McKinnis: There's number one

Let’s talk….

I want you to hear a few things about this year’s Bassmaster Classic that you haven’t already heard. Quite honestly the coverage was so good and so deep that it’s hard to add anything. Especially when it was over four or five days ago. But here goes anyway. 

The crowds at the Expo were ridiculous. It was for the most part, impossible to get around. Yes, I know the parking and the traffic outside was a bit unpleasant, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

How about the weather. As Skeet Reese said on the stage during the weigh-in, “It was 40 degree below at takeoff.” Well it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty miserable. However, that too is something I don’t care to comment on.

The fishing was pretty darn good wasn’t it? I think that surprised a lot of people, but it shouldn’t have. Bass fishing in the winter months can be very good on many waters. I grew up fishing the Ozarks Lakes, and bass fishing in December, January and February could be dynamic. Those lakes were very much like Hartwell. Once again, that’s not what I will remember from this year’s Classic.

Well how about the final day weigh-in from the arena? It was quite entertaining. In fact, it was like bringing boats, trucks and bass into a Las Vegas show. 

If you weren’t there you missed something special, but finally, I want to tell you my highlight of the big week and I have to go back almost 11 years to get it started.

It was on Lake Wylie and ESPN was in charge. We had worked for months getting ready to do some “Live coverage” of the event. It would be one of the first attempts at doing such a thing for bass fishing and we all thought this is what the sport really needed.

This coverage would be for television of course, and not only was there a lot of man hours put in leading up to the big moment that the “Live” would happen, but there was also a lot of dollars spent. A lot.

Here’s the set up. There would be three crews at different areas of Lake Wylie following three anglers. Two of the crews were meant to be the main source for content. The third crew was a last resort and would be used if everything else failed. I was with the third crew.

A helicopter had to be in the right position over an angler on the water and a reporter would move in, have a conversation with that angler and stay with him until he caught a fish. The camera that was covering this angler would then send a signal to the helicopter and that signal would bounce to the production truck back at the takeoff point then to ESPN in Connecticut. 

Are you following all this?

Well, the first two anglers and their TV crews bombed and they came to the last resort crew. Mine.

Now then, I ease my boat into talking distance to Jason Quinn, who is the local favorite on Lake Wylie, so he has about 100 boats around him watching.

The helicopter shows up and is now getting into position while I get my mic ready to talk to Jason. We’re one minute away from being Live from the lake when Jason decides  to pick up and move with about 100 boats also cranking up to follow.

I was left alone out in the middle of the lake thinking that Live bass fishing will never work. That was almost 11 years ago and I have never stopped thinking about it.

So last fall the tech guys around here, Howard Downs and Mike McKinnis, were confronted with some new equipment and technology that might allow us to stream our sport Live to the Internet and once again we all got fired up. 

I will always think that when this happens and we grow, improve, then perfect the process, the sport of competitive bass fishing will take a giant leap.

We test this new technology over and over. It just keeps working. 

Now it’s 8:30 a.m., Feb. 19, the first day of the Bassmaster Classic. We’re all in the production truck with five of these fancy cameras out on the water. One is with Rick Mason covering Casey Ashley, who of course eventually wins this year’s Classic.

It’s about five minutes until 9:00 a.m., and we’ve been watching Casey fish for about 15 minutes, and we have perfect reception with great audio. Casey is completely focused on catching a bass and doesn’t even know we’re watching him…LIVE. At 9:00a.m. Mike flips the switch and Casey Ashley, Mike Iaconelli, Randy Howell and Dean Rojas go Live to the Internet world.

These anglers for the most part are being viewed as if you were in the back of the boat. 

Now it’s about 16 after 9:00 a.m. and while Casey is fishing away and having a conversation with the whole world, it happens… He sets the hook on what will be about a 2 pound bass. I think if it had been 22 pounds we couldn’t have been more excited. 

The crew in the truck actually went “Ike” as the small bass came aboard and Casey showed him to the camera. “There’s #1”, he says.

I’ve got to say that I stayed pretty quiet. Didn’t join in on any of the high fives that were going on. I just sat there and watched wondering if everyone realized what had just happened. 

Mike probably did, but most didn’t because they hadn’t waited as long as I had to see that moment.

So there you have it. Something about the Classic you maybe haven’t heard about. When Casey said, “There’s number one”, he was maybe summing up a lot of things.