Diary of a Bassmaster Virgin

This is the first installment in a two part series about Don Barone's shot at being a co-angler in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. To read Part II, click here.

 (I'm sorry if I have offended any of the 1,000's of various men/women/bass out there who will take offense to this title but I thought about it long and hard and decided that it was just a damn good title so I'm keeping it. Accept my apology, and my title. Thank you.)

 Dateline: Plattsburgh Boat Basin; Day Two of a Butt Kicking (mine).

 Thursday was the last time I could get my neck to turn right. Only half of my face is shaved since neither shoulder can get to the stuff growing on my left cheek.

 I haven't been this bruised since Sammy "The Sultan of Slop" Marranca ran overtop of me at shortstop, and my high school second-baseman, Davey "Donuts" Muscarella, landed on top of me trying to make the tag. It took the third-base coach and two Kenmore West Blue Devil cheerleaders to untangle that mess.

At this point, exhaustion would be a step up.

 My two greatest enemies: Sunrise and sunset, which to my horror, according to The Weather Channel, will be 5:22 a.m. ET and 8:36 p.m. ET. And my Bassmaster Elite Series pro fishing buddy wants to fish every second of the "length of visible light," that will be 16 hours and 26 minutes.

 You think you got what it takes to be like Mike … Iaconelli. Here's a quick test you can do at home to see if you can be one of the best on bass.

 The next time you want to go fishing, gather up all your gear, your favorite hat, that raggedy lucky shirt, go out in the garage and pull the car out.

 Then hand your wife the keys.

 Because to get to that favorite fishing spot, you're going to sit on the roof of the car, while wifey drives at 70 to 80 mph down a gravel road.

 And halfway there I'm going make her spray the windshield wiper fluid — with it squirting on high.

 Then I'm going to make you STAND UP for the next six to eight hours, casting about every 45 seconds or so, at the end of which I'm going to strap your butt back on top of the car and make your wife RACE home on a pothole filled road. And if she doesn't make it by 3:40 p.m., EXACTLY … not one freakin' minute of the whole day will count.

 Welcome to the Pro's, dude.

 If you've been sitting back thinking that catching bass for cash is just a bunch of Joe-Bob's with a six-pack and ham sandwich lazily floating around in a boat, waiting for some dumb smallmouth to come by and hit the cheese whiz, they're using for bait … you'd be WRONG.

 Which is something I wished I knew before they strapped my butt in a Bass Cat for a couple of days of competing in the Champion's Choice, way up there on Lake Champlain. It didn't begin well.

 The three guys in my minivan look like bass.

 Two smallmouth, one largemouth, who I won't name, but James O probably has a clue.

 There are actually two fishing writers and one guy who takes pictures of people with fish (and of sunrises). There's three mouths, all open — six eyes all bugged-out — looking at me, scared-like.

 If they made livewells the size of minivans, this is pretty much what it would look like when you slid the door open and looked in — sans the stinky water of course.

 But to be fair, they might, possibly, have a reason for this fear. You see, I just pretty much creamed a Plattsburgh dumpster.

 Ba-bang. It had a hollow knock when I hit it, so I don't think I compounded the problem by littering because it was all sort of open and none of its stuff spilled onto the Basin parking lot.

 But I did give it quite a pop.

 Now, normally when four, mature, experienced, outdoor journalists manage to have a fender bender with a host city's property, which is more of a common occurrence than you might think, you just kind of sulk away all stupid and blame it on just another reason you had a bad day fishing.

 Except, I had known these suddenly scared guys all of about four hours before I assaulted the above-mentioned dumpster. Not your best first impression.

 It could have been worse. Had they known the truth, they may never have gotten in the minivan with me at ALL. Ride or no ride to the tournament, would you allow yourself to be a passenger in a minivan knowing full well that the driver, me, had just brushed his teeth with Aspercreme and that his sore ankles smelled suspiciously like Crest Sensitive Tooth Paste.I don't blame you.

 And here's the reason my hair shampoo smells of Listerine. I'm a co-angler at a Bassmaster tournament … and for the past two days I've had my butt handed to me by the men in the bass boats.

 When asked how to describe it, I could only think of two things, Bull riding, and the NFL.

 Imagine a football team, say the Buffalo Bills, playing Monday Night Football, then Tuesday Night Football, then Wednesday Night Football … which, if they do good, gets them to play Thursday Night Football and possibly Friday Night Football, all in the same week.

 Oh, and the games are eight quarters long (Math teachers don't even think of sending me email about the eight quarters reference, I'm fully aware that with the NFL Math sudden-death rule most games never make it past the fifth quarter).

 And getting to the bass fishing spot, well that's sort of like riding a bucking bull, except you'd have to stick a rocket in his ass, and light it.This isn't your father's fishing.

 Something no one bothered to tell me before I signed up for this thing. Especially those three white-knuckled passengers sitting in my minivan, who I believe had full knowledge and ample time to warn me but chose not to.

 Payback boys, by way of the fine city of Plattsburgh's slightly dented dumpster.

 Email & worm-mail
"Good morning MIS…"

 Don't ask me what MIS means, but here at ESPN, it's the number I call when I break the company computers…

 "…Oh, hi Don…" I'm a regular computer messer-upper.

 Me: "Can you block email from someone."

 THEM: "Certainly."

 Me: "Great, his name is Steve …"

 THEM: "Ah…why do you need it blocked."

 ME: "He's one of my several 100 bosses…"

 Seems there's a little known company policy specifically addressing the issue about adding your boss's name to The Blocked Sender list.

 Who knew?

 But this particular boss is a BIG guy, Six-something and still growing up and out. And he can type — there should be a corporate exception for that. Here's why:


Original Message-----

From: Steve
Sent: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 6:36 PM
To: Barone, Don
Subject: Just thinking
Coming up this summer in a lake near you is a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.

 These are not for the weak-hearted, but I was wondering if I could get you in, would you be interested in competing as one of the Co-Anglers in the event.

 I think it would be great to have you compete and tell the story of being one of these amateur anglers as only you can tell it.

 Think it over.

 Be honest: If you ever get an email from a boss that says, "think it over," is your response ever, "Thought it over…and …no."Didn't think so.

 On this particular Wednesday at that 6:36 p.m., when this email happened to light up my TREO, I was just minding my ownself, and taking a pee in a semi-crummy men's room in a chicken wing joint in my small town.

 I was vulnerable…and I don't know how Steve knew it…but he can be a cranky big guy, so I put nothing past him. So, with the TREO under the hot air hand-drying thing (yeah, another call to MIS) this is what I type back with my one dry thumb."Sure."Obviously with the TREO stuck up on the top of the urinal, leaning flush against the silver pipe so I could read it and multi-task at the same time, I missed one small bit of information:

 "These are not for the weak hearted."

 I hate it when he does that to me.

Fast forward seven months (and several thousand pees) almost TO THE DAY, and I find myself, alone, in a Holiday Inn in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and I'm standing in my fourth-floor room looking at a brown box that was overnighted to me, by Steve.Would YOU open it?

 I'm just watching it, looking at it sideways, then back to watching SportsCenter with full frontal eyes. After a quick glance over my left shoulder at it, it's back to the highlights.

 Since I have never fished in a Bassmaster Elite Tournament before he emailed me, "I'll send you up some rods and reels that should help you out, and some other stuff as well."

 I read his emails much closer now. The rods and reels were already unpacked and stacked in a corner, but it was the 'some other stuff' that was in that box on the bed that I wasn't going to touch it until SportsCenter was done. And even then I might run it under the Holiday Inn shower for a couple of hours or so.

 By the 11 o'clock local news, I thought it safe to open.I was wrong.

 Scissors cut across the top tape and sides, and I slowly open the top. I dig through a bunch of Sunday paper from Arkansas (nice sales at Piggly Wiggly by the way), reach in, and pull out a clear plastic tackle box — of WORMS.

 The box flies across the King bed, into the room phone knocking it to the floor along with the worms in the tackle box, and in a surreal moment, it seems as if the worms are actually talking to me. And this is what the worms are somehow saying, "Front Desk…front desk…hello…hello."You see what I deal with? A boss who sends me WORMS via FedEx.

"This is the front desk…hello…hello…is anything…"

 Bang. I hang it up. Yeah, there's a problem Mr. Front Desk. My boss just sent me INSECTS in the mail. Man, if Steve wasn't 7 or 8 feet tall. But after stepping on the packages a few times, and kicking them up against the room door several times, I noticed something. Either these are DAMN healthy worms, or — yeah, plastic.

 The green sparkly ones should have been my first clue. Ah huh, my 9 to 10 foot boss had sent me PLASTIC worms and other assorted creature bait.

 PS: If you happen to check into room 453 there at the Holiday Inn and about have a heart attack seeing some "worm" laying around that I somehow overlooked, please don't blame me. As you can clearly see, Steve did it. Email him, not me. But read his reply VERY carefully.

 Consider yourself warned.



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