The bass master


WACO, Texas -- When the question was posed to University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and top wide receiver Jordan Shipley as to what time they wanted to start fishing, it was a test.

Both have reputations as outdoorsmen, but they're also college students, leaving it pretty much wide-open.

When McCoy and Shipley decided on 6 a.m. so they could capitalize on the early topwater bite, it was clear they were coming to catch fish. Invited to fish with a pro, they handpicked 2008 Classic champion Alton Jones, who shares the same faith as the top two offensive threats on the preseason No. 2 Longhorns.

McCoy is so serious about fishing, he once lost a rod and reel in a lake, waited for a drought and went to recover his equipment.

"The reel was toast," he said, "but I still use the rod."

A ramp mix-up slowed things down, but they were on the water by 7 a.m., walking topwater baits in spots Jones had scouted the day before.

Shipley hooked the first bass by 7:30 and had it three-quarters of the way to the boat before it shook off.

"That was just a quick release right there," Shipley said. "I knew I was going to put him back anyway, so I just got an early start."

McCoy disagreed.

"You just didn't want to get your precious hands cold," he said.

A few minutes later, Shipley landed a largemouth that weighed less than a pound, but it changed the atmosphere. Things had been friendly -- downright chatty -- before that bass. The fish created something mesmerizing to all great athletes: a score. Game on.

McCoy, who was now losing, turned his full attention to the water and went to work.


On the water

Jones, about as qualified of a bass guide as there is in America, gave both McCoy and Shipley suggestions on where to put the bait, and they hit it perfectly most of the time.

"I guess accuracy is something that God has just blessed me with, I don't know," said McCoy, who had the most accurate season of any quarterback in NCAA history in 2008. "I wouldn't say I'm as accurate with my cast as I am with a football."

There are three spots to fish from on Jones' boat. Jones held the A-1 position in the front of the boat because he had to run the trolling motor. McCoy started in the A-2 spot next to Jones, and Shipley was relegated to the back of the boat in the B spot, fishing whatever Jones and McCoy left him.

After trying a few more points unsuccessfully, Jones went to his secondary fishing hole but stuck with the topwater. Shipley added another small white bass to increase his lead, but the bass weren't up to Jones' specifications. He considered changing baits but decided just to change spots. It was the right decision.

"I'm of the belief that the bass are biting somewhere, so let's move on," he said.

McCoy caught the third bass of the day -- easily the largest -- and put it in the livewell so it could be used in a Bassmaster magazine photo shoot. A few minutes later McCoy was reeling in his second bass, and it was better than his first.

The score was technically tied now, but McCoy was on the better bite. When McCoy went to put his latest bass into the livewell, Shipley decided he'd seen enough.

"I'm going to sneak right up here, right into the hot spot," Shipley said quietly as he moved past a bent-over McCoy and on to the front deck.

McCoy smiled, thinking of the move as sort of a trophy.

"So, I guess that's how it's going to be?" he asked as he took the B position. "That's all right, I'm up on him. It doesn't even matter.

"If he just catches balls for me, we'll be good. I'll let him catch my fish."

That sounded OK to McCoy until it started happening. In addition to his position, McCoy gave up something else he shouldn't have: his playbook. He told Jones and Shipley that both his fish came when the bait was still.

"See, you can tell he is inexperienced in the tournament game," Jones said. "That's the kind of information you're supposed to keep to yourself."

The next bass went to Shipley -- it was as nice as or nicer than McCoy's best -- and Shipley was careful in his positioning as he went to the livewell.

"How you liking my spot up there?" McCoy asked.

"I really like it," Shipley said. "It's comfortable; the fish seem to like it a lot. I really feel at home here."

Jones attempted to mediate.

"You know, he caught a nice one, gave you the spot, you caught a nice one and you're still here," he said, flashing a devious grin.

"No, he caught two nice ones. If I catch one more I might give it back. Although I am up on numbers," said Shipley, unfazed and between casts.

"Not that anyone's counting," Jones said, looking at McCoy.

"No, we're not competitive," McCoy said sarcastically. "We're just here to have fun."

The bite slowed for the next half hour, and Shipley decided to give the spot back to McCoy. It was a mistake.

"I'll give it to you for a while, but if you start catching all the big fish, I'm pushing you in the water," Shipley said.

At around 9 a.m., with everyone still throwing topwater, something attacked Shipley's bait twice but didn't commit, and he was eventually forced to reel it in. Both Jones and McCoy immediately threw at the spot. A few twitches later, McCoy hooked up and pulled in the largest bass of the day.

"That's what I'm talking about, baby!" McCoy yelled, Mike Iaconelli-style. "That's what happens when I'm in the honey hole. That's a good-looking fish."

Shipley was defeated, but soon realized that he wasn't in "last" place. The only man in the boat without a bass was the pro. Shipley moved back up to the front of the boat, and he and Alton started to play catch up -- and started to play dirty.

At one point when they were hitting individual bushes, McCoy got so back-ended that he threw his bait straight up in the air and shrugged his shoulders, smiling, of course. Not smiling because he was being kept from casting to the shore, but smiling because he was winning.

Jones eventually added a couple nice bass to his count, including a four-pounder, which he called a "Colt McCoy-sized bass." But McCoy won the day with three of the nicest bass.

Back at the ramp, Jones, defeated, said he was impressed with the way the Longhorns attacked the water.

"I hope these guys stick to football," he said. "I don't want to see them on the Elite Series."