TULSA, Okla. – Matt Lee, the collegiate qualifier for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, walked into the ballroom that was to be the location for the tournament briefing 10 minutes before it was to start at 3 p.m. The back rows of chairs were more or less full, so like an eager honors student Lee deposited the materials he’d gathered on one of the six chairs in the front row, all of which were empty.
Seeing that he was alone, though, Lee once again gathered up his papers and left. By the time he returned, a minute before the meeting was to begin, all six chairs were taken. Among those who now occupied the space were three past Classic champs – Takahiro Omori, Mike Iaconelli and Boyd Duckett – as well as Brent Chapman, the reigning Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year.
The unspoken message seemed to be, “You snooze, you lose.”
One angler who hopes that maxim doesn’t prove apropos this week is defending Classic champion Chris Lane. With his wife and four children en route, Lane had the rare opportunity to sleep until 9:30 a.m.
“That never happens at home,” he said. “Either it’s my oldest wanting to get up to go duck hunting or fish, or my one year-old wide awake or one of my daughters jumping in the bed.”
Lane’s ability to sleep reflects a level of relaxation that he hasn’t felt at previous Classics.
“This is so different from last year. I’m not thinking about are they going to bite or how big are they going to be,” he said. “That’s not even in my mindset. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to catch them. I’m enjoying this experience as a winner. It’s a completely different feeling.”
Since they were prohibited from being on the water today, other competitors also took the opportunity to catch up on much-needed rest.
“I got up at 7 a.m.,” Pete Gluszek sasid. “That’s sleeping in for me. I woke up without my alarm. This is really a fun time for me. Mentally, it’s been great. It’s just like a club tournament. This is the way I like to fish all of my tournaments, three days on the water and then a day off. The way they have this formatted, it’s phenomenal.”
Gluszek’s two prior Classic appearances were in 1997 and 1999, and while he can’t help but be slightly distracted, he noted that a lot has changed since then.
“Back then we were running and gunning until 10 or 11 at night, with no sleep, trying to find time to rig our rods,” he said. “This is a lot better on the anglers.”
He spent part of the day going over his boat with housemate John Crews, but they also took time to eat a specially-prepared meal from third housemate Ish Monroe.
“Who knew Ish was a chef,” Gluszek said before relaying that they feasted on omelets, turkey sausage and raisin bread. “Me and Crews were on clean-up detail and then it was right back to working on our equipment.”
One angler who seemed distracted by the time away from the water was four-time runner-up Aaron Martens. As he had his pictures taken for the arena displays and television broadcasts, then collected two armloads of sponsor products, he claimed that his brain was working overtime.
“Whenever I have a spare moment to think about the tournament, I’m thinking about it,” he said. “Always. If you don’t know this lake well it can be confusing with all of the fingers and creeks. I’m going through all of the pockets in my head and trying to figure out which ones I need to check out tomorrow.
“I stayed up until 2 in the morning last night. I’m trying to condense my tackle down to 50 percent of what it is now. I don’t want to have to do anything during the tournament except change out some line.”
As Martens shuffled through the giveaway line distractedly, first-time qualifier Jonathan Carter of Maine tried to soak in the entire experience.
“I’m a lot more calm than I thought I’d be,” he said. “But there’s a lot of waiting around. I’d rather be on the water.”
Carter tried to sleep in past 6:30 this morning, but said that he was unable to do so. He noted the two duffel bags full of Classic-specific products, but tried to contain his excitement in front of his peers: “If everybody wasn’t around, I’d be going through them.”
By the time Tournament Director Trip Weldon ascended the podium at 3 p.m. to call the briefing to order, the seats in the ballroom were almost entirely full. Kevin VanDam was the last to enter. He made his way through a row halfway back and quickly found an unoccupied seat between Marty Robinson and Nate Wellman.
While the rookies struggled to keep their seats and their composure, the four-time winner had no trouble finding a place to his liking. For some of them, this is a rare occurrence, but it seems he’ll always have a reserved seat at the table.