All eyes on Edwin

After the final weigh-in at the recent Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Oneida Lake, I went out to dinner in Liverpool, N.Y., with a small group of friends that included Bassmaster photographer James Overstreet and Bassmaster writer Craig Lamb. As I sat at an outside table, eating chicken wings and drinking a Lake Erie IPA, my wife turned to me and said, “There goes Edwin Evers.”

Normally, I would assume that the bearer of such news was hallucinating. After all, Evers hadn’t fished the Northern Open, and while he had to be in Waddington, N.Y., the next day to start practice for the Elite Series tournament on the St. Lawrence, there was no reason for him to be the small town of Liverpool and even less reason for him to be at this particular restaurant.

Based on similar experiences, though, I know better than to doubt my wife. Three years ago we were preparing for a family meal at Mama’s Fish House in Maui when she came back inside from playing with the nephew and nieces and said, “Byron Velvick is out there.” I figured that she’d gone fruit loops from a combination of tropical sun and Mai Tais, but when I stepped outside, there was “The Bachelor.”

Sure enough, she was right again. Edwin was sitting one table over from us in New York.

From what I can tell, Edwin is a fairly private person. While he’s always been professional with me, he’s not outgoing in the way that, for instance, Gerald Swindle might be. In all instances, he seems to keep his emotions and thoughts pretty controlled. What worse situation might there be, then, for a private person leading the Toyota Angler of the Year race to encounter than to be stuck at a table next to a bunch of fishing media types? Once he cordially acknowledged us, it’s not like he could get up and leave or switch tables. He was locked into that position. As I wrote a few weeks ago, he’d had six weeks to think and rethink how the final two events could play out, even if there was nothing he could do about it directly.

Bass fishing at the highest level is by nature an introspective activity. Even if you’re the most outgoing person on earth, the sport requires long hours alone. It requires a competitor to occasionally disregard groupthink. It requires attention to minutiae of preparation during which the angler cannot be interrupted or disturbed. As a result, I doubt it was hard for Evers to sink into his shell during the downtime in the Elite schedule. I assume that this next week, leading up to St. Clair, at least outwardly he’ll be a rock, but the unshakable truth is that he’s spent most of his nearly 39 years on earth working toward this AOY title. Now he’s three days of practice and two to four days of competition away from it. The inward eye will be focused on what he can do to improve his chances of taking home the title, but when he arrives in the north country it will feel like every eye in the state of Michigan – and certainly every eye in the world of bass fishing – will be trained directly on his every move.

That night in upstate New York, once we’d greeted Edwin and he’d asked us what we recommended he order, everything seemed to go back to normal. We enjoyed our meal, and he enjoyed his, separately. I have to assume, though, that the whole time the voices in his head were telling him: “You pick an out of the way place and you get stuck sitting next to three people paid to scrutinize you.” If I had been in his shoes, I would’ve been tempted to claim that I’d forgotten something in the truck, hightailed it off the patio, revved up the engine and never looked back. Obviously, he couldn’t do that, but the point is that once you’re recognized, that changes the equation and you can never back to what was previously normal. The toothpaste, once squeezed, can never be put back in the tube.

Even when we were engrossed in our conversation, poor Evers had to assume that we were watching him. Plenty of people always are, even if he doesn’t know it. In fact, as you rise on the ladder of bassingdom, there are four distinct steps of recognition and scrutiny:

  1. The first is when you get that first sparkly bass boat. Every time you pull into a gas station, someone whistles a catcall, tells you “Nice boat!” or asks how much it costs (if the latter question comes at 3 a.m. while you’re on the way to a tournament and everyone else is on their way home from the bars, be careful; there’s a decent chance you’re about to get robbed;
  2. The second is when you buy a pair of glistening new Power-Poles. From then on out, you could be thwarting the robbery suggested in No. 1, having a heart attack, or just pumping gas, and the first person to happen by is going to ask you, “What are those rocket launchers on the back of your boat?”
  3. Then you get a boat wrap, and all subsequent passersbys stop, glare and tell you that “You look like one of them NASCAR guys” and ask if you’re a professional fisherman;
  4. And then, finally, you get a namesake TV show, win the Bassmaster Classic or claim the Toyota Angler of the Year title, and you can never be anonymous again.

Evers hit No. 3 a long time ago, and he’s been hovering on the verge of No. 4 for quite a while. Once he hits it, the genie never goes back in the bottle. Look at KVD, Ike and Skeet – they can’t go into a tackleshop from Liverpool, N.Y., to Liverpool, England, without getting mobbed. That’s the next step of his career.

In the week leading into St. Clair, the media scrutiny over Edwin is going to reach a crescendo. He’ll get the full treatment from Mark Zona, Dave Mercer and the regular bass crew. The local papers and TV stations in Detroit will probably scrutinize his quest for the title, too. For the next week, close to every eye in the world of bass fishing is going to be on him. Even if a few turn away for a short time, from Edwin’s position at the dock or on the front of his boat, it’s still going to feel like they’re watching his every move. Fortunately for him, St. Clair is a big lake that gets a little choppy; if this last tournament was on a small Southern reservoir, he’d probably have a gallery of 30 to 50 spectators boats with him at all times. When he’s on the water, he’ll be in control of his own destiny. Then, when he gets back on land, the voyeurs, note takers and fans will be back on his case.

He needs to get used to it. He may think he’s seen media attention in the past or during the course of this year’s hunt for the title, but if all goes according to his plan, it’ll only get heavier from here on out. For a private and reserved pro like Evers, there will be times when that may be tough to stomach but I’m sure it’s a price he’s willing to pay. The cost of doing things that cause people to pay attention is that you can’t avoid people paying attention.

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