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Desperate for new sports, I watched 32 minutes of bass fishing. Here's my diary

March 16, 2020
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Chris Condon

I probably don't need to explain much here, right? I needed some sports on Sunday afternoon, needed it bad, and all I found in the channel guide were various replays. The day may come when I'm ready to watch a 2016 Big 12 Championship quarterfinal on ESPNU, or a replay of some old German soccer match on FS2, but that day is not today. I needed something new, something novel, something I had never seen before and that I could enjoy on its own merits without the depressing reality that I was just reliving the glory days of my usual sports. I needed something new, something novel, something invigorating. Something to defy the sense that I was turning into the sports fan equivalent of Miss Havisham.

I needed bass fishing.

Or at least that's what I thought I needed, when I saw it airing on CBS Sports Network Sunday afternoon. At the very least, it would be something I've never watched before...or done before, for that matter. I also decided not to look up any information beforehand, so I'd have to learn on the fly (note: that might be a fishing pun). And just to increase the degree of difficulty, I missed the first 28 minutes of the hour-long program. Here's my diary of that moment in time, when I found a brief oasis in the COVID sports desert.

0:00-1:00: The official name of this broadcast is "Major League Fishing's Bass Pro Tour," and the first shot is of a man named Greg Hackney who stands near the front of his boat, line cast, surveying a lake partially covered in green algae (or something). "Greg Hackney put up 16 bass in period 1," the announcer says, "including the Berkley Big Bass, a 3-pound, 10-ounce La Crosse lunker."

And suddenly, with these words, I understand what it's like for non-sports fans to listen to cultists like myself speak the language of athletics—a complex, idiosyncratic, and ultimately foreign tongue. Bass fishing has periods? You can catch 16 fish in one of them? What the hell is a lunker?

1:00 - 2:00: Suddenly, there is a cutaway to Greg Hackney, in confessional mode, telling us that he had "the bait, the presentation, everything." It's just like Reality TV, when someone on Big Brother or whatever goes into the private room to air his grievances. Folks, I did not know bass fishing had this feature. I think they should copy this for the the game on a slight delay so LeBron can head to a booth and say things like, "Yeah, my dunk was vicious, but I'm not here to make friends."

2:00 - 3:00: An expert named Rob Newell is brought in to talk about how hard Greg Hackney was rocking his spot of water. "He was on a pattern so special," he says, "nobody even saw that coming." Also, new intel: This all took place on the Mississippi River, not a lake, which I know because the guy said he was "deep cranking on the Mississippi River." Sounds dirty.

3:00 - 4:00: I need a translator for this shit from Newell: "He's throwing a 5XD is La Crosse, Wisconsin, and killing it. Nobody is throwing a deep-diving crankbait up there."

4:00 - 5:00: Hackney says he's "fixin' to win the Redcrest," which must be the name of whatever this competition is. Also, I was just introduced to someone named Fred "Boom Boom" Roumbanis. Again, these are all real people. Boom Boom caught 55 pounds in the "first period," which I think is a day, and he's in second place.

5:00 - 6:00: I swear I'm not making this quote up: "Let me tell you something. You get Fred Roumbanis around managed vegetation with a hollow-bellied frog, and it's gonna go down."

6:00 - 7:00: More info: This is "championship Sunday" of Redcrest, and also, there are penalties in bass fishing where you have to sit in your boat for 15 minutes. I assume the penalties are for dressing up like a female fish and dipping your head in the water.

7:00 - 8:00: In case you were wondering, they hang all the captured fish from some kind of manual scale, operated by an independent scorekeeper, and then release them back into the lake. Which raises a question: What's to prevent these guys from catching the same fish over and over again? What if there's a stupid fat fish that gets caught several times in one day? What about the glory-seeking fish who just want to be on TV?

8:00 - 9:00: My opinion only: They should have to eat every fish they catch before they can get a new one.

On another note, there are kayaks and jet skis all around these guys, and apparently it pisses them off because it scares the fish. Which is hilarious to would be like if people were allowed to have picnics in the middle of the 15th fairway at Augusta, and the golfers were forced to play around them.

9:00 - 10:00: A championship round is coming up, and the no. 1 fisherman of the year is among the ten who qualified. His name is Edwin Evers, and he's from Talala, OK, which sounds like a good fishing town.

Commercial: Just a few quick notes...these guys all get to choose their own plot of water within a limited space (called "pool 7" of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin), and as you might guess, picking the right spot is a big part of winning. Like I've always said, the water makes the fisherman.

All three commercials were fishing-specific, which shouldn't surprise me.

10:00 - 11:00: Oh hell yes, they're reviewing the scoring rules. This is just what I need. So: "A scorable bass must weigh at least one pound. The anglers begin the round with zero weight. The angler with the most weight at the end of the round is Redcrest champion."

That's it? Come on, I was ready to get really deep into the weeds. That basically just tells me you have to catch the most fish, which I put together. Anyway, these guys are competing for a $300,000 first prize.

I have also written way too much for just the first segment of this show, so I'm going to have to watch this thing play out...

...but I'll leave you with this, from Greg Hackney: "This is the super bowl of bass fishing."

12:00-15:00: F*** me, Edwin Evers caught 10 bass in the first 30 minutes. This is why the guy's a legend. "Here comes Edwin," says Marty Stone, another expert. "He's in an area that I'd never seen an angler fish before. And he was at the far end of the backwater reach (ridge?). And we've got to remember, this is summertime on the Mississippi, and the whole key to every one of these anglers' success was to find areas that had some type of current flow into it, and every angler with the exception of Edwin was fishing what I consider current flow areas...but unbeknownst to me, he'd fished two other previous national events. He'd always left there knowing the potential to win was there, but he was never able to execute until this event."

The guy is fishing in ways we only thought possible in dreams.

15:00: Greg Hackney looks a little bit like Nick Offerman.

15:00-20:00: Hackney gave Evers a mighty run, but wouldn't you know it, Evers found the motherlode and just started reeling in fish like they were crawdads on a bayou. (This is a classic fishing phrase...I assume.) "He was crushing hopes, dreams, spirits," says Marty Stone, and there's a great moment on the telecast where Hackney laughs and tells the camera that he knew something was wrong when the scorer in his boat said, "something's happened, would you like an update?" The update was on Evers, and Hackney says, "it was the first time in the event that I felt like somebody stuck a knife in me and let the air out. I was deflated. I knew what it was."

When the smoke cleared, the dude had caught 28 fish in 45 minutes. They couldn't even update the scoretracker because they were too busy hauling bass, so Evers' scorer finally got a moment to enter the data, jaws dropped all over the Mississippi. I'm going to start calling Tiger Woods "the Edwin Evers of golf."

20:00-32:00: No drama: Evers wins by 44 damn pounds. Greg Vinson calls Evers' year, culminating in the Redcrest championship, the most dominant in the history of the sport. The dude was catching so many fish that his hand actually cramped.

The rest is just celebration, but I have to say: This experiment worked. For a moment, I forgot that sports are gone, and I became totally engrossed in both bass fishing and the legend of Edwin Evers. From the managed vegetation to the hollow-bellied frogs, I do not regret a thing.