Final preparations at the media circus

TULSA, Okla. – As Skeet Reese settled into his 13th Bassmaster Classic Media Day, he recalled his first such event, in 1998 in Greensboro, N.C., a lifetime ago yet still fresh in his mind.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “But for me it was the greatest Classic ever, even though I won in 2009. Your first is always your most memorable. It only happens once. It’ll never again have the same newness or excitement but you’ll never have the same anxieties, either.”

For a former Classic champion and Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, with five other B.A.S.S. wins to his credit, Reese is flying surprisingly low beneath the radar this year. That’s fine with him.

“I guess I’m a dark horse,” he said. “There’s been no media, not nothing about me being a factor.”

While he’s always California cool on the outside, Reese’s atypical lack of media attention seemingly has him more at ease than ever.

The same can’t be said of the rest of the field. With their boats parked inside a cavernous arena, competitors had storage compartments open and worked diligently to dry out anything that’s wet from yesterday’s changing mix of precipitation. With expected temperatures in the upper teens or lower 20s at blast-off tomorrow, today’s damp boat carpet is tomorrow’s popsicle.

North Carolina pro Tracy Adams has stocked up on de-icing spray, in case his trolling motor locks in place. Rather than a last-minute run to the tackle store tonight, he’ll likely make a quick jaunt to a grocery store to get a roll of wax paper. He’ll put sheets of it in between his rod locker doors to prevent them from freezing shut, which would leave the tools of his trade painfully unavailable.

B.A.S.S. sponsor tables lined the front of the building, providing both the anglers and the members of the media with logoed trinkets, clothing and informational materials. The most valuable items, though, were likely the towels being given away. They’re good for drying out equipment today and they’ll be good for warming and drying cold hands tomorrow.

As the boats sweated off the remnants of yesterday’s snow, sleet and rain, the only people working harder than the anglers were the legions of fairgrounds workers pushing big brooms to redistribute and remove the large puddles that accumulated on the concrete floor.

Some of the anglers answered questions from the assembled writers and television crews distractedly, their hands and minds occupied restringing reels, organizing lures and trying to lighten their workloads for the rest of the day.

Randy Howell said that he has a number of sponsor obligations to attend to tonight, which will leave him little time to get his tackle in order.

“My mind is going really fast right now,” he said. “You want to think of everything you have to do on the water tomorrow. I have at least two hours of work to do tonight, probably three.”

As he prepared to restring line on a rod-locker’s worth of reels, a pair of technicians worked to apply a chemical coasting to his hull and to his outboard’s lower unit. Allegedly it will improve his gas mileage, help him get on plane faster and add nearly two miles per hour to his top end, despite the fact that he already has one of the fastest boats on tour.

Even when they’re sitting still, moving faster is always on the pros’ minds. Rather than soaking in the atmosphere of his 11th Classic, Howell was mentally up on pad heading to his first spot on Grand Lake.

Mark Davis, the 1995 Classic champion and veteran of 15 prior Classics, recalled that when he fished his first one in 1987 he was “like a deer in the headlights” and sees that same look in the eyes of some of the younger competitors today.

“You’ve got to remember, at the end of the day we’re just here to fish,” he said. “The best thing you can do for your career is to just fish well. We probably overanalyze things.”

As the media bucked to get closer to the pre-tournament favorites and shoehorn their questions in among the others, other competitors had plenty of space to run the risk of paralysis by overanalysis. Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens and Jason Christie barely had time to take a breath, but others – like the first-timers and B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers – were less in demand.

“I figured I wouldn’t get too much attention,” said Maine’s Jonathan Carter as he worked on his tackle.

While he welcomed the time in dry space to get his gear ready, Carter would have been happy to conduct some interviews.

“I like talking about fishing,” he explained.

Indeed, despite the occasional grousing about time off the water or signs that their minds seemed to be 90 miles away at the lake, to a man the competitors recognized that being at media day was a sign that they had positioned themselves for a life-altering event.

Reese, one of the savviest and most fan-beloved promoters in the industry, was blunt, saying that “it sucks to work the trade show portion of this because it means you’re not out there in contention to win.”

Today, all 53 of them remain in contention and for at least a few hours they were out of the cold.

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