John Klein: Bassmaster Classic underdogs relish opportunity to fish on largest stage
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, February 24, 2013
2/24/13 at 6:23 AM
Watch videos and view slideshows: Watch a timelapse video of the launch. See a slideshow from the first day, and much more.
Follow along during the event: See unofficial estimates throughout Saturday
Tour the lake: Using Google Earth, World outdoors writer Kelly Bostian gives you a tour of Grand Lake.
Anatomy of a bass boat: We have an interactive map detailing the equipment on a bass boat.
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Underdogs relish opportunity
IF YOU LIVE in Nacogdoches, Texas, and your plumber is Albert Collins, you better hope you don't spring a leak this weekend.
And, there have been some elementary school children in Maine missing their teacher, Jonathan Carter, this past week.
Collins and Carter are among the so-called underdogs, guys who fished their way into the Bassmaster Classic by winning B.A.S.S. Nation Regionals or the Weekend Series.
These are the regular working guys who fished their way into the 53-man field for bass fishing's biggest tournament.
Of those seven from the B.A.S.S. Nation and Weekend Series, six missed the cut.
"It is amazing," said Carter, who has been one of the surprises of the tournament. He backed up an opening day of 18 pounds, 11 ounces with another 11 pounds, 1 ounce to put himself firmly in the hunt for the championship.
"This is really fantastic," he said. "It is a long road to get here."
Collins, plumber by trade but fisherman by choice, is also at Grand Lake this weekend.
He caught 10 pounds of fish over the first two days of the Bassmaster Classic and missed the cut. It didn't diminish the thrill for him.
"It was awesome," said Collins. "I definitely want to get back here again."
Collins earned a spot in the Bassmaster Classic by winning the Weekend Series, a qualifying tournament series for the Classic.
"There are a lot of folks out there every weekend that go fishing," said Collins. "That's me. I'm a plumber all week, but I'm a fisherman on the weekend.
"I feel very proud and happy to be representing those folks in this tournament. This is a very big deal for me."
Collins is among a handful of competitors who earned their way into bass fishing's biggest event by winning qualifying tournaments.
There are six B.A.S.S. Nation regional champs to go with Collins, and they are considered the true long shots in this tournament.
"I'm a working stiff like most people," said Mark Dove. "But I got to fish the Classic. I won. I just appreciate the chance."
This is the equivalent of an amateur qualifying to play in the U.S. Open against the best professional golfers on Earth.
Getting a chance to fish on the sport's biggest stage is a huge thrill.
It is even bigger when you find yourself at the top of a list such as regional champ Mark Pierce, who had the first day's largest catch, a whopper weighing 7 pounds, 4 ounces. The full-time Army regular caught one more fish on Saturday to finish with 9 pounds, 4 ounces to miss the cut.
"I'm a little disappointed, but I plan on being here again," Pierce said.
It is quite a challenge to be competitive with the pros. Carter, the eastern regional champ from Maine, has led the way for the amateurs. His first-day total of 18 pounds, 11 ounces left him in seventh and he moved again on Saturday.
However, he was the only so-called "amateur" among the top 20. Dove, the northern regional champ from Indiana, was 21st with 13 pounds, 8 ounces, but he couldn't follow it up with another good day and missed the cut.
Collins was hoping for a big weekend because he'd love to fish full time.
However, to get to this point he had to find that perfect balance between his profession and his obsession.
"I work full time," said Collins. "That's how I live. But, I live to fish. I really like it.
"So, this is a huge deal for me. I'm really thrilled to be here."
Imagine a football fan being able to qualify to play in the Super Bowl and trying to block Ray Lewis.
Or a baseball fan earning a spot in the World Series, digging into the batter's box to face CC Sabathia.
Fishing is one of those sports where anyone is eligible to be in the sport's biggest event. All you have to do is qualify.
It is very similar to the Chili Bowl Midget National races, an annual auto racing event in Tulsa. All you have to do is sign up, qualify and you could find yourself on the Expo Square Raceway with NASCAR champions like Tony Stewart or Kasey Kahne.
Collins embraces the underdog role.
He doesn't know how many people he had to beat to get into the Classic, but he understands what a long shot it was for him. So, he understands the opportunity.
"That last tournament I won to get into the Classic had two or three hundred," said Collins. "Those folks had won tournaments to get to that tournament, too. So, I'm guessing I had to beat thousands to get here. And, you couldn't finish in the top 20 or anything. You had to win it. There was just one slot available.
"So, I totally get how big this was for me."
It is special for Collins because he hopes to use the Classic as a springboard to become a full-time professional fisherman.
"I've been fishing every weekend, mostly at lakes around my home," said Collins. "Winning my way into this tournament will allow me to fish at a higher level.
"So, I'm going to give it a shot. I'm going to try doing it for the next year."
He said his regular customers understand.
He arranged to make sure all of them have a plumber while he goes off to follow his dream on the fishing trail.
"I understand there's a lot more to this than just fishing," said Collins. "You've got sponsors, fans, media, all kinds of things to deal with.
"I'm hoping this to be my big first jump up in fishing full time."