- Lynn Burkhead
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"I've been telling people that if you want to quit fishing, win the Classic."
That's how defending BASS Masters Classic champ Woo Daves describes his whirlwind year after winning the 2000 Classic on the waters of Lake Michigan near Chicago.
Daves has seen his calendar become crowded and then some since posting a winning weight of 27 pounds, 13 ounces last July.
"I've always been busy, but this year's really been hectic," he said. "I've probably flown about 250,000 miles, where I normally do about 100,000 miles. I've been home 10 nights since Jan. 2. I've had to do a lot of personal appearances from California to Texas to New York and even to Spain."
If it sounds like the furious pace of seminars, sponsor appearances, filming 10 TV shows and two videos, and giving thousands of magazine and newspaper interviews has put a crimp in Woo's fishing time, that's a correct assumption.
In fact, the Burrowsville, Va., angler admits he's glad the defending champ gets an automatic berth into the next year's Classic.
"I basically took off this year, although I fished a few tournaments," Daves said. "There is no way that I could have done all that I've done this year and fished competitively. There are just too many demands on you. I've had to turn down things, and I don't like to turn anything down. But you just can't be two places at one time."
Last summer, Daves didn't need to be in two places at once to pull off his Classic win over Mark Rizk of Antelope, Calif., by 1 pound, 2 ounces. Using a green pumpkin Zoom Tube bait with a chartreuse tail, the 25-year B.A.S.S. veteran became the oldest Classic champ in history at 54 thanks to one wall full of fish and bait.
"The smallmouths were spitting up crawfish everyday in the livewell. I think this wall I was fishing had a lot of crawfish in it and the smallmouths were waiting for the crawfish to come out," he said.
Woo found that the fish were so close to the wall in 10 to 12 feet of windswept water that he had to alter his presentation slightly.
"I used 6-pound-test Stren line and I think that's the only B.A.S.S. tournament won on 6-pound test. I know it was the only Classic," said Daves, who never caught a bass more than three feet from the wall.
Despite catching only four fish on the final day, Daves' ultralight tactics captured the Classic crown for the first time in 15 tries.
"When they weighed my fish and told me that I had won, I was thinking that I must be dreaming and that I would wake up," he said. "I got up and made a speech and I know I thanked the Lord, but after that I don't really remember what I said."
What Daves does remember is a post-news conference golf-cart ride at Soldier's Field with his wife, Patty. When a turn was executed too fast, Daves faced his first decision as a Classic champ.
"I'm trying to catch myself, my wife and the trophy. In fact, somebody asked me what I tried to catch first, my wife or that trophy. I said I'm not going to answer that," he quipped.
If Woo's life has changed since winning that Classic trophy, so has Patty's.
"Sometimes, I don't even know if it really has set in even though the year is almost over," she said. "It's been great and it seems like it's gone by fast."
"I've been super, super busy," said Patty Daves, who has often met her husband at the airport with a change of clothes for a quick turn-around flight.
After two agonizingly close losses by less than a pound in previous Classics, Daves is at peace with his career legacy now that he is finally a Classic champ. And he's a popular champ at that. In the days following his 2000 title, Woo installed a second phone line after receiving 875 phone calls from well-wishers.
"You always pull for the guys who really pay their dues and have been there a long, long time," said 1998 Classic champ and 1987 Angler of the Year Denny Brauer. "I think it was definitely a great win for Woo and the sport."
For now, Woo Daves stands atop the angling world and he likes the view. All that is left for him to do now is to try and do it again this week in New Orleans, a task he laughingly isn't so sure that he wants to accomplish.
"If I repeated, I feel like I'd have to sell all of my rods, reels and boats because I would never have any more time to go fishing."
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14hK. Lee Davis