I top the Elite leaderboard
Whomever it is who runs this Bassmaster Tourney is going to be pretty surprised when they read this and realize that they may have to refigure the whole Champion's Choice tournament.
Because when I checked the rankings, to my horror, and probably the wrath of the 11 to 12 foot Steve, I somehow, inexplicably, was ranked on the co-angler side as number 106 in the tourney.
Out of 106.
Clearly a mistake, because as I weighed in my total catch poundage should definitely NOT be ZERO, bass guys, but more like 4,225 pounds and a couple of ounces give or take.
As I do the math, I'm clearly in the lead here on Day One, with Timmy Horton in second by some 4,180 pounds. At that point I would advise just going for the largemouth bass the smallies aren't going to help you much bud.
That sound you now hear is some major Bassmaster-butt-puckering, but as they are out running around rewriting all those records that now have me clearly the favorite for the Classic, I have to tell you something. I didn't quite do this with my expertise for catching bass. I did it a more, say, unconventional way.
I caught myself a PT Cruiser. Black, with leather seats.
Seeing that the 13-foot Steve had sent me a couple of sweet rods and reels, I couldn't just let them lean over in the hotel room corner like that. I had to take them out to see what they got.
Don't you be laughing. You know you've made some mighty fine backyard casts yourself.
I grab them up, open up the hotel room door, scan the hallway. It's clear. I head to the elevator sleep stuff still on hit the button with the star, down to the first floor, out the door, and into the parking lot.
Don't know exactly what time it is, but I know it is well past the point where the ESPN legal department goes to bed figuring I must be asleep and well.
First cast, nothing much, 'cept lost my right Superman slipper when I followed through a bit too much.
Reel, reel, reel. I got to tell you, a green sparkly worm looks real creepy coming back to you under those hotel parking lot orange security lampposts lights.
With the bedroom slipper back on, I reach way back, swing, and up, up, up, arching out, out, out, wait, wait, no, no, not that way, no, DAMMNN. Ah, the wind. Like casting at a rocky point, but I forgot to figure in I was actually casting around the rear wing of the building back by the emergency exit. Ah, my bad.
Good thing the car alarm wasn't set for the tiny plastic worm sensitivity level because as I peaked around the corner, I saw the car just sitting there, silent, completely unaware it had just been hooked.
It didn't stay like that though.
I could have just snuck out there and lifted the hook and worm off the car, but I didn't. Dudes, I flipped the bail and started reeling.
I must tell all you out there hunting for large and smallmouth bass. I don't know how good these green worm things are for that, but they work mighty fine for catching luggage racks.
Which it seems ARE wired to have alarms sensitive enough to feel it when you set the hook and start to reel it in.
I meet Bassmaster Pros: KS & the KVD
Fourteen-foot Steve, knowing that I have never fished any Bass Tournament, ever, wanted to make sure that I was prepared, and that he had completely covered his own butt knowing me as he does and how all this could eventually work out.
So he called a friend of his, ESPNOutdoors.com contributor and professional bass guy Kevin Short. "Here's Kevin's cell number, call him. He will help you out."
With a son still 904 days from me writing his last college tuition check, I sometimes do exactly as the bosses say. Sometimes.
"Hi, is this Kevin?"
"Yeah, who is this?"
"Don Barone from ESPN." I always say it just like that because I could tell he is a guy and when I mention those four letters, guys always stop and listen to me like they're back on Santa's lap.
Not this guy though.
No one ever calls me by my last name, least not anyone without a badge. I prefer just, db, Don is OK, but one more Barone and I am about to get cranky.
"I just talked to Steve and he "
"Yeah I know, I'm supposed to take you practicing with me."
Two Barone's and now he cuts me off. In my mind I'm hearing my 12 gauge get chambered.
"Kevin this is my first tournament and "
"Oh yeah right " he says, again cutting me off. I now hear the Remington racked.
And this is what he says to me next, all of 40 SECONDS into our relationship: "I remember now, you're THE CANDY ASS GUY." (Direct quote)
This said coming from a guy who drives a PINK boat a little fact I was unfortunately unaware of at the time.
Turns out though, after a couple days of trying to be a Bassmaster Elite guy, Kevin Short was right.
I still, at this point, had every intention of practicing with Kevin Short and quite possibly tossing him off the boat.
Barone this! Dude.
We agree to meet "at five."
Me: "No problem, see you tomorrow afternoon."
KS: "Five a.m. dip." Kevin doesn't know it, but I'm actually sitting at my laptop, dial up Google, and I type this in: "What Time Do Bass Wake Up."
Me: "IN THE MORNING." In 0.27 seconds nowhere in the 2,100,000 hits does Google mention 5 a.m., as the bass wake up call. I'm about to mention this to KS when.
Yeah, he hung up on me, too.
KS and the other Bassmasters have been here for a day or so, and starting to PRACTICE at 5 a.m. is all in a 14-hour day of work for these guys. If you think they just show up to a lake, push out some fancy, though mainly not PINK, bass boat, and start hauling in $10,000 fish, you too would be a Candy Ass.
So at 5 a.m., I meet KS in a gravel parking lot across from some convenience store. Me with a plastic bag filled with donuts, two cans of Coke, and a bottle of Tums Ultra, something I figure was SOP when dealing with KS.
KS showed up in a Pink and White truck, pulling a Pink and White boat. If I had only known. He did have his wife with him as well, who never once called me Barone, cut my conversation off, or mentioned my candy ass butt.
Nice lady. And I saw her eyeing my Tums.
And this is what I say to KS on our first face to face.
"Just dawned on me dude, I forgot to get a NYS fishing license, you want a glazed." Donuts and Coke, I remember. Fishing license not.
KS just sat in his Pink and White truck and stared at me, and I just sat in my all blue minivan, gargoyles sunglasses on high, and stared right back.
KS, meet DB. And as I ate the glazed donut I thought, in some weird way, we are actually CO-WORKERS, both writing as we do for this dotcom thing you're reading.
So we sat, driver's door to driver's door, in sort of a 60-pound test, him looking at me, me on my second glazed. His wife was looking straight ahead.
KS made the first move. He came out the door and to the back of his boat, where he started punching in something on his GPS. I figured, since he knows 15-foot Steve, it's possible he's calling in an air strike, so I leave the van, donuts and all.
Walking up to him, he turns to me, polarized sunglasses now on to outshade me, and says, "Maybe this can tell us where we can get you a fishing license. If not we can just go out there and make do. My wife will call around and see if we can set you up. If she can go buy you one herself she will. That OK?"
Have no idea what turned the tide, might have been his, "Nice minivan, guy," or my, "Nice PINK truck, dude." But from that moment on, this Elite pro fishing guy was just another fishing buddy.
The Tums never left the minivan.
At the boat launch, much past 5 a.m., KS and I were getting the boat ready for launch when some guy walked up to me and said:
"Hi, I'm Kevin VanDam."
"I'm Don Barone." I let the ESPN thing lie seeing what happened the last time I mentioned it around someone named Kevin.
I had no idea this was THE KVD, in truth I had no idea there even was a KVD. KFC I know, KVD who/what?
KVD looked pretty much looked like KS, but obviously without the first impression/social skills issue. KVD in fact looked like a cross between my dog's vet and one of the several thousand anchor types we have walking around ESPN.
If my daughter had brought this guy home, my natural reaction as a Dad would not have been to shoot him straight away.
KVD: "Nice to meet you Don," I was hoping KS was listening to this way of making friends, "just want to welcome you to the tournament." Then he hung around a bit and talked some bass stuff I mainly didn't listen too. When he left, I said, "Catch you later dude." And that was that.
KS: "Man, don't you know who that is."
ME: "Yeah, another Kevin."
KS: "Wait until I see Steve. That was KVD. He's like the Tom Brady of this sport."
ME: "No way. Brady is a huge guy. This guy couldn't even be a wide receiver. Maybe a kicker. What's his time in the 40?"
KS: "Not literally. Jeeze! He's the MAN in this sport."
KS: "Huge, man, huge. And you have no idea who he is?"
ME: "Not really. Think I read something about him winning a bunch of money (but to be totally honest, at that time, I really thought the Kevin who won all the money was the one who tended to still just call me Barone). He just seems like a regular ass guy, with MANNERS."
KS: "Get in the boat."
It was exactly eight minutes from that sentence that my ass turned to candy.
This is the first installment in a two part series about Don Barone's shot at being a co-angler in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. To read Part II, click here.
Don Barone is a feature producer for ESPN. Other stories of his are available on Amazon.com. You can reach him at Don.Barone@espn.com.