SHREVEPORT/BOSSIER CITY, La. — For five long minutes, Bryan Schmidt, Federation Nation champion, sat in the hot seat as the leader of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.
"It was very emotional," Schmidt said. "Being in my first Classic and then to find myself sitting up there leading the whole thing on the final day — I couldn't even think clearly."
The euphoria with leading the Classic was short-lived, as, three anglers later, Mike McClelland posted 16 pounds, 8 ounces to knock him out of the lead. Even as he returned to the press room, he was noticeably energized and smiling.
"I was too far back to really challenge for the lead," Schmidt said. "I thought maybe I might hit a top-15 and a top-10 would be awesome. I just didn't want to go out and 0-fer — I just wanted to catch a keeper and come across that stage."
Schmidt did that and more, bringing in a 22-pound, 1-ounce sack of Red River bass that gave him a three-day total of 51 pounds, 1 ounce. At the end of the night, Schmidt would be knocked down to sixth place, but considering the depth and talent of the field, that is a finish that bodes well for his fishing future.
After not a single Federation Nation angler made the top-25 cut in 2008, Schmidt's finish restored credibility and pride to the Nation, which saw three of its anglers fish on the final day.
The day belonged to Schmidt though, who found the mother lode of bass halfway through the day after struggling in his morning spot.
"I left the docks planning to swing for the fence," Schmidt said. "I didn't want to hold anything back. After seeing the water temperatures had dropped in my first spot, I fished around a couple other areas until I noticed it was warming up. I went back to that area and started flipping into the hyacinths and before I knew it, my observer Donovan was dodging 5 pounders."
Classic success really started back in November when Schmidt qualified by winning the Federation Nation Championship on Milford Lake, Kan. From that time until the off-limits period took effect, Schmidt spent every weekend on the Red River, learning to navigate the river and looking for prime spots in the backwater areas.
He found one in Pool 5, where he initially began the tournament fishing around a duck blind. As the temperatures warmed on the final day, Schmidt relocated the fish around several small patches of hyacinths that had formed between logjams.
In the heavy mats, Schmidt used a 1-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight with a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver rigged on a Texas Sidewinders flipping stick. He would key in on mats in 1 to 4 feet of water.
Before the tournament began, he called his mom to tell her he was leaving for Shreveport, saying, "The next time you are going to see me is on the stage at the Bassmaster Classic."
Her response: "Are there going to be a lot of people there?"
At that moment, it hit him that he would soon be weighing in on the Classic stage before a capacity audience.
"I haven't talked to anyone since weighing in, but I'm getting plenty of text messages," he said in the media room shortly after weighing in his final bag. "My sister works at a sign shop, so there were plenty of signs out there in the audience."
It is often said that the only place in the Classic that matters is first, and for a few minutes on stage, Schmidt got to taste that feeling. For the Federation Nation, for Texas and for himself and his family, that is something that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.