Kelly Bostian: No argument - anglers are athletes
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Friday, February 22, 2013
2/22/13 at 6:58 AM
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Go to Kelly Bostian's blog Original Print Headline: No argument: Anglers are all athletes
AS 53 OF the world's best fishermen prepare to beat the freeze on Grand Lake on Friday, this is a good opportunity to talk about individuals in this athletic event.
That's right, I used the words fishermen and athletic in the same sentence.
Since the birth of BASS in 1968, the perennial challenge has been selling the contest as a sport. The first Classic was born of founder Ray Scott's efforts to convince sports writers that an activity considered "contemplative and relaxing" as fishing was worth writing about as a sporting contest.
BASS is now a half-million members strong and a multi-million dollar annual production. Hundreds compete in contests from Spain to California to Japan to Zimbabwe. Ray Scott was onto something, apparently. Still, individual anglers are underappreciated as athletes.
I can appreciate people's point of view on this. Four years ago, I moved to Oklahoma from Alaska with a strong tradition in my bones of fishing for food and fishing to connect with the waters and wilds. I had a lot to learn about bass fishing contests. In four years, I've become a full-on convert.
Let's just hit a few points:
Argument 1: Anyone can be a pro fisherman with enough practice and enough money.
A half-skilled angler might be able to practice enough and get lucky enough to get in, but you're not going to last long. I can drive a car, but I'll never kid myself that I could compete in NASCAR with enough training. Not just any short, skinny guy who can ride a horse can be a winning jockey. The same can be said for professional golfers, tennis players, shooters, skiers, the list goes on. If just anyone can be a pro angler, then why has a woman never risen to the top ranks of bass fishing, much less qualified to fish the Classic, in the 22 years they have been eligible?
2. If you have the fancy boat and know what baits to use, then you can win tournaments.
The best anglers have particular skills that make it hard for others to keep up with them, whether it is a style of casting or a "feel" for fish or innate sense that always just seems to lead them into the right place and time given their skill set and combined experience and knowledge.
Just about anyone can learn to cast with a decent rod and reel. Try to go cast-for-cast with a professional angler, as I have, and you'll find you come up well short and not nearly as accurate or fast as you need to be.
Knowing what bait to use isn't just a matter of picking a lure and tossing it out there. It's all about presentation, feel and accuracy, no matter the weather, no matter how tired you might be after eight straight hours of non-stop fishing.
Think sinking a 30-yard putt is a big deal? Try casting a quarter-ounce jig at a target the size of a compact disc 30 yards away against a 20 mph wind while standing on the bow of a boat and running the trolling motor using your foot to adjust direction and speed to hold yourself steady.
Miss the target and you get a snag, waste precious time getting it unstuck and likely spook fish and miss your opportunity. Hit the target, catch the fish, win thousands of dollars. Get it?
3. Anglers are not athletes.
Anglers come in all shapes and sizes, that's one beauty of the sport, but we all know from watching Olympic competitions in a variety of sports that the Tarzan physique is not all that counts in athletics.
It is an endurance sport that requires patience, strategy and a mind that has to overcome travel weariness and sleep deprivation while sorting through a hundred different changing factors presented by Mother Nature at any moment to come up with a winning formula - and then carrying out that plan.
I ran the athlete question past four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., on Wednesday.
An angler will burn 9,000 to 10,000 calories in a day of fishing, he said. On a freezing day or a scorching mid-summer one, it will be even more.
"I've fished with professional football players, athletes from just about every sport, a lot of guys in NASCAR are my friends," he said. "To a person, every one of them, they get off the boat at the end of the day and say, 'man I don't know how you do it,' and that's just fun fishing. People just don't realize what it takes."
Bassmaster Classic qualifier Kevin VanDam speaks during Bassmaster Classic media day Feb. 21, 2013. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World