"Mueller the Cooler." That's what Wes Miller is known as in the Bass world.
The joke is that the cameraman for ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster TV coverage has the opposite affect of a fish attractant.
"If someone's got a big lead, we put Wes on them to make it closer," says producer Mike McKinnis, insinuating that Miller's presence brings bad luck. The history of it dates to Kevin VanDam not doing well with Miller on his boat and subsequently requesting another cameraman.
"It's from KVD, and a number of other guys as well," McKinnis says. "KVD requests Brian [Mason]. He's his lucky charm."
Yet they don't actually think a cameraman can have an effect on how an angler performs.
"We really don't influence them," weigh-in director Billy Chapman says of BASS events. "It's just a running gag that putting Wes with the guy in the lead levels the playing field. The anglers are joking about it, too. There's a small part of superstition, but we really just like to bug the heck out of Wes."
Miller says that's OK with him. "I've got pretty thick skin." But he's also a bit cocky. "If you look back, I've probably had the most winners."
Angler and cameraman trying to work in concert — one catching bass while the other catches it on video — has its trying moments. Miller recalls during Skeet Reese's victory last year on the Potomac, he asked a question and as Reese turned to answer, a bass bit. When the slight distraction cost him a catch, Reese had a few choice words for Miller.
Miller says finding a balance of knowing which angler you can talk to — and when — can mean the difference between mediocre and stellar footage. Cameramen like to see their footage on the Bassmaster shows, so having the angler relaxed enough to speak his mind can spice up footage.
Keeping all this in mind is Bassmaster TV executive producer Jerry McKinnis, who jots down the next day's cameraman assignments during weigh-ins. It's just another facet of the minutiae considered when putting together the shows.
Production for all Bassmaster TV goes through the Fish Factory, a two-story office and studio in Little Rock, Ark., that houses JM Associates, as in Jerry McKinnis.
Jerry, host of "The Fishin' Hole" that ran on ESPN for 27 years, has his hand in all aspects of the production. Mike McKinnis (Jerry's son) is charged with coordinating the crew and staff needed to bring together footage from venues 45 miles apart.
"It's a difficult beast," Mike says. "This has been on my mind since Jan. 1. At least some part of the day, since Jan. 1. There's a good team of people."
McKinnis has a list of 137 people, talent (announcers), cameramen, video and sound editors, boat operators and other support staff, many of which will work 15- to 16-hour days the week of the Classic.
That's the big logistical rub — the distance between the venues.
"At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle is taking all the footage from the weigh-in and getting it to the broadcast center," Chapman says. "I'll either get in a car with a state trooper and literally fly there, or get on a helicopter."
(And literally fly there.)
Then the editing will continue. McKinnis says editors will be scouring on-the-water footage as soon as a half-hour after takeoff. Twelve camera boats will follow a selection of anglers on Friday's first day of competition on the 55,950-acre lake, and five boats will be running the lake to pick up footage. There are four runners on land, and they will meet the boats at bridges and landing points to transfer tapes and courier them to the production site.
"We start building packages early," McKinnis says. "We have features that are pre-built, and in hearing what's happening on the water, we adjust and build the story. KVD is doing good, so I'm going to throw in a feature on him."
Pre-built features will include Kevin VanDam and his wife; Bobby and Chris Lane, the first brothers entered in the Classic since 1980; Steve Kennedy and the swimbait; Weekend Series angler Jeff Coble; and the drought on Lake Hartwell.
"You prepare with all this stuff, plan it all out," he says, "but as the event goes on, you start letting the event tell the story."
Telling those stories are Bassmaster TV hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona. They will report from a set overlooking Lake Hartwell, while Elite angler Byron Velvick and Robbie Floyd will provide on-the-water reports.
McKinnis takes it all under consideration to plan and organize the 13 segments in a show, which goes down to the wire. He says the last segment is being taped while the first one is airing.
"You catch up to yourself," he says, adding that the production truck is organized chaos at that time. "The unknown is what happens on the water. We've done this a long time and we're prepared for the stories that happen on the water."
Two things out of McKinnis' control worry him about the quality of the shows.
"You don't want to see a runaway. For us, it's our job to entertain and make a story. You like to see a tight one," he says. "Two. You want guys to catch fish. If they don't, then I've got to really start telling stories."