville and Los Angeles. So, Paisley has the chance to satisfy his bass fix by casting at opposite ends of the fishing spectrum.
In Tennessee, his favored style of fishing is skipping plastic stickbaits beneath the docks of area reservoirs. As a result, he is highly skilled with ultralight spinning gear.
"I like that style of fishing because it's so specialized," says Paisley, also a big fan of soft plastics in general. "It also takes a lot of concentration and keeps you focused.
"I've always believed what I've read in BASSMASTER about what many of the pros have to say about soft plastics, and especially plastic worms," he continues. "They are truly the most versatile lures in the tacklebox. You can fish them three seasons of the year, from Tennessee to California and every point in between."
The nimble wrist flip required to send a stickbait skipping beneath a pier is likely a reason why Paisley also likes to fish with spinnerbaits in the same rapid fire progression as Kevin VanDam.
"The spinnerbait is another versatile bait," he says. "And Kevin is a machine when it comes to the underhand flip. I picked this up from watching him on "The Bassmasters." It's really come in handy when I'm running down a shoreline fishing docks, alternating between the fluke and the spinnerbait."
Out West, Paisley has tapped into the trophy potential of the Southern California fisheries, where many believe the next world record largemouth will be caught. He's found the fishing style to his liking.
"It's a far cry from the bass fishing at Priest, that is for sure," he says. "It's just beautiful. And to be standing in the boat and look down and see those big females cruising around the beds is just awesome. It is just an amazing place to go bass fishing."
Paisley's eyes filled with such a scene on a recent trip with BASSMASTER to Lake Casitas, the 2,700-acre fishery that produced the 21.19 monster caught in 1980 by Ray Easley. We spent two days fishing the impoundment during the spawning cycle, with Paisley catching and releasing a largemouth weighing over 9 pounds and having a shot at others in the same weight class. His big fish bit a Yamamoto Double Tail Grub worked repetitiously past a spawning bed occupied by the big female.
"It was just awesome to work that fish, get her to bite the bait and then have the chance to turn her loose," he adds.
Being a longtime BASSMASTER correspondent, I have had the opportunity to work with the best pro bass anglers in the world. After spending time with Paisley, I was astounded at his bass fishing prowess. He's not just good — he's very good.
Following his trip to Casitas, Paisley caught a flight to Nashville, where he boarded his tour bus and traveled to Florida for a weekend slate of concerts. On the road, he tries to work in a fishing trip, schedule permitting.
"Whenever we play Dallas, I try to get over to Lake Fork," he says. "Same thing goes for Florida and elsewhere that the fishing is hot at the time."
From early on in his career, Paisley discovered and tapped into the strong connection between bass fishing, country music and the country lifestyle.
"It's the same type of people and there is absolutely no difference between the demographics of the fans who listen to the music or the folks who make the records," he observes. "The lines are totally blurred and the values are very similar. It's all based on simplicity in its most basic form.
"Country music and the people who play it come from rural areas or have some exposure to the outdoors," he continues. "In my case, I've carried that mentality over to my music.
"The connection between bass fishing and country music also taught me a lesson early on about song writing," says Paisley, a prolific songwriter and multitalented musician. "And that is to play your strengths. And mine are music and bass fishing."
Paisley also supports a long list of charitable organizations and related causes, and as a result, he is the 2004 recipient of the Artist Humanitarian Award from the Country Radio Broadcasters. Topping the list is the Brad Paisley Celebrity Invitational Fishing Tournament to benefit research at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. This year's event is in the planning stage and will occur this fall with the support of BASS.
While straddling the fine line between music and bass fishing on his list of priorities, Paisley also recognizes the sacrifices it takes to excel at both careers.
"My hat's off to the pros," he says. "Between the two jobs, they undeniably have the toughest. For the most part, I can control my environment. I can go to an unfamiliar hall and my sound guys can make it sound like the last place we played.
"Not so with the pros," he continues. "The conditions are different on every lake. It takes an uncanny ability to pattern fish on unfamiliar water like they do. I got a taste of it when I was fishing back and forth between Old Hickory and Priest. They might be just miles apart, but the patterns can be completely different."
Meanwhile, Paisley's career continues to skyrocket and he is scheduled to appear at this month's CMA Music Festival/Fan Fair in Nashville. The schedule is a grueling one, with marathon autograph sessions, TV appearances, concerts and other appearances in between.
Despite the hectic schedule, will he try and slip out to wet a line?
"You bet," says Paisley, who plans to fish in the celebrity bass tournament coinciding with the festivities.
And so it goes with country music's most popular bass fisherman. Or is it bass fishing's most popular country music star?
The making of "The Fishin' Song" video
The unusual cast of characters appearing in the music video "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)" is equally as entertaining and dynamically intriguing as the song's storyline.
"It was the first time that Joe Galante (RCA Label Group chief) had given me so much creative control on a project — and I was psyched," Paisley recalls.
Not surprisingly, the video would have a bass fishing spin. That's about as far as Paisley had gone with the creative aspects of the project until his road manager tipped him off about a most unusual fan. From there, the creative juices flowed and the video took off.
Paisley's road manager told him that he'd heard ESPN SportsCenter anchor/reporter Dan Patrick on the radio saying his music interests ranged from "Puff Daddy to Brad Paisley."
A call was made to the network's studio in Bristol, Conn., and Patrick returned the call within hours.
"I told him we wanted to make this spoof of a bass tournament called the 'Brad Paisley Invitational' that would be covered on ESPN," says Paisley. "He was all over it and said we could use the SportsCenter desk for the video.
"What I wanted Dan to do was to officiate and follow the status of the tournament, which he does in the video. And then he reports on the status of me with the love interest in the song."
Ironically, that "interest" was actress Kimberly Williams, who later became Paisley's better half, although it sure doesn't come off that way in the video.
Then the plot flips to the woman's point of view. To cover that side of the complex equation, Paisley appropriately recruited talk show host Jerry Springer, also a wannabe songwriter and fan of the Nashville sound.
"He said he had no problem poking fun at his own show," adds Paisley, who is known for his clever sense of humor. "He was a perfect complement for Dan's presence in the video."
The cast was rounded out with fishing legend Hank Parker, fellow Opry cast member and fishing pal Little Jimmy Dickens and Ranger Boats founder Forrest Wood.
The finished product won the CMT Flameworthy Concept Video of the Year Award in 2002.
In real life, Paisley is quick to point out that he has unconditional support for his fishing habit from Kimberly, who played the part of the spurned girlfriend in the video.
"She supports it all the way," he says. Strangely enough, Paisley romanced Kimberly by taking her for cruises on Percy Priest in his bass boat. "She's not much into the fishing part, but likes to take a book out and read it. It's the peace and quite that she's after, and that's also a part of fishing."