My short, bewildering seasons covering the professional bass circuit.

The stadium scene.
Aug. 5 2009 12:14 PM

The Only Bigmouths Were the Fish

My short, bewildering seasons covering the professional bass circuit.

(Continued from Page 1)

Another difficulty of bass journalism is that the fishermen often have no idea what's going on. Clunn's a believer in what he calls "the dynamic universe." He sees fishing as a constant struggle to marry action with an environmental truth that's instantly obsolete—exactly what Heisenberg would've said if you handed him a rod and reel. When an angler can anticipate the natural world (wind, water, sun, fish), he achieves sublimity. Before he won the 2007 Classic, Boyd Duckett pondered the fishing zone: "I don't know if it's just your presentation is better or you truly have the mental ability to make things happen." This is his way of saying that, despite the endless array of casts, rigging, and baits, catching fish comes down to something unknowable, something borderline spiritual.

What the pros rarely admit is that the lake changes so much day to day, hour to hour, mile to mile, that someone else could follow their recipe and catch squat. I came to treasure the honest assessments, like when an angler named Jeff Kriet—after a day of unexpected great fishing at a tournament in Greensboro, N.C.—practically shouted, "Dude, the whole lake turned on." When asked why, fisherman Skeet Reese blurted, "We don't know! None of us know!"

Advertisement

While I was rarely satisfied with my daily fish wrap-ups, there were great pieces to be found out on the lakes. At that Carolina tournament, someone on Kevin Wirth's boat apparently suffered a seizure, fell into the water, and likely would have died had Wirth not grabbed him by the scruff and towed him to shore. Kriet swore he saw a buzzard in someone's backyard play with four separate toy balls, including a beach ball the bird finally speared with his beak. And 28-year-old Fred Roumbanis nearly tripled his career earnings with the $250,000 first-place check, then had the presence of mind, through his gathering tears, to peek down at the few sponsors' names printed on his jersey, thank them, and cement his career. He then drove overnight to Oklahoma to be with his pregnant wife, who bore their first child hours later.

My favorite fish stories are just barely piscatorial. Bill Lowen was bass fishing, I suppose, when he killed a duck by running into it with his face. And yes, I was driving home from a tournament the night I saw lightning strike a semi trailer just ahead of me, blasting flaming chunks of debris onto Interstate 40, and forcing me to swerve as the smell of fried ozone filled my car. Then there are mornings such as one on Lake Champlain two summers ago, when the sunrise coincided with a storm; the world hallucinated in oranges and purples and double rainbows before plunging back into lightning and darkness as "The Star-Spangled Banner" wrapped up, as the boats tore off into the pelting rain. As I watched the sky cycle through the spectrum without ever reaching a shade of blue, I understood what Rick Clunn meant about the dynamic universe.

Again, I'm writing about the sky. Maybe that's what I should've been writing about all along. A hyper-aggressive, rapidly updated news feed about bass fishing is pretty ridiculous. Like the event itself, outdoors writing requires patience, meditation, and silent, predatory observation. In a fishing event, you have the three basic templates of conflict in one venue: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. Hemingway wrote about fishing. Zane Grey wrote about fishing. I wrote about the catching and displaying of fish, and guys with sponsored truck wraps and Power Tackle PG104 7-Foot, 6-Inch Flipping Sticks.

Telling stories about fishing is as natural as pissing off the back of a boat. Fishing journalism is a slightly less natural enterprise. When a fisherman can't tell you how he caught that 8-pound largemouth he just brandished by the gills, the great outdoors are a little less great.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.