Satisfied with his achievement - but with one regret - Frank Scalish of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, last week climbed back into pro bass fishing's top level, the Bassmaster Elite Series, while also qualifying for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic.
On stage in his home state on the final day of the Sept. 24-26 Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Erie, Scalish didn't look as ecstatic as one might imagine he'd be. After all, the 2006-2007 Elite pro had been out for two seasons, and he'd just made his way back in. Not to mention the Classic entry the goal of every pro and the dream of every amateur.
It wasn't that he was stunned. Scalish had come into the Northern Open division's season-ending event on Lake Erie atop the standings after a third-place finish and then second place earlier in the year. Before the tournament began, he figured he needed only to bring in five fish each day to prevail as No. 1 and claim the two prizes.
With only a few more anglers to weigh in, Scalish took the lead on the final day at Erie. On the weigh-in stage, tournament director Chris Bowes pointed out that Scalish's catch of almost 20 pounds was more than enough to seal the Classic and Elite deals.
Scalish reply? "I want to win this tournament."
"Don't get me wrong, I am happy," Scalish said a few days later. "I did what I came there to do. It was a big relief, a weight off my shoulders. But it was bittersweet. I had held the lead (in the Lake Erie tournament) up until the very end. I thought, 'I can do this! I can do a '3-2-1, Classic-bound' that's how I envisioned the title in the magazine (Bassmaster) and I had this whole marketing thing mapped out in my head on how it would play out."
Scalish walked away from Erie in third place, but first in the season-long points race.
"I was called up onto stage and told I had won by 120 points, a huge margin. I'm up there, I smile, I laugh, I put my hands up in the air do the thing but deep down in my gut, all I could think was, 'Gee, I wanted to win this tournament.' I didn't let myself get in the moment, which I would have liked to have done a little bit more.
"By the same token, I had won the (points) race and I was going to the Classic. I drove home at 100 miles an hour, and we had a party," Scalish said, hopefully exaggerating his driving speed.
At the front of his mind now is the 2010 Classic, Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala. Scalish's only other Classic appearance was in 2002 on Lay Lake.
"I'm sure there's some irony there I hope it's God telling me it's game time," he said.
He said he is ready to commit to the 2010 Elite Series. It's a business decision, explained the 48-year-old pro with a marketing and advertising background.
"The Elite trail is where you need to be as a bass fisherman. It's all about sponsor dollars. They're paying you as an advertisement, and you want to give them the most bang for the buck.
"Being able to catch fish gives you credibility. Being able to be a good marketing tool for your sponsors is what gets you the money. Right now, I'm trying to power-train all the exposure I can get for winning the points race and making the Classic. It's building now, and it's awesome because I can get my value up in a short amount of time based on the exposure at the Classic."
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Chris Lane is raffling off his guiding services and other prizes to raise money for a daylong camp designed to interest kids in fishing and, perhaps, a pro fishing career.
First-, second- and third-place raffle winners will be drawn each day at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo in Birmingham, Ala., during the Feb. 19-21 Classic. Drawings will be at the Power Pole booth. Raffle tickets are available online at www.chrislanefishing.com. Details of all three prize packages are listed.
"It's easy to buy a ticket using PayPal or a credit card, and there're two options: You can get the $5 ticket or, for $20, five tickets, plus a tackle pack," he said. "You get your $20 worth just in the tackle."
Lane said all raffle proceeds will be spent on his non-profit camp project, Reeling in Future Pros. The 2009 camp is set for Oct. 17 on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Lane recently moved there from Florida and obtained his captain's license so he could guide anglers when he is not competing on the Elite trail.
"We'll be running the camp at the state park in Guntersville," he said. "All the kids will go home with new rods and reels, baits, tackle everything they need to go fishing. This year the cost per child is $20. Through the raffle, I'd like to work it out so that next year, kids will pay zero to participate."
Lane said some of his fellow Elite pros will help run the camp.
He said he was influenced by the Tom Mann camps he attended in the 1980s as a kid. Besides founding Mann's Bait and Humminbird, the industry legend opened Tom Mann's Outdoor World, an attraction in Eufaula, Ala., where the camps were held.
"My dad would pack us my brothers, sister and mother into the minivan, and away we would go to spend two days at the camp," he said. "Then we'd go to Atlanta and see a Braves game. That was our summer vacation."
Lane's brothers are Bobby Lane, also an Elite pro, and Arnie Lane, who competes on the Bassmaster Opens circuit.
SHE'S OFF THE HOOK
Stacy Zhelesnik is a successful co-angler on the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Women's Tour. She's also a restaurant owner in her hometown of Hoboken, N.J., and a former video editor and production technician. Just last month, she took on the new role of webcast host.
She and her husband, Louie Zhelesnik, created the show, "Off the Hook," now on www.bassmaster.com (go to the WBT home page and click on "top videos").
"It might not always be about a tournament, but it's always going to have an emphasis on women fishing and the WBT, and how she's approaching it," said Louie, who owns a media production business.
He said he attended WBT events with Stacy and brought along his video equipment so he could create content for Stacy's Web site, www.lunkergirl.com.
When BASS approached the couple about creating a Web log - known more commonly as a blog - they proposed doing a show. Stacy said the project's evolution into "Off the Hook" taps into their backgrounds of working in video and TV production. She said the show's name was a natural choice.
"I'm trying to marry my two loves: television production and fishing," said Stacy, who won her first tournament this season and was one of only 20 co-anglers who qualified for the 2009 Academy Sports + Outdoors WBT Championship, Oct. 16-18 on the Red River out of Shreveport, La. "I'm also trying to raise awareness for our sport."
THREE ROADS TO THE CLASSIC
"That's something I'm pretty proud of, to get to do it all three ways." Jami Fralick, on his 2010 Classic qualification through the Bassmaster Elite Series following his 2009 Classic qualification through the Bassmaster Open circuit. His first Classic was berth was landed as a BASS Federation Nation angler.