Marshal gets well-rounded education at Classic

Dave Stover, a B.A.S.S. Life Member from Alabama who currently lives in Kansas City, Mo., had a great experience as a Marshal during the 2013 Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa — so much so that he wanted to share his story with others. He learned a lot, he said, from the four anglers he spent time around. He shares his lessons here.

When I learned I had been chosen to be a Marshal in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, I could barely contain myself. It was a chance to ride with and observe the best anglers in the world, up close and personal.

Practice Day: Mike Iaconelli

I was fortunate enough to get paired with Mike Iaconelli on Wednesday, the last day of practice before the big tournament. Mike greeted me that morning at the dock with a welcome aboard. We shook hands, and then he said, “I look like a wolf man, don’t I?” He had a full black beard and with his black stocking cap on, he truly did look like the werewolf from the I was a Teenage Werewolf movie.

“I’m going to be fishing fast but slow,” said Iaconelli as we were leaving the ramp. What an oxymoron! How could anyone fish fast but slow at the same time?

Iaconelli pointed his boat down river, and within seconds, we were hurtling along at 80 mph. Was this what he meant by fast? My excitement overwhelmed me and I let out an Alabama war cry, a whoop of pure joy. But it sounded more like a scream from a 12-year-old girl to Mike, and he quickly throttled off. I gave him the thumbs-up sign, and off we went again. Two hundred and fifty horses pushing our rocket sled at breakneck speed and me holding on for dear life. Finally, we reached our first fishing spot and Mike went into action.

I was watching a master angler in action. Mike had several rods laid on the front deck, several baitcasters and three or four spinning reels. He selected a baitcast reel with a jerkbait tied on and began casting.

Mike was casting farther than I have ever cast before. He told me he was using 10-pound test. “I like to use between 8 and 10 but never more than 10 in these waters where the water is deep and free of grass and trees. With a rocky bottom being the only real structure and relatively clear water, 10-pound test is the max.”

I began to study his style, pay attention to what he was doing. Mike would cast, reel down the lure then pause. Then he would twitch the bait ever so slightly, reel again slowly, pause then twitch the bait, pause then twitch. Mike repeated this pattern over and over, got a few bites and then decided to leave the area.

We roared off again. I realized this is what fishing slow but fast meant. Fish a little then roar off to another spot, fish a little then roar off to another spot. It all seemed too simple; the same pattern I had used many times but with little success. I was missing something. At the next spot, I decided to really pay attention; there had to be more to it! And there was.

Like I said, Mike would cast his lure very far then reel it down; pause, twitch, twitch, pause, reel slowly; twitch, twitch, pause, reel slowly. He repeated this pattern three or four times with each cast, but he burned the reel, bringing the bait back to the boat fast. Mike knew where he thought the fish were holding; he would cast beyond that “target zone,” reel the bait into the target zone and then fish the bait with a very slow cadence. When the bait was through the target zone, he would burn the bait back to the boat.

Mike was fishing that bait probably 10 to 12 feet laterally very slowly but using speed to bring the bait back to the boat to fire another cast. He was covering a lot of water fast, but fishing slowly. And this method was working.

At our next spot, Mike picked up a spinning reel and started flipping docks with a shaky head. He would flip the shaky head under a dock, let it settle, then twitch it ever so slightly, pause, twitch, pause, pick it up; if nothing bit, he’d burn it back to the boat. He was fishing probably 2 or 3 feet laterally, 2 to 3 feet vertically, then back to the boat fast ready for another cast.

I learned so much from watching him that day! The next day was Media Day, where I got to spend time with lots of the top pros. Then competition began, and I was paired with the following over the next three days: Chris Lane, Jeremy Starks and Ish Monroe.

Day 1: Chris Lane

So on Day 1, I was actually riding with the Classic winner from last year, Chris Lane. What a great way to start the tournament! A media camera person claimed Chris’s boat and I had to ride in the camera boat, but I was still very close to the action.

Our job as the camera boat was to follow the angler’s boat wherever it went, and as the Marshal. I had to have my eyes on the angler at all times.

It was a beautiful crisp morning at 24 degrees! The sun was shining early, casting a gold light over boat and angler. It truly was the most picturesque setting I have ever seen on a bass boat. And that was the highlight of the day.

Chris made casts all day long. He never let up. But after eight hours of fishing, no fish were caught — not even a bite! The Bassmaster Classic winner of last year fished all day and zeroed. It was painful to watch. I was saddened watching a truly great fisherman — one I had witnessed holding the Classic trophy last year — zero out. What could you say? There was nothing I could do, nothing I could say. I just felt extremely bad for him.

Chris didn’t get down on himself, at least not that I could tell. He just kept on fishing. Every once in a while, he would shout out to me: “How’s my Marshal doing?” He never got mad or flustered on the outside. He had complete control as a fisherman and as a professional. After zeroing on Day 1 and being knocked totally out of contention, Chris went on to catch 18-11. This was not his tournament, but Chris will definitely be back!

Day 2: Jeremy Starks

On Day 2, I was paired with Jeremy Starks, one of the true hard workers in fishing. He’s got two Elite Series trophies to his name.

We started out relatively alone on the water. Jeremy needed to score big today in order to make it to Sunday, and he was all business. About mid-morning, we were approached by a beat-up looking pontoon boat with a local TV camera crew and reporter on board, looking for an on-the-water interview with Jeremy. I don’t know what I would have done under similar circumstances. I mean, fishing for half-million dollars, let me pause and do an interview? This seemed to me as if Tiger Woods would stop on the fourth hole of the Masters and do a 5-minute interview for local TV.

But Jeremy did. He took a couple of minutes to let the camera roll and answer a few questions about what he thought about Tulsa, fishing today and being in the Classic in general. Then we moved off and Jeremy went back to work. Jeremy went on to catch three fish for a weight of 6-6 and missed the cut.

Day 3: Ish Monroe

On Day 3, I was paired with Ish Monroe. What a pleasant, fun-loving guy. Maybe it was because he knew it would take better than a 30-pound sack to be in contention or maybe that’s just the way he is, but he was really fun to be with.

We started at 34 degrees that morning. We talked fishing in general, a little politics and business, just two guys on the water enjoying the day that happened to be the final day of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic!

Monroe had a plethora of rods on his deck when we started, including three spinning reels that he fished with most of the day. He was fishing a green pumpkin shaky head bait. His line weight was 5 pounds, and he handled the rod masterfully, casting with either hand equally as well.

He held the spinning rod in his left hand and reeled with his right hand, which is backward for most of us right-handed fishermen, but that’s the way it was comfortable to him. Whatever position the boat was in relative to his target decided which hand he would use to cast.

Ish’s index finger of his left hand was always touching his line — always. He used his index finger as a feeler, pulling or twitching the line ever so slightly. It was like tickling a baby under his chin ever so gently, not jerking or pulling the line. And it worked, as Ish pulled 12 fish out of Grand Lake of the Cherokees that day.

After the weigh-in

And then it was over. Cliff Pace emerged as the winner of the 2013 Classic. I don’t know if I had ever heard of Cliff Pace until this year’s Classic, but you can bet I and everyone else who casts a lure will know who he is from now on.

The experience of being a Marshal with these Elite Series anglers was more than I hoped for. I learned a lot about fishing and a lot about the men who compete at the very top of my sport. I know I will never fish the Classic because, at 59, it was hard enough just going out to watch 32 hours of fishing in four days. I can’t imagine having to fish 32 hours in four days!

But just like Chris Lane I will be back! The 2014 Classic is less than a year away in Birmingham, Ala. I can’t wait!