There’s one odd distinction when Skeet Reese recalls that moment on stage when he was declared the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion: there’s no audio. The video is high-definition. But the sound is missing every time he relives the moment, which he has done countless times.
“When I realized I’d won, I could see the crowd. Everybody was up, jumping and waving, going crazy,” Reese said. “I remember everything about it. But in my head, when I’m re-living it all, it’s like somebody pushed the mute button. It’s a silent video.”
It’s a moment every professional angler has dreamed about — when a lifetime goal is finally in hand as you hoist the Bassmaster Classic trophy overhead, then join your family for the victory lap in your boat as it’s pulled around the arena. But when that dream becomes reality, the two often don’t match, according to Reese, Alton Jones and Kevin VanDam. It’s not that reality doesn’t live up to the dream, it’s just different than anything the anglers had imagined.
Reese’s recall of his win isn’t completely without sound. It comes back on during the victory lap, after his wife, Kim, and daughters, Leamarie and Courtney, had joined him.
“The audio comes back about halfway through that lap with Kim and the girls,” Reese said. “By that time, it was finally settling in that I had won the Classic. Before that I think I was in shell-shock.”
When Alton Jones won the 2008 Classic on Lake Hartwell, Greenville’s Bi-Lo Center stage was so brightly lit that Jones couldn’t see the crowd.
“It was almost like you’re all by yourself in an arena with 30,000 people,” Jones recalled. “You could hear the crowd cheering, but you couldn’t see them. I remember wondering to myself if I was asleep. I didn’t know if it was real. I remember feeling like it was a dream.”
The victory lap around the arena is a special moment unique to the Bassmaster Classic. But until you talk with some of the men who have done it, it’s hard to realize just how special it is.
“I remember really savoring that moment, after having watched so many of my peers take that lap and wondering what it would be like,” Jones said. “I wanted to make sure to really enjoy that.
“It was a special thing for me, having Jimmy Sue and the kids there in the boat with me, having them participate in that moment with me. It really wasn’t a personal victory for Alton Jones, it was a family victory. Jimmy Sue and the kids travel with me. The whole family takes ownership of what happens in my fishing career.”
Jones remembers thinking, when watching others take the celebratory ride, that it seems to last several minutes. For him, his moment in the boat flew by.
“Time seems to go by so quickly,” Jones said. “That boat ride is the crowning moment. That’s definitely something that anybody who has competed in a tournament at any level has dreamed about.”
VanDam has taken the victory lap four times now, having won the Classic in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2011. It never gets old. He competed in 10 Classics before winning that first one in New Orleans in 2001.
“As a fan, because I am a fan first, I’ve always watched that moment,” VanDam said. “From the very first one I went to, when Ken Cook won at Chesapeake Bay (in 1991), it’s just a surreal moment to watch.”
VanDam thinks the victory lap makes the Bassmaster Classic unique in the sports world.
“I’ve been to a lot of big sporting events, and to me there’s nothing else like it,” he said. “It seems to carry on more than, say, after a Super Bowl or a Game Seven of the World Series. In a Super Bowl, when one team is up like 14 points, you sort of have a sense to be prepared for it. But there have been a lot of Classics where you really didn’t know who was going to win. That shock (after the winner is declared) seems to last longer.”
VanDam savors all his Classic victories, but none more so than the first.
“You just don’t believe it,” he said of that instant, on stage for the final weigh-in, when he knew he’d won. “It’s still one of the most memorable moments of my whole career. I really didn’t pay any attention to what Trip (Weldon) or David Walker or anybody else around me was doing. I just remember the place erupted.”
In VanDam’s mind, the mute button hadn’t been pushed.