SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. -- It’s 4:52 a.m., and Shaw Grigsby’s headlights are among the first to shed light on the day we’ve all been waiting for -- Day One of the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. He exits a downtown Shreveport hotel parking lot, hooks a left on to Market Street, and begins a 12-mile drive south to the launch.
A wooden cross hangs on his rearview mirror, and remnants of a 32-ounce sweet tea he accidentally spilled in the cab of his truck this past Tuesday hang around on the carpet fibers beneath his feet. This is Grigsby’s 14th Bassmaster Classic, and still he admits he’s jittery to the point of scatterbrained here in the pre-dawn of a cold, windy and cloudy Day One.
“I don’t think the Classic ever gets old,” Grigsby said. “It’s your drive, your motivation. Every Elite Series event I fish, I’m thinking about doing well enough by season’s end to qualify for the Classic. ”
There’s a reason he was one of the first competitors out of the hotel parking lot this morning. Grigsby’s been a full-time pro for 27 years, and he’s celebrated 55 birthdays. And as he exits on to Highway 71, he admits that all the lonely early morning miles and birthdays have led to a need for more prep time.
“Every year that passes makes organizational challenges a bigger struggle. I’m thinking about my batteries, my breakfast, re-tying my lures, and then finally, how I’m going to strategically approach the day,” the Quantum reel pro said. “ That all takes time. And as I get older, I know I need more and more time.”
While younger anglers are bouncing down 71 South to Eminem, Shaw’s radio is off. He’s gathering his thoughts, and that happens better after five-and-a-half decades when nobody’s rapping in your ear.
Then, from amid the deep thoughts and silence comes a soulful scream of self-doubt that’s as out of place as a 21-foot bass boat in the heart of downtown Shreveport.
“I’m pretty sorry. I’ve been doing this for 27 seasons, and I’ve only made 14 Classics, I’m a 50-percenter,” he said.
As a writer who was once a teenager on the other side of the ropes 22 years ago begging Grigsby to sign my hat with a Sharpie, his words of humility sadden me. A former hero shouldn’t talk this way, especially here on Day One of his 14th Classic. My only comfort comes from knowing that part of the privilege of telling their story is the humility with which they share it. And here in the darkness of 71 South is enough apparent lowliness to drown any ego you’d think might result from qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic 14 times.
“I look around in those pre-tournament meetings at all the guys that are out here competing against me these days, and I can’t help but think about how good they are,” Grigsby said in an effort to explain his humility.
On tournament mornings, Grigsby eats on the go from a box of dry shredded wheat cereal. It’s easy. It’s healthy. And he likes the taste. And when much of your competition is 10 to 30 years younger than you; easy and healthy are valuable ingredients.
“I get to the dock and I’m thinking ‘Well, the bass should be doing this or that’, but guys like Kevin aren’t thinking and guessing. They know,” he said.
Finally at 5:20 a.m., he pulls into Red River South Marina -- the official launch pad of the 42nd Bassmaster Classic. He’s arrived. He’s made it. But now there’s another strategic consideration. His randomly assigned ride-along observer for the day is a man pushing 300-pounds.
“Oh man,” Shaw said, “My first stop is a backwater place that I can barely get my boat to float into when I’m alone. That dude’s big enough that I may not be able to get in there.”
Bass fishing is an ongoing game of adapting to change, and if pro angling careers had an odometer, Grigsby’s would be a good equivalent to the 168,352 miles on his truck. Yet through 27 seasons on tour, the mustache-wearing son of a former college professor has adapted well enough to experience Day One of bass fishing’s biggest dance 14 times.
Even when self-doubt, changing circumstances, and scattered thoughts threaten otherwise.