Huge fish puts Daniel billboard

The call Steve Daniel received last spring is the sort any man would expect when a friend notices a photo of him published.

 In this case, it happened that a friend of Daniel's had noticed the Elite angler's mug gracing a 14-by-48-foot billboard gazing over the southbound traffic on Interstate 81, about 35 miles north of Syracuse, N.Y.

 On it, Daniel holds a couple of jumbo bass. "Fish Oneida Lake," the sign reads. "The Pros Do!"

 "It is biiiig," says Debbie Daniel, Steve's wife. "It is right on the interstate. It's pretty cool. And I actually took a picture. I didn't think of taking a picture with Steve beside it, but he would have looked like an ant beside it."

 The couple got to see the giant sign when they visited Oneida Lake for the Empire Chase event last summer. It was flattering, yes, but also puzzling, because Daniel had no clue as to who installed the sign nor how he came to be featured on it.

 "It's pretty impressive," Daniel said when contacted about the sign. "That's all I know about it."

 His best guess is that somehow a trip to Syracuse the previous year had something to do with it. When he arrived in town, he contacted the local ABC affiliate, and entertained a producer and a cameraman on a boat, explaining his fishing techniques and even landing a four-pound bass virtually on-cue for the evening news.

 "It was really kind of a neat deal," Daniel said. "I'm pretty sure that's where it came from."

 But the real explanation may be simpler still: Daniel and his trophy fish just looked the part.

 When the Oswego County parks department decided to commission the billboard, the director wanted to see a pro angler holding fish. With that directive, the ad company, Lamar Syracuse Outdoor Advertising, came back with designs that incorporated photos downloaded from a BASS media site. Daniel's shot was the best.

 "I don't think we chose Steve Daniel intentionally," says Jody Talbot, the superintendent of Oneida Shores County Park. "Our intent was to push fishing on Oneida Lake. We went through several different concepts, and the angler holding the big fish is the one we liked best."

 Says Lamar's Cabrina Gilbert, the graphic designer on the ad: "They wanted something so bold and dramatic that people would look up and say, 'Whoa, look at that guy with the huge fish up there.' I had to keep going back and finding bigger fish."

 Previous drafts of the billboard included a striking bass and a photo of Elite angler Davy Hite holding a couple of bass. But whether it's a matter of sheer size or the angle of the shot, the fish in the Hite billboard don't loom quite the way Daniel's do. Thus, it's Daniel whose squint and grin greet drivers on their way to Syracuse.

 The billboard was supposed to be up for only about three months, Talbot said, but remains in place nearly a year later because the space has yet to be re-sold.

 And he still gets noticed. A friend from West Virginia on a trip to Lake Ontario called and told him, "I just saw a picture of you — a big damn picture."

 Perhaps there's more to Daniel's appearance than sheer luck. Perhaps the parks officials who reviewed the drafts had seen him months earlier on the news, and were stirred ever so slightly by the memory when they chose the Daniel photo over the Hite photo.

 Perhaps, too, there is an unseen cosmic kinship between Daniel, the lake and city. If that is the case, however, the invisible hand of fate stopped short of aiding his fishing. At the Empire Chase event at Oneida in July, Daniel finished 76th.