It occurred to me that during the four or five months that I have written this blog I have said very few things about the Elite Series anglers or the people around it.
Being how there are millions of bass fishermen, half a million B.A.S.S. members, 20 thousand Federation Nation members and only 100 Elite Anglers, you might think that the Elite guys are low on the totem pole.
Not the case at all. That 100 member group is very special. They haven't been squeaking much, so they haven't been oiled lately. They all know where I stand, and today I'd like to hit on a few anglers that belong to that group and one gentleman who doesn't fish with them, but may be the heart and soul of the Elite gang. Maybe you don't know some of these things.Maybe you didn't know that, in my opinion, Takahiro Omori, one of the more prominent Elite anglers, is still the best and most amazing story in sports. Not just outdoor sports, but a sport of any kind. I know the story is now about 15 years old, but that makes no difference.
The story about how he came here from Japan as a youngster with very little money, how he spoke and understood absolutely no English, and was armed with only what he had learned through Bassmaster Magazine is mind boggling.
Try and put yourself in that position — you can't do it can you? Well, I've been sending letters out to all the Elite anglers during the last several months, explaining what all was going on and I wasn't exactly sure that Tak even understood my correspondence.
To the contrary, I received an eloquent letter back from him, and he understood everything that was taking place. He congratulated me and gave some very insightful suggestions. It was all in the form of an e-mail, but I printed it out so I could keep it forever.
I remember when I met him many years ago. Even today Tak is a small guy, but then it seemed as though he was about 100 pounds and looked about 12 years old. I saw him just last week, and he's now a very bright, mature individual.
With his story and having won the Bassmaster Classic, if he were a football player, he'd be on the cover of Time and dominating SportsCenter. I'm glad he's a bass fisherman though and really proud that he's my friend.And then there's Mike Iaconelli. Oh my, how many of you have had mixed emotions about this young man? I've always thought he was pretty smart to take the most controversial things about himself (his flair for putting on a show) and to turn it into a career. With that being said I will always remember being at Lake Lewisville in Texas a few years ago after the second day weigh-in was over. The crowd was gone, it was now dark, and three or four of us stepped out of the T.V. production truck headed for our cars. I saw the crowd was gone, but not quite all were gone.
As I looked across the parking lot, I wondered if you folks really did dislike Ike because there he stood under a night light with about 50 kids signing autographs. Yes, I know he once made a mistake with the flag but like Takahiro he's an Elite angler who has really matured, has also won a Bassmaster Classic and is a real asset to our sport at this time. If you don't believe me, you should see how the people respond to him at his Bass University seminars.
Here's kind of a quickie on one more Elite bass fisherman. It pertains to Tommy Biffle; and I must be honest, Tommy and I have not always seen eye to eye and that's a story all by itself for another day.We got sideways years ago and the feeling stuck — until about a year ago when I produced a Day on the Lake with Mr. Biffle. When that was over, I realized how wrong and stupid I had been about Tommy. Today the best way I can describe him is that he's an experienced, talented, solid professional bass fisherman and a damn good guy on top of it. He's the exact opposite of Mike Iaconelli, and that's just fine. He's like Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn or maybe Alton Jones. They don't say much ... don't have to.
But when we were doing our Day on the Lake, I was in the camera boat asking questions to Tommy as he fished to prompt good television material. His answers were the best I ever got for the production of that project. In fact, I noticed that they were so good and so valuable that at some point I had stopped asking them to entertain a television audience, but was asking them for myself. I must remember to tell you how Tommy and I got into it. It's funny and what a goober I was.
Are you ready for the Heart and Soul of the Elites? The most taken for granted part of the operation?
Well, again, I say that "in my opinion" the Elite Series has individuals who stand out in sports as a whole, not just bass fishing ... like Takahiro. And remember, bass fishing is small — sports as a whole, is huge.So, am I crazy or is Tommy Sanders the best television sports host in the land? Hey, you got your Jack Buck, your Dick Ebersol, but I'll take Sanders.
I've worked with and around T.S. now for nearly 30 years. During that time, I've never seen anyone who works that hard and has that much passion for bass fishing while being that professional on camera. In fact, he's so good that you don't even really notice that he's there and that's the perfect compliment for a host — you didn't even notice them.
The group I hang with is extremely creative and quick witted, but no one is on Tommy's level. On a long trip, he's not allowed to play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit with the rest of us — he ruins the competition.
But here are two things you would never think about Tommy Sanders. One — before the camera lights turn red, he is as nervous as a cat, scared to death that he's going to screw things up. Light turns red, and his personality changes. Bang, he's flawless.
Here's the last thing about him. When the job is over, he actually rolls up cable, sweeps floors and does whatever is necessary to wrap up the job.
Sanders is a big, yet overlooked reason that the Elites are just that ... Elite.