The Swing Men

GREENVILLE, S.C. — In professional bass fishing, anglers don't receive A's for effort. But at the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, they should. Pitting themselves against schizophrenic weather, hoards of spectator boats, a competing amateur tournament and each other, the pride that comes with completion filled most anglers' chests, regardless of where they finished on the leaderboard.

After the coronation of Classic champion Alton Jones had ended, those tucked beneath the Bi-Lo Center witnessed Elite Series rookie Clark Reehm and three-time Classic contender Dave Wolak smiling almost as much as the day's king.

Reehm finished the competition in eighth place with 40 pounds, 8 ounces over three days. The rookie from Russellville, Ark., set small goals in the biggest tournament of his life, making motivational speakers across the country proud. Rheem's 15-pound, final-day stringer proved heaviest among all of Day Three's offerings, including the 5-6 lunker to capture the Purolator Big Bass.

"My goal was to get a limit every day and make the cut," he said. "Then, my goal was to make the top 10."

To achieve these goals, Reehm ran a crankbait pattern through clay cut banks — a risky strategy given the structure.

"You either get hung or you catch fish," he said, about the results he first experienced during practice. On Friday, Reehm was on fish.

"That's been the highlight of my career so far," Reehm said.

Dave Wolak made fishing adjustments that paid off Sunday as well: Admittedly, the desire to avoid personal embarrassment forced him into speeding up his game and testing new locations. After a slow morning, the threat of failure continued to intensify.

"Do I want to weigh in on the final day of the Bassmaster Classic and idle in with 4 1/2 pounds with four?" Wolak said he asked himself. The personal challenge motivated the North Carolinian.

"Sometimes that lack of patience makes for moving around more, and you stumble into something," he said. "I bailed out of the areas that I'd been sticking around for probably too long."

With the new self-motivation, he began running docks until he saw something. And see something, he did — in fact, Wolak saw his livewell fill with bass for his 14-12 creel, along with his name taking the 14th-place slot on the final leaderboard.

"That was probably [my] most memorable experience ever in bass fishing," he said.