It’s been almost six weeks since the last Bassmaster Elite Series event but it feels like much longer.
Tommy Biffle may still be basking in the shine of his Mississippi River trophy, but for the rest of us, fans and anglers alike, it seems like ancient history.
I know it may be blasphemy to say it, but to my way of thinking there’s no better tournament for a fan than a regular season Elite Series tournament. Sure, the Classic is awesome, filled with a lot of great storylines, but by the time the big dance occurs some qualifiers have had two birthdays since they punched their ticket. At the very least, they’ve known for a few months. That gives those of us in the media machine a chance to hype it up to the best of our abilities … sometimes to the point that the tournament itself seems like an afterthought – gone by in the blink of an eye.
During the course of the Elite Series season, on the other hand, the tournaments come at you fast and furious. If you’re a competitor, it’s one big game of Whack-A-Mole – you’re trying to win, but also to some extent just treading water. The best events for me are probably the worst experiences for the competitors themselves; I like the back-to-back tournaments, particularly the ones with a long drive in between. When an angler makes the cut to Sunday, then drives all night to get to the next body of water in time for practice, then makes another Sunday cut, you know it’s typically because he’s fishing “clean” and instinctively. Taken together, two such events are a work of art. If he can string it out over a third week, he’s building something even bigger.
One person who has been building something big over the course of the first six Elite Series events is current Toyota Angler of the Year leader Edwin Evers. I don’t know Edwin very well, but I’ve observed his mannerisms over the years and with more interest as each tournament has passed in 2013. I’m sure he’s spent the time between events making appearances, catching up on family time and tending to his recently-purchased pecan orchard, but I’m willing to bet that the title is never far from his mind. Do you know the saying that the average American male doesn’t go more than 8 seconds without thinking of a certain something? With Edwin, unless his bloodstream is mostly ice water, that certain something is probably either his next Elite Series tournament or the crown he hopes to wear two tournaments down the road.
I’d guess that the wait hasn’t been any easier on Cliff Crochet (6th), on the verge of making the postseason, or on Chris Zaldain (11th), a Classic virgin. For anglers on the bubble or just outside of it, this could be a chance to build or rebuild a career, but as long as you’re not on the water, you’re not making things happen. If you fish for a living, tournament day is your comfort zone. Two tournaments from now, they may be despondent that they didn’t perform up to snuff, but not knowing is almost worse.
The old cliché about baseball is that it involves long periods of boredom punctuated by sheer terror. Compared to baseball, though, bass fishing can be like watching paint dry. Ours is a sport built on a latticework of long waits. We wait months for the season to start, then weeks in between events, all for a day in which the winner may only have five bites. We don’t have 162 games, either – just eight Elite Series tournaments, a few postseason opportunities, and a handful of AAA-level tournaments in which some of the top pros choose to participate.
I’m headed off to one of the latter category this week, to Oneida for the second Northern Open of the season. The storylines from the last two times I’ve been there (both for Elite Series tournaments) are permanently etched in my mind. The first was in 2008, when Dean Rojas proved that a smallmouth-focused tournament could be won on largemouths, and cemented his historic relationship with Kermit. The next time, in 2009, I watched Cinderella Chad Griffin come out of nowhere to claim the trophy. I’m guessing that of the thousands of fantasy fishing teams that were formed that year, you could count the number Griffin populated without taking off your shoes. That’s what everyone in the field is waiting for, the one week where their success either fulfills expectations or shatters them.
One person for whom I’m guessing the wait has not been particularly painful is Ish Monroe, the perpetual motion machine who won the Oneida Open in 2011. With two boats and at least 80 rods split between different locales, it’s odd to find a week when he’s not fishing a tournament. Six week break to sit on a beach or sit on a tractor? Unlikely. In fact you’re more likely to find him fishing a Tuesday-nighter on your 300-acre home lake than you are to see him sitting home. I don’t know how he remembers where he is or where the rockpile on the edge of the channel might lie, but at least if he’s constantly on the go he doesn’t have time to think about the fact that from his current perch (7th) nothing’s safe in the postseason race but he’s still arguably within striking distance of the AOY title. He’ll be at Oneida this week again – he doesn’t have to be there, and having missed the James River tournament he can’t make the Classic through the Northerns, but he apparently just can’t wait to get back on the water.
As far as I can tell, the only downside to the rapidly approaching end of the Elite Series season is that once it’s done, we have to start the wait all over. Like summer vacation, or a long weekend, these things seem to take forever to get here, but once they arrive they speed by. The only solution I can see, and I’ve begged the powers that be publicly for it, is more events. Even then, the intermissions will be painful, but for an addict like me, I’ll take what I can get.