SHREVEPORT, La. While Peter Thliveros talked about watching "The Family Guy" too late on cable last night, and Rick Morris mentioned that he parked his boat for so long this winter that his trailer tires went flat, and Fred Roumbanis showed off the new phone he got after dropping his last one in the water Ken Baumgardner stood against a wall near the elevators of the Hilton lobby.
As one of the six Federation Nation qualifiers among the 51-angler Bassmaster Classic field, Baumgardner not only is an underdog, he's a degree removed from the class reunion atmosphere among the Elite Series anglers who qualify for the most prestigious tournament in the sport.
But at angler registration Tuesday, Baumgardner didn't much mind.
"I told my wife when we came here, 'We're flying under the radar,' " the Pittsburgh angler said. "This could be a life-changing tournament."
His relative anonymity will likely help him come tournament time, when dozens of spectator boats will follow the top anglers in the sport. Funny thing about registration, though, is that it was Baumgardner, in his embroidered competition jersey, who stood out as an obvious angler.
While a few competitors wore their jerseys and a couple of them picked up UPS packages at the desk containing new jerseys most wandered around in their civvies, heavy on the jeans and sweatshirts, looking for the most part like just a bunch of dudes.
Even if you didn't know the Classic was old hat to, say, Steve Kennedy, you might guess it, on account of his wearing an old Auburn hat.
The registration is among the only times this week that anglers will convene with so few distractions. Someone asked Kim Bain-Moore to autograph his copy of BASS Times and Rick Clunn obligingly posed for a photo with some fans, but mostly, this was low-key all the way.
Still, the anglers talked business, as well. A few, for instance, are considering using aluminum jet boats instead of fiberglass not as fast, certainly, but better for easing into the Red River's prized backwaters.
"Just idling into some of these places is like a Disney ride," said Kennedy, miming the bounces and knocks of driving over stumps and debris. "It's fun for about 10 minutes until you actually try to get somewhere."
Kennedy and Randy Howell are among a small group of anglers who brought aluminum boats, which they said they're unlikely to use in competition. But you never know.
Asked whether he thought anyone would make the run down to Pool 3, the southernmost of the three pools that are available to fish in the tournament, Kenyon Hill (resplendent in sneakers and a sweatshirt) said he doubted anyone would make the long downriver run through two locks.
"You can't win it there," he said. "Everything has to go perfect. And it's hard to make perfect happen three straight days."
The weather came up, of course, as anglers are some of the only professionals anywhere who discuss it as a matter of truly substantive conversation.
The consensus was that the water's temperature and clarity were as good as could be hoped for. If there was a hitch, it was the two separate cold fronts expected to roll through the area later in the week.
"That's the only thing holding it back from being the best possible Bassmaster Classic," said Skeet Reese, the 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
That assessment was confirmed a few minutes later in the angler's meeting. After BASS tournament director Trip Weldon reviewed the tournament regulations, Michael Berry, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Shreveport, told the anglers the weather was primed for fishing.
He distributed a six-day forecast and a Web address where anglers (and, yes, you as well) can follow the Weather Service forecast for several points along the Red River, including >temperatures and water levels.
The takeaway is that while the weather is going to be downright hot for Wednesday's practice (a high near 80, he said), launches this weekend will be cold, with temperatures in the low 40s and 30s each morning, while daily highs will reach the 60s. After some showers Tuesday night, rain isn't expected.
"The weather forecast for all three days of the tournament look great," Berry announced.
Todd Meyers, a park ranger with the Red River Waterway Commission, explained to the anglers that he'd try to release their boats from locks in the order they entered.
"You're going to have a lot of observers," Meyers told the competitors. "They're going to be out there in droves. Nothing this big has ever happened here."
When he told the anglers he'd try to give them a head-start on any spectator boats locking with them, he received an ovation.
Weldon closed the meeting by reminding the anglers that one of them was about to win the biggest prize of his career.
"Again, congratulations," he said, motioning to the Bassmaster Classic trophy displayed at the front of the conference room. "Someone is going to walk out of here with this trophy."
Another ovation followed, this one seemingly begun from the back row by angler Kelly Jordon, who appeared to incite the room's applause all for himself.
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