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The Billionaire Bass Club

PART I | PART II | PART III

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BUFFALO, N.Y. [Under an expressway] — You know you may have fished just a bit too long when you say "Oh" at the loud crack of thunder, but can't quite get the "S_ _ T" out before the flash of lightning.

Cut it a little too close this time. My bad. But within 45 seconds on the FIRST cast we caught a three-pound smallmouth bass so shut up, because you know you would have stayed out there, too.

Which brings me back to how I find myself floating in a 288 Nitro bass boat 12 feet UNDER the I-190 in Buffalo.

But get this … I've got an-honest-to-God BILLIONAIRE floating with me in the boat.

AND … his dripping wet PR guy is sitting right next to him.

How cool is that?

Normally, this is a situation that ESPNOutdoors.com, and all our PR Guys, would prefer I not do to billionaires — seeing that people with all that cash can get kind of cranky sitting here under freeways with all sorts of water dripping on them, not to mention all the lightning flashing about, combined with the two highway workers in wifebeater T-shirts over there on the bank next to the large columns that hold up the freeway who keep yelling, "Hey morons! What are youse, f*****g nuts or sumfin…?"

But it's about to get worse.

Out there in the torrential rain, a rather large fish just rolled through the weeds. Tail, belly, everything. Just daring me. I saw his beady-ass little eye looking at me with one of those fish looks that says, "Hey Nancy — take your skirt off and come get me."

Then went under slowly, tail just hanging there in the ultimate act of angler disrespect: the dreaded, lingering fish butt-mooning.

Here's the bad part: The Billionaire saw it, too.

And he wants us to troll out there to catch it.

Which is why Bob Rich — owner of Rich Products and three minor league baseball teams, including the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons — is in the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament Hall of Fame.

Go ahead Lake Erie bass, fish butt-moon HIM and see what happens.

The Crown Prince of Cream Puffs

Just sit right back down there, ESPN Outdoors legal department. I didn't just come up with that title in some sugared-up, donut-filled hotel room in an I-need-to-file-this-story frenzy. Bob himself quoted it to me.

"So Bob… What do I put down as your title? CEO…. Owner… Head guy… What?"

Bob: "How about the Crown Prince of Cream Puffs? Or Bubba."

Immediately recognizing a pretty damn good headline when I see it, and noticing as I do, that the PR guy sitting right there within hearing range and not seemingly suffering a massive PR heart attack — and trust me, I've seen/caused a few of those myself, so by now, I'm pretty well versed in what to look for — I'm going to use it.

I think we're covered on this one.

I'm not going to call him Prince Anything, though, since this is America, and we don't have those type of things walking around, let alone fishing under bridges for bass. On the other hand, we do have some Bubbas doing exactly that, but the last one I happened to have called "Bubba" cost me a whole bunch of $3.20 per gallon gas as I had to outrun him on I-95 in Georgia. And even if gas is cheaper now, I'm NOT going down that Bubba path again anytime soon.

"I'll just call you Bob."

"Fine."

But in truth, Bob IS a Bubba. Trust me, he's not one of those brand-new-fish-clothing-catalog-wearing rich guys: his fishing stuff has stains on it.

And he looks like a panda.

Just dial up the fishing guys at Bassmaster, and you'll know what I mean — face all red, eye sockets all white, a dermatologist's delight.

Check out Elite Pro Kevin Short. Bob looks like him, except Bob is good-looking in that northeast prep school kind of way, which is quite an accomplishment as Bob was Nichols High School's last goalie to play hockey without a facemask.

(Must have had a mighty quick glove, since his face wasn't too beaten up.)

Bob Rich is a guy you'd be happy to have in your boat.

This is how I met Bob… My brother-in-law, Jim Niland, (about whom I wrote in my story on fishing the Niagara River for steelheads) goes out and buys one of Bob Rich's books, The Fishing Club. He sends it to Bob, along with some of my stories he had printed out. In a miracle of modern corporations, the book actually gets to Bob, who, in an even bigger miracle, OPENS the package. He reads Jim's letter and my stuff, and then actually signs the book, before sending it back to Jim, who, while still paying the postage for all this, sends it to me at ESPN, where our mailroom tosses the package on my desk.

True story!

I open the padded envelope, look at the book, and call Jim.

"Hey dude, thanks for the book. Who is this guy?"

Jim laughs.

"He's Bob Rich. Remember when they used to call the stadium where the Bills played Rich Stadium? That's him. He owns the Bisons and two other minor league teams — the Wichita Wranglers and the Jamestown Jammers."

"Uh-huh," I say, with that sort of listening you do while in-laws speak, at the same time Googling Bob Rich. Holy Crap!

"DB, you alright?"

"Jim, I just Googled this Bob guy, and one of the first things that came up said he's on Forbes' most wealthy list — at over a BILLION dollars!"

"Yeah, that's him."

"DB, you ever interview anyone on the Forbes list before?"

"What are ya — nuts? I'm not even sure I know anyone who READS Forbes, let alone would be on the list. Most of my interviews are of the Consumer Reports or Log Home Living magazine variety."

"DB, this guy's dad INVENTED non-dairy whipped topping."

Now, Jim's got my attention, seeing I mainly eat that stuff with a spoon right out of the white plastic bowl. I scroll down the Google list, see the listing for Bob's company, click it, and there, in all its glory, are page after page of DESSERTS.

"Dude, I think this guy INVENTED desserts. If I were him, I don't think I would fish anything but the dessert warehouse."

This is why Bob is a billionaire, and I get weight-loss books from my wife.

Jim and I talk a bit more, mostly complaining about the Bills' and the Sabres' off-season, while scheming how we can get tickets for both.

I scan Bob's book, and see him holding fish with President Bush (the first one), fishing with Olympic skier Andy Mill, and stories about Ted Williams, Don Tyson (angler and the guy who invented chickens), and longtime fishing legend, Bill Dance. Lots of big fish, and interesting people; some famous, some not.

Then I see Bob Rich has another, older book out there called Fish Fights. Leave Google, onward to Amazon.com. Dial it up, and find out it's about Bob's quest to be inducted into the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament Hall of Fame.

And this is what he had to catch to be inducted:
• Tarpon, minimum weight 100 pounds, on a fly,
• Bonefish, minimum 9 pounds, on a fly,
• Trout, minimum 8 pounds, on a plug, or snook, minimum 18 pounds, on a plug,
• Black Bass, minimum 6 pounds, on a plug,
• Permit, minimum 20 pounds, with spincast,
• Dolphin (the fish, NOT Flipper), minimum 25 pounds, on a spincast,
• Sailfish, any weight, on 8-pound test,
• Barracuda, minimum 25 pounds, on 8-pound test,
• Wahoo, minimum 25 pounds, on 20-pound or less test,
• Marlin (white), any weight, on 20-pound test,
• Marlin (blue), any weight, on 50-pound test or less.

I've never even SEEN some of those fish, let alone thought of fishing for them.

But the dude did it.

Bob Rich became the second person ever inducted into the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament Hall of Fame.

And a Buffalo guy, no less. Take THAT, Miami Dolphins.

So I think, hey…. Buffalo guy to Buffalo guy…. Maybe I can get him into a boat, and see this hall of fame fishing stuff myself, while also possibly scoring some of those sweet dessert things he himself may have invented.

I also read in his bio he's been inducted into the Prepared Food Hall of Fame AND the National Frozen Food Hall of Fame.

Bob may be fishing for bass, but I'm trolling for a Hall of Fame mocha layered ice cream dessert.

In the fish journalism biz, this is the equivalent of chumming… throw some stuff into the water, and see if it works; sort of like when you look at RVs, only being able to afford the pop-ups, but NEVER leaving the lot without walking through the 40-foot Class A's, you know, just in case one of the $100-grand behemoths were suddenly marked down to $1,999.99.

So I called Rich Products' dessert section. Got transferred to PR, and left a message saying, "Hey, Don Barone here… a Buffalo-born-and-raised ESPN guy… Just calling to see if Bob… You know, Bob Rich, the son of the guy who invented all that stuff…. would like to go fishing. But if you don't let him out much, being the big boss and all, maybe you can talk the person who made that mocha layered ice cream dessert thing on your website take his place. You know, fishing… I've got a 10-gallon cooler that could probably hold two cakes, and a couple 5-pound bass. Whaddyathink?"

PR called me back. Shocked me, too.

"Bob would love to go fishing with you."

"Oh… I mean, GREAT! For what? And where?"

"Bass… on Lake Erie."

At that point, I forgot about the cake.

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