Bassmaster basks in spotlight after victory

TUSCALOOSA — Boyd Duckett turns his head, pauses and points to a life-sized rendition of himself on the wall at L&L Marine.

"When did you put that up?" he asks, motioning to the poster proclaiming him the 2007 Bassmaster Classic Champion.

Everybody inside the marina laughs and owner Bob Hale points to the entrance.

"Got you on the door, too," Hale says, indicating a large photo of Duckett, arms stretched above his head with fists clenched in victory.

"I walked right past it and didn't even see it," Duckett says, laughing.

Weary from days with only three or four hours' sleep, a constant media barrage and hours of tense competition on the water, Duckett stretches out on the deck of a bass boat on the showroom floor. With his back against the boat's windshield, he proclaims it as comfortable as a living room couch.

But the way anglers and employees gather around him, it looks more like a throne. On this day, Duckett is king, king of all bass fishermen. And even if he is the same guy they rubbed elbows with on the Warrior and Tombigbee, fishing in weekend tournaments, it's not every day that the Bassmaster Classic Champion waltzes into the local marina and chews the fat.

On Sunday, the Demopolis businessman became the first Alabama resident to win the Bassmaster Classic, and he was the first angler ever to win the big tournament fishing on his home state's waters.

Duckett's cell phone jingles constantly. He ignores it for the most part, catching a few special calls. He has yet to make it back to Demopolis and his eyes reveal the weariness of an intense two-week experience. But his voice is full of life.

"I did three television shows last night and two press conferences and probably 50 telephone interviews," he says. "My cell phone rings a lot more than it used to. When I woke up this morning, I had 106 missed calls."

All the attention comes after three straight days of waking at 3:30 a.m., getting on the water before daylight, fishing until 2 p.m. and going through the four-hour weigh-in. His head didn't hit the pillow until midnight every evening.

"Sunday, I fell asleep between the boat landing and the civic center," Duckett says. And he did it knowing his boat most likely held a stringer that would land him bass fishing's most prestigious title and a $500,000 first prize.

While Duckett may be coveting a long, uninterrupted sleep, it's not hard to tell he loves every minute of it. He smiles at his new Triton bass boat with a paint job that comes complete with an artist's rendition of a pair of red shoes. They're his trademark dating back to his first win on the professional tour.

"I won the thing in red shoes," Duckett shrugs. "There are fishermen who won't change their underwear if they win in them."

The Demopolis businessman formulated a plan for winning the Classic, told everyone what he planned and then executed it almost flawlessly. He started by fishing shallow sandbars with crank baits every day to put a solid, respectable five-fish limit in the boat. Then he worked shallow grass beds for two big bites every day and when he put the big fish in his boat, he tossed back a smaller one.

His key to winning was getting the big fish. He counted on hauling out two 4- to 6-pound fish a day on his Berkley Chigger Craw. The first day he put an 8-pounder in the boat and on Sunday it was a 6 1/2-pound fish.

His first-day big fish gave him the cushion he needed. On Saturday, he missed both the big ones he was looking for. He hooked another 8-pounder that day that rolled up on top of the weeds and spit out the hook.

"In the Bassmaster Classic, I had to watch an 8-pounder swim away," Duckett says, remembering his worst moment of the tournament. "The worst thing you can do is worry about something swimming away."

His response was to immediately begin pitching the lure again. An angler who broods over lost fish gets out of the groove. And fish tend to cluster, meaning other opportunities are in the water in front of him.

"If you spend the next 10 minutes frustrated by the bite you missed, you'll miss the next one, too," he says.

He believes it is critical to keep a level head during the tournament. He had a cameraman onboard with him and camera boats and spectator boats trailing him. Back at the Civic Center, he was never out of the bright lights. Letting the tournament "get into your head" can be a fatal error.

"We're rock stars for two weeks," he says. "I enjoyed it. But I never got caught up in it. When I back the boat in the water, I'm through with the world. I just focus and fish. All the camera boats and all that, I just don't pay any attention to that."

Tuning out the glitter and focusing on the plan made the difference for him. He knew what it took to win the tournament and he didn't let anything distract him.

Duckett led the first day by about 2 pounds but trailed by 4 pounds the second day. He didn't panic, figuring it would take an average of 17 pounds a day to win and he could still make that.

He figures being behind on the last day was a good thing. He went for broke.

"The third day, I was far enough behind that I had to go for it anyway," Duckett said.

Professional bass fishing is rarely an all-or-nothing proposition. Anglers aim for consistently high finishes and take wins when they come along. The Bassmaster Classic is the only tournament where winning is the only thing that matters.

"If I didn't catch them the third day, I'd have just been another name from 11th to 50th place," he said. "Who finished fifth or six? Nobody knows. All that matters is who won."

And there was a magic moment Sunday when Duckett knew it was going to happen.

"When I got the 6½-pounder in the boat, it was over," Duckett remembers. "I had won the Bassmaster Classic on the water. At least I thought I had; Skeet [Reese, second-place finisher] came a lot closer than I thought he would."

A short time later, he found himself in a room at the Birmingham Civic Center as a member of the "Super Six," the six top finishers. He was rubbing elbows with Reese, Kevin Van Dam and other heavy hitters in the ranks of professional fishing. It was a sweet moment.

After the weigh-in, it was a blur of questions and flash bulbs. He hoped for a good, long night's sleep but representatives from Berkley, the bait company, banged on his door at 7 a.m. wanting him up and out for a photo shoot.

And that's just the start because the light shines bright on the Classic winner. He'll be at the University of Alabama for an interview with ESPN radio and then he's flying to Little Rock. On Thursday, he's at Woods and Water for the L&L Marine Boat Show and Friday he'll mix and mingle with the home folks at an event sponsored by the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce. Saturday, he's on the tournament trail again at Lake Amistead in Texas.

Like it or not, Duckett will be the official face of bass fishing for the next year.

"The sport means a lot to me," Duckett says. "The Classic champion plays a big part in our sport. Ambassador for the sport is definitely the job I took on."

While Duckett has tasted the sweet victory anglers across the country dream of, he doesn't believe he has achieved the sport's ultimate goal. That is BASS Angler of the Year, he said.

"We fish from March to October," Duckett says. "You wind up with a guy who beat the whole field, the best in the world, all year long. To the pros, the Angler of the Year is the Holy Grail. And I'm going to win it or to keep fishing until I do, or get too old to fish anymore."

The quest is on.