LAY LAKE, Ala. — Ishama Monroe, in the third boat, launched into the drink at Paradise Point Marina and idled to the dock. He parked beside Mike Iaconelli's boat and Steve Kennedy's boat, popped the iPod headphones out of his ears and stepped onto the dock's slick, frosty surface.
Someone told him to watch his step, and he hollered back, "That's OK; if I fall in, it'll get me closer to the fish."
On his way back to his boat, he passed Jared Lintner's boat and cooed, in a falsetto, "I love you, Jared Lintner."
Lintner just looked back from behind dark shades, his hands in his pockets.
"Come on!" Monroe said. "It's the Bassmaster Classic, and you're not fired up? What are you, cold?"
"I'm sweating, man," Lintner replied, and that's about all he had to say.
On the morning of the first day of competition, the anglers arrived in various states of health and nerves, but all were ready to begin boating some bass in pursuit of the $500,000 first prize.
Aaron Martens stood on the deck of his boat folding himself into various calisthenic contortions a few feet from where Bill Lowen arranged his 10 rods in two precise rows, like arrows in a quiver, and Jason Quinn quietly dunked softbaits into dye. James Niggemeyer, his hands stuffed into gloves so puffy he called them "Mickey Mouse gloves," was trying to calm his racing heart by reminding himself, all he's doing is going fishing.
"I've been thinking about it long enough," said Peter Thliveros as he trimmed his Skinny Chunks. "I'm ready to do it. I may not catch big fish, but I'll catch something, and that'll keep you in it."
Nearby, Russ Lane just stood on his boat, eschewing any pre-tournament ritual. "I'm ready to go when I drop the trolling motor," he said. "I don't even know where I'm going to start."
Kevin VanDam pulled in and admitted he was fighting a little head cold, nothing serious. "I've got my lucky cookies, got my lucky cameraman," he said. KVD thinks he'll be fine.
Classic newbie Russell Colwell wasn't so sure. "I'm a little nervous," he said. Had trouble sleeping. Wants not to embarrass himself.
As he talked, emcee Keith Alan asked Gerald Swindle's opinion of the tournament. "I still think the guy who's gonna win this tournament has no idea where he's going to catch them," Swindle replied.
This brightened Colwell's spirits. He turned and cheered back toward the marina: "All right! That's me, baby!"