Making A Splash

JASPER, Texas — Bradley Jones had been standing in line for more than three hours and he was just over half way to his destination.

 "I keep begging someone to bring me a Bud Light, but no one seems to be biting,'' Jones said.

 And with good reason, a trip like that could lose a precious spot in a line that was moving, but getting longer by the minute.

 Jones and his wife, LeAnn of Fred, Texas, weren't waiting for tickets for the latest, greatest band sensation, cheap gas or even government cheese. They

were there to register for the hottest ticket in Jasper, Texas this weekend — a spot in the McDonald's Big Bass Splash.

 Jones will be one of more than 4,000 anglers plying the waters of Sam Rayburn Reservoir looking for that one big bite of largemouth that could change his life, or at least pay for the weekend away from home.

 The Big Bass Splash is in its 24th year on the lake where each April thousands of anglers fish three eight-hour days with the hopes of hooking just one over-sized bass.

 It's a simple program: Where most bass tournaments measure the success of its anglers by the weight of their five largest bass, this one measures who can catch the biggest for each hour and over a three-day period.

 Every hour from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., the largest 12 fish will win from $1,000 to $200. By the end of the week, a half dozen Triton bass boats, a couple of Dodge trucks, travel trailers and Bad Boy Buggies and cash totaling more than $560,000 will be won by these pseudo-amateur anglers waiting in line to register. And to add a little flavor, each day the first angler who weighs in an exact 3-, 4-, or 5-pound bass will win a Triton Boat.

 "These aren't professional anglers,'' said Bob Sealy, whose Sealy Outdoors has put on more than 100 of these events in eight states. "These are weekend fishermen out to have a good time with their families. They work on engines, weld, sack groceries all week and fish on the weekend.

 "This is a tournament for them and they love it."

 Sealy's point is made by the line of anglers waiting to register. It stretched two wide for about 300 yards and had been that long for more than 8 hours, with as many as a half dozen ladies taking entries at a clip of about five entries every minute.

 One of those was Bob Doggett of Jacksonville, Texas. The 75-year old Doggett said that he stood in line for exactly 3 hours, 25 minutes to register. And this is 15th year to do so.

 The retired microbiologist has yet to cash a check in any of the more than a dozen events that he's fished.

 "I do it for the sport of it,'' Doggett said, grinning, his eyes shaded by a DAV (Disabled Veterans Cap). "I look forward to it every year."

 Jones, on the other hand, wants to win, even if it's just one of the 12 paychecks every hour. This is his fourth event. Two years ago his partner won an hour

with an 8.75-pound bass that awarded them a $1,000 to split between each other.

 "It would be great to win,'' he said casting an eye toward his pregnant wife. "That's what we're hoping for, but really we just enjoy the weekend away."

 In a short poll of the hundreds of anglers in the line, all of them said they intended on winning. But they also said the event was for a good cause. A portion of each entry goes to benefit the Ronald McDonald House.

 Beginning Friday at 6 a.m., the line is expected to be gone, with all those anglers spilling out onto San Rayburn. They can launch from anywhere and at any time, but they can't cast until 6 a.m.

 "That's when the fun starts,'' Sealy said. "Within a few minutes we will start seeing boats coming to weigh.

 "By the end of the weekend, this area will be full of spectators and fishermen enjoying a celebration unlike many you ever see."

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