Had someone ask me at an outdoor show last month "So what's it like to be out there 'on tour', fishing the Elite Series, and livin' the dream?"
My brain went into overdrive. Honestly? Seriously? Do you want me to sugar-coat it and tell you it's as wonderful as everything you see on Saturday morning? Or do you want to really hear what it's like "livin' the dream"?
It's all great fun until you go eight tournaments without getting a check. At that point, the dream becomes a nightmare. One of those nightmares that you try and try to wake up from but can't.
The monster/ huge dog/ ginormous squid/ ex-wife/ whatever-you-fear-the-most chasing you is gaining ground. It's about to grab you and drag you down into the depths of wherever it lives, and your little legs can't pump fast enough to get away. Scary stuff.
What makes the dream turn into such ghoulish stuff? Oh, I don't know, maybe the fear that you have dropped $55,000 in entry fees and another 10 g's in travel funds to get you to a point in the season where you have cashed not one single check. 8 out of 11 tournaments and not a single red cent back in the checkbook. That's some scary stuff.
Just because the dream took a ghastly turn doesn't mean there hasn't been a return on the investment. For me, that phrase "return on investment" was the key to an otherwise dismal season.
Despite the fact that I was 0 for 8, with 3 events left, in cashing a check during the Elite events, I had still received more press coverage and signed more autographs than ever in my career. More people knew my face and name and I hadn't even been close to the front of a television camera all season.
How could this be? How could a guy at the bottom of the food chain having a miserable season be getting any attention at all?
There were a couple of things at play; the biggest was ESPN and the opportunity that they had given to every one of us that signed up for the 2006 Elite Series. Yeah, the naysayers can say all the nay that they want and spew all the venom they spew, but when the chips hit the table, the fans tuned in, logged on, and showed up to make a crowd.
The return on the notoriety side of the coin was making sponsors happy. Any time you get on the cover of a state-wide daily newspaper, you're going to make some sponsors happy. When you have photos of smiling kids lined up to get an autograph, sponsors are going to be happy.
I had that part working. Up through the Oneida tournament, the fishing part of the equation pretty much sucked. But that changed. The ninth event at Champlain is where I booted the ginormous squid and woke up from the nightmare.
So is it really a dream? For whatever reason, dreams in my mind have always been fun little things. Fishing on the Elite level is anything but a fun little thing.
It's a lot of hard work with long hours. Early mornings and late nights are the norm. You're a truck driver, sales executive, promotions director, electrical/ mechanical engineer, and junior chemist all rolled up in one person. Oh yeah, you need to be able to catch some bass in between all those other functions. Very important.
So, about that dream, is it real?
Yes, there's a lot involved in making it all work at the Elite level. A boat load of blood, sweat, and tears go into making it here. Sure, there are some that have breezed their way to the top of the pecking order, but they are the exception, not the norm. Most of us have to bust our ass to make it all work and bust it to stay here.
So is the dream worth the cost?
When you are 0 for 8, it's pretty hard to rationalize in your mind that you truly belong at the Elite level.
However, when you step in your boat on the final morning of an Elite event and you're within striking distance of winning an event, there's no cost factor in your mind. When they call your name and a roar goes up from the crowd, you forget about what it took to get to the steps of the stage. When a kid stops you in a store in an unfamiliar town and asks for an autograph, saying "I watched you last week on the Bassmasters!", the reward is worth all the effort.
So how did I answer dude at the show? I told him it was more a way of life than a dream because you had to live it, breathe it, and love it to fully appreciate what it takes to be here. The lows are way, way low, but they make the highs incredibly high.
For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his website at www.kfshort.com.