<
>

Checks, Lies and Videotape: Part II

2/22/2007

"I don't think you're evil at all," Waterman finishes. "I enjoy reading it."

"We need the media," Monroe says. "Would I rather just come here and show up and fish? Of course, but as a businessperson, I know I'm catering to the media. It's like a lot of stuff about professional fishing. If we could get rid of the driving, get rid of the sleeping in hotels, get rid of eating fast food, yeah, life would be gravy."

Media day is a happy day for sponsors: Mercury, Toyota, Triton, Nitro, Vault, Early Times, Berkley, Yamaha, Bass Pro Shops, Skeeter, Ranger, Hi Mom, Strike King, BassCat, etc., etc. Tournament checks are great, but they're not guaranteed. Most of the anglers in this room are making six-figures annually from companies that make lures or whiskey or motors or undergarments and sign anglers to spread their images.

"We want to fish for a living, but without deals like this, you can't elevate yourself to the next level," says angler Jeff Kriet. "The more exposure we get, the more valuable we are. I want to fish for a living, but I want longevity. I don't want to be a guy who has a bad year and can't fish any more, so any opportunity I have to do anything with the media, I love to do it, no matter what time it is."

Someone should commend Jeff Kriet for Jeff Kriet's willingness to do all Jeff Kriet can for the media. Jeff Kriet's sponsors must dig that about Jeff Kriet.

Not all anglers are so available on media day. Kevin VanDam, for instance, is all over the room, but always with a camera aimed at his face, a microphone in his hand. That's the sort of attention an angler with more than $2 million in career winnings attracts.

Much more accessible is one Russell Colwell, a semipro making his first Classic appearance. When he is asked how his media day is going, he surveys the commotion around the room.

"It's intimidating," he says. "I get to see the pro experience, not just what you see on TV. This is wild, man, just to make it here. I will die a happy man, just because of this."

In case you're placing bets, Colwell is perhaps the likeliest angler to croak during the tournament, because he's virtually on borrowed time already. Last month he became the final angler to qualify for the Classic by winning the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship in Guntersville, Ala. The drive there from Maryland took him through icy hillside passages that had his truck skidding.

When he led after the first day, it was his first-ever tournament lead. He seriously considered the possibility that he and his wife had in fact skidded off a mountain somewhere and died. "Like we entered the Twilight Zone or something," he says. On the final day of the tournament, he completed a huge comeback despite bringing six fish to the weigh-in, disqualifying his largest.

He won by more than a pound, though, so here he is at the Classic, trying to remind himself not to ask the stars of his sport for autographs.

"It's too real," he says. "It's too big."

May take him a few more Classics to develop that poker face.