Not that you'd hear Kevin VanDam gripe — and in fact, he specifically states that he has never complained — but you have to imagine how he felt on the second day of the 1996 Bassmaster Classic.
The reigning Angler of the Year at the time, VanDam headed back to the hump where he had boated enough bass to lead after Day One on Lay Lake. Upon arriving, he says, 40 boats were already there waiting for him. He tried to fish the spot anyway, caught only one fish all day, and wound up finishing sixth.
"All that boat traffic put those fish down," VanDam says. "It was a real tough tournament, and I didn't have another pattern to fall back on.
"Since then, I've learned a lot about competing around spectators," he continues. "There are certain patterns that you just can't fish; the boat traffic and the waves won't allow you. It's the X-factor that everybody has to deal with, and it definitely cuts into the catch."
Spectator traffic is indeed an X-factor unique to bass fishing. Call it the Specs Factor. Fans crowd onto the same public lakes where the pros are fishing. Their motivation is obvious: Scattered around a single lake are 50 of the best anglers of the world, bringing their own techniques to the water.
If you are planning to follow anglers on the water at the Classic, anglers offered these tips on how to minimize your impact on their fishing:
• Remain a respectful distance away, especially when making a run. The combined wake from dozens of boats can stir up a bank from quite a distance. Remain about 200 yards away until you see the angler stop, then use your trolling motor to creep closer.
• Keep your electronics off while an angler is using his, so as not to bother the fish or interfere with his readings.
• Don't follow an angler into coves or tight channels where wake will have a multiplied effect.
• "If you follow a guy, and you see a guy catch some fish, and he leaves, it doesn't mean he's not going to come back to that area," Lane says. "Please let us borrow the lake for three days. That's all we ask."
• Go ahead and applaud when the angler boats a fish. He earned it.
"It's a lot of fun, and you meet people, you learn different things," says Phil Morris, a demolition worker from McDonough, Ga. "Main thing is, you can learn a lot from it. They talk to you just like you've known 'em forever, when you're out there."
Morris and his son, Jay, have attended about a half-dozen Classics as boating spectators, including the last Classic at Lay Lake, in 2002. At that tournament, they spent much of their time watching a couple of the greats, and came away amazed.
"Rick Clunn — that man's a machine," Morris says. "He can't be human. Where I might cast a hundred times, he might cast 20,000 times. There's no wasted time.
"Kevin VanDam? I think he can cast his spinnerbait, and sit down and eat a sandwich and pick his rod back up before his bait ever hits the water. It's fascinating."
One of the other spectators watching VanDam that day was angler Russ Lane, who made the decision to move along once he realized he was part of the problem.
"I could tell he got annoyed," says Lane, who will be fishing his second Classic this year. "You could just see the smirk on his face, because he really had it bad in that tournament."
Just as pro golfers run the risk of hooking a fairway shot into a gaggle of sunburned tourists, so, too, do pro bass fishermen have to contend with the competitive burden brought by their own popularity. Tiger Woods, though, doesn't have fans teeing up while he's putting. VanDam and the rest of the Classic field will likely see spectators rush to fish (and thus, wreck) their water as soon as he pulls away.
Anglers are expecting chilly February weather to ward off much of the recreational lake traffic that summertime Classics brought in droves. Additionally, VanDam says, the seasonal currents will stir murk in the water that will keep navigation devices from affecting the fish as much as usual.
But even if the fish aren't affected, the fishermen may be. South Carolina angler Jason Quinn led one of the largest fan mobs of recent memory, in the 2004 Classic, held in Charlotte, N.C. Even though 1993 Classic winner David Fritts warned him that it would be an ordeal, Quinn was still struck at how his adoring armada affected his outing.
"I had never had that many spectators," Quinn says. "I didn't know how bad it was. I saw all those boats, and they were following me. You don't get any more nervous. That's pressure that's unbelievable.
"You know they're cheering you on, and you want to perform for them. Every time I caught a fish, everybody would holler and carry on."
The sheer water displacement became an issue not just for Quinn, who recalls traffic that forced him to fish only one side of a crowded cove. Lane says Quinn's coterie affected him at least as much.
"He came by me three or four times, and I just had to up and leave," Lane says. "When 30 or 40 boats come by an area only about a hundred yards wide, it trashes it. Like a hurricane coming through."
One local man actually accosted Quinn on the water, saying that wake from his fans' boats knocked his dog off a dock.
Steve Kennedy, the 2006 BASS Rookie of the Year, hails from nearby Auburn, Ala., making him a natural target of spectator pursuit. When asked how spectators might affect his strategy, he concluded that he'd be flattered merely to have the attention.
"As cold as I'm expecting it to be — they're talking snow in practice — I really don't see them being a big factor, at least for most of the guys," he says. "I just appreciate having them out here. It's pretty awesome."
Quinn, for one, expects that Kennedy and the eight other Alabamans are fishing in this Classic will draw much of the fan interest. "That's one reason I'm glad I'm fishing in Alabama," he says with a laugh. "Let them follow them, maybe I'll get some slack water."