The grind was over. A brutally tough week at Clarks Hill Reservoir in the pine hills of north Georgia was complete. And there was the 28-time Classic qualifier offering a sincere handshake to the man who had served as his ride-along Marshal, telling him how much he enjoyed spending the day with him.
Klein smiled as the man stepped off on the dock, and then began staring across a front deck littered with Quantum rods and reels reflecting a week of "Well, that's not working, let's throw this at them." "Every day was different," said Klein, sweat on his forehead, sun torching his neck. "I've got a history of top finishes on Clarks Hill, but angling pressure changes things, and this week was tough.
Still, no matter how tough it is, I know it's my job to figure them out," said Klein. And figure them out he did. Klein scrapped his way to 43 pounds over four stingy days, more than many of us will catch all summer. Good enough for fifth place in this mind-testing Bassmaster Elite Series derby.
He walked a Lucky Craft Gunfish across the surface at times, finessed them with lightweight, performance-tuned spinning reels at times and then dredged the bottom with a Carolina rig using the signature series Quantum 8-foot TGKC808F rod he designed.
"Sure, I was able to draw on history and experience. I even drew on thoughts of things I've experienced at Lake Mead, Nev., while here at Clarks Hill. But what I really pulled from was all the hard work, long practice days and map study I did here," said Klein, who, at age 52, ranks fourth in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
It's another great year. Last year was strong too. As one of the top 12 in the final standings, he made Toyota Trucks Championship Week. But it's not great enough. "I'm still not the angler that I want to be. I want to win again. I haven't won out here since 2003, and that bothers me."
At that point, I stopped writing. It's not like I could disagree with his self-motivation. At the same time, I wasn't going to simply agree and tell him, "Yeah, you need to get better." So I shut up and watched Klein stow the rods, bag his fish and walk across the weigh-in stage.
Each angler chooses the tune he wants to play as he walks onto the weigh-in stage. Tim McGraw's How Bad Do You Want It begins to blare through the pine needles and the thousands of people there in the 90-degree heat to cheer for him. And suddenly it all makes sense.
Yes, he's still catching them. Yes, he's still one of the absolute best in the world. But if that's the song he chose to come across the stage to, and he did, then indeed, with his 29th Classic clearly in sight, he's still not satisfied. "There's always a price you pay no matter what you do. If you're gonna climb that mountain to the top, it always comes down to how bad do you want it?"