The calendar had been circled many months ago for the 2013 Bassmasters Classic. This is the Super Bowl of bass fishing where the top anglers compete for three days to hoist the trophy, earn $500,000, and gain bass fishing immortality. Each angler had to earn his opportunity (Road to the Bassmasters Classic: http://www.bassmaster.com/news/bass-federation-nation). My first one was last year at Shreveport and couldn't wait to get to another.
The weather forecast was watched intently and caused a departure of one day sooner to avoid the approaching Missouri snowstorm. After some errands we were soon leaving Minneapolis for Tulsa in our stylish Chevrolet Malibu rental car on Wednesday, February 20. The plan was to drive as far as we could that day knowing the entire road trip should take a little under 11 hours. We reached our target of Joplin, Missouri and decided to keep driving south after a brief Burger King dinner break. The second after we crossed the bridge into Oklahoma we ran into sleet so we pulled off and stayed in Miami (Oklahoma that is). The forecast was for 1/2 to 1" of ice by morning, but fortunately it was a couple degrees warmer and it stayed mainly sleet and changed over to rain by late morning. So at 11am after failing to find a breakfast spot in Miami, we hit the Will Rogers Turnpike to get us to Tulsa. We reached Tulsa a little after one and stopped to eat at Denny's.
After checking in at the Holiday Inn and grabbing our credentials it was soon time to walk over to another hotel for a discussion on the Future of Bass Angling with Bernie Schultz, Stephen Browning, and Scott Pauley. I certainly appreciated Bernie's concern with overuse of aquatic herbicide and Stephen's opinion that pros can and need to do more--both from a conservation and youth involvement. It was starting to get dark so we wandered a few blocks over for dinner at Casa Laredo. The salsa salad of shredded lettuce topped with salsa was less than to be desired. However my chicken enchiladas in red sauce was perfect I could have easily had another plateful. Now time to rest for tomorrow's Expo and weigh-in.
With our preferred Bass Nation credentials we got into the Convention Center for the Expo a little early. I got to say a quick hello to Teeg Stouffer, Recycled Fish, as we had met at the previous year's Classic. It is a bit of sensory overload to see so many things related to bass fishing, so I decided to head over to the B.A.S.S. booth. Being the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Conservation Director I wanted to see our new Keeping Bass Alive top ten tips and fish care video. Both seemed to be very popular and several commented on the College Series Angler talking about fish care. I hope to see this video posted on Bassmaster.com soon.
It was time to head over to the boat yard. The boat yard is where the anglers begin to pre-stage before their boats are washed and they enter the BOK Center to literally stop in front of the stage and carry their bag of bass to the scale. Sure it was cold out but nothing a tough Minnesotian couldn't handle--hold that thought. Myself and several other B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Directors (CD) and Okalahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) staff to assist in fizzing of bass. We were given a quick info session by Gene Gilliand and had reference material provided by Barb Elliott (NY CD). We got to greet the pros as they drove in and we ending up fizzing a total of 12 bass. I had expected several anglers to find them deep and require fizzing but this was not the case. When it was all said and done 100% of the bass were released alive back into Grand Cherokee by the ODWC. Also after several days of monitoring no dead were found in all of the release areas. For the first time ever both Cliff Pace and Mike Iaconnelli were tied for first. Also to everyone's shock Chris Lane, reigning champion, did not catch anything. Being a bit tired, dinner was at a grill next to the hotel, Baxter's Intraurban Grill, I don't know what "Intraurban" means in relation to a grill, but the fish and chips were good.
Saturday morning started with meeting Dave Mercer, emcee in the elevator. He gave us "livewell" VIP tickets for Sunday's final weigh-in. Score! After a quick walk to the Expo to return back to the hotel for the Conservation Luncheon. It is always great to see my fellow CDS and be in a room full of motivated "movers and shakers" of outdoor conservation. It is motivating to know what you do makes a difference and we all can do more. Hearing the accomplishments of the conservation award winners, I think Minnesota can do more and can be in next year's winners.
The final day has arrived. We watched BassTrak all morning and Cliff Pace had dropped to second so it was going to be a close, exciting weigh-in. We got the arena early but several lines of people went around the BOK Center. We flashed our Livewell pass and found our seats dead center in front of the stage. We could not wait to see history. Would Cliff Pace will his first ever Classic? Or would somebody making a roaring comeback? Finally the elite six (top six finishers) lined up around the arena in their boats awaiting to cross the stage for their final weight. The youngster from Idaho Brandon Palanuik leaped into first literally and figuratively. Earlier Brandon had stated he would continue to sleep in the back of his truck. Now Dave Mercer, asked him "Brandon, if you win here today, are you going to sleep in your truck?". Brandon says "Well, I can't retire on $500,000." so I'll still call the "Toyota Tundra Suites" home. It was going to be either Brandon or Cliff Pace. Cliff struggled most of the day and walked across the stage with only 4 (out of a possible 5) bass. Bam, Cliff moves into first by over 3 pounds--he had a 7 pound lead entering into the final day. Now Cliff "Gameface" Pace is the 2013 Bassmasters Classic champion! We linger around the arena to soak in the moment and grab a photo with Mark Zona, who did one heck of a harlem shake the day before.
We heard several recommendations for an oven bake pizza place called Joe Momma's and it met and exceeded all expectations. A couple slices of T-Rex and Voodoo Pie satisfied the post weigh-in hunger. Leaving Joe Momma's we ran into a member of one of the local chambers of commerce. They thanked us for coming to Tulsa. We thanked them for the VIP treatment and expressing an interest in coming back the next the Classic is in Tulsa. Being from a state that is anti-tournament it was surreal to have everyone excited for you to be there. The estimated Bassmasters Classic attendance is 100,000, with an expected economic impact to Tulsa and the region in the neighborhood of $26 million.
Monday came and another weather watch and fast track to avoid another snowstorm. Fourteen hours later after leaving Tulsa I arrive back home. I did catch a cold (instead of any bass) but it was worth it! Here I come Birmingham, Alabama for 2014!
For those interested in bass or to meet Jerry McKinnis, principal owner of B.A.S.S., you are welcome to attend the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation banquet on Saturday, March 9.
Jerry McKinnis was the host and producer of "The Fishin' Hole," which aired on ESPN from 1980 through 2007 and was the second-longest running program on the network after "SportsCenter." McKinnis' company, JM Associates, has produced a wide variety of outdoor programming for ESPN for more than three decades. In 2010, he and two other investors (Don Logan and Jim Copeland) bought B.A.S.S. LLC from ESPN, later adding McKinnis' production company to the fold. Pioneers in outdoor television, McKinnis and JM Associates have produced The Bassmasters television show for ESPN for more than 10 years, receiving an Emmy nomination for the show in 2008. In addition, JM Associates produces numerous other outdoor shows for the Outdoor Channel, including Zona's Awesome Fishing Show, Madfin Shark Series, Stihl Timbersports Series and Carhartt College Bass.