One of the most endearing elements of covering the competitive fishing scene often occurs off-stage. Behind the cameras, out of sight, often unseen by the masses.
It’s that look in an angler’s eye when they’re describing a key move that transformed a day. It’s the exact opposite look as they relive the excruciating moment when a suddenly slacked line brought the searing reality of opportunity lost.
Just a fish? Not even close.
These moments and the stories they represent don’t always reach the press releases. News formats simply cannot include an event’s every detail, but space limitations do not diminish the resonating value of a tale worth telling.
Here’s a good one.
Cliff Pirch, the seasoned veteran from Payson, Ariz. entered Day 2 of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Chickamauga Lake in 21st place after weighing a 4-fish bag of 11 pounds on Day 1. On Saturday, he improved to 13th after adding four more keepers for a 12-pound bag anchored by a 6-14 that bit around 2:45.
“I only had about 5 feet of line out, I was getting ready to lift my bait out of the water and that fish hit it,” Pirch said. “It was like the fish was going to take it from me. It tried to take the rod and everything.”
Cool story, but this fish’s significance far outshined the boat side drama.
By the numbers: Take away that 6-14 and Pirch weighs a two-day total of 16-2. California pro Randy Pierson was the first one out of the top-40 cut with 16-6.
One cast, late in the day and now, instead of heading home, Pirch is fishing on Semi-Final Sunday.
“That one made a huge difference; I felt like it was a miracle,” Pirch said of his day-maker. “I nearly started crying when I caught that thing because it’s been kind of a rough season and I really have to catch them these last couple of events.
“I’ve had some last-minute deals in the last three (tournament) days I’ve fished. The last 30 minutes of Day 3 on (last week’s Elite) Santee Cooper got me probably from 70th to 31st and the same thing happened yesterday when I caught about a 4-pounder at the end of the day.”
Cliff Pirch is a stand-up guy. Confident in his well-earned reputation for angling acumen, the consummate sportsman/gentleman. He’ll look you in the eye and say what he needs to say and do so with an immediately admirable blend of courtesy and self-assuredness.
Cliff Pirch was looking at the ground during most of our conversation.
This was no self-esteem deficit; no insecurity.
It was one of the purest moments of a professional angler’s raw emotion I’ve seen in a long time. It was a deep, visceral appreciation; a sigh of relief.
It was the kind of moment that puts a little lump in the throat; maybe a little mist in the eyes.
Plain and simple, that fish meant a lot to him. A lot.
At one point, Pirch’s catch was headed for mass exposure, as he and Derek Hudnall had tied for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors. Chad Pipkens would later take that position with his 7-11.
Missing the Big Bass notoriety did not dim Pirch’s joy. Still, we couldn’t let the story go untold.
We love seeing dramatic finishes. Nail-biters, big comebacks, career-defining moments. That stuff never gets old; and every one of them deserves the ensuing media coverage.
But behind the scenes, we see the real people. We see how very hard these competitors work at their jobs, what they sacrifice, how much they invest just to show up and launch.
We see the pride of hoisting big fish for cheering fans and the sorrow of spending exhausted evenings in the service yard just trying to get back on the water. We see how they manage the highs and lows, the smiles and the tears.
Fans of the sport don’t always get to see what happens behind the scenes, but some of these stories are just too good to go untold.
That’s our job.
Glad we got to share this one with you.