HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Audrey McQueen would like the couple who walked up to the Olive Garden in Hot Springs, Ark., this week as she was hurrying out to get sick, loudly, into the bushes right outside, to know that the food wasn't to blame.
"They were probably like, 'What did she eat?'" McQueen said of the ill-fated pasta dinner. "The food was good. The kid just didn't like it."
McQueen, of Eagar, Ariz., is finding that it's not easy to fish while four months pregnant with her first child. It's even tougher to fish tournaments — her back hurts, her stomach churns, and she doesn't want to jostle in a fast-running boat.
So she fishes through her aches and putters along the lake while her competitors zip. But as a professional hunting guide accustomed to tracking, calling, quartering, and packing 800-pound elk out from the 7,000-foot mountains of Gila National Forest in New Mexico, McQueen isn't naturally so ginger.
"Baby on board, exactly," she said. "Normally I haul butt and I have no fears and I run around. Today I had to step off the boat being all, you know, motherly."
But in coming back from 19th place after Day One of the Women's Bassmaster Tour Championship to finish in second, McQueen may have found her equivalent of the "baby pattern" that fathers-to-be joke about on the men's tour. In this case, her care slowed her down enough to succeed in what turned out to be a slow-fishing tournament.
"I noticed yesterday that it was a slow bite, and I took it easy," she said. "When it would get really windy, I noticed yesterday, as long as I got in the calm where the sun was beating down and flipped the shaded side of the docks, I would catch 'em.
"Had I not been pregnant, I might have been running and gunning, trying to find this and that, and caught nothing. It also made me run not more than a mile from the ramp. I didn't have any time to practice, so I just chugged along. I figured, 'There's gotta be fish here, too.'"
Her 21 pounds, 11 ounces was behind only the 23-8 of Kim Bain, who also claimed the Toyota Tundra WBT Angler of the Year title this week.
Bain was the only angler to catch limits on all three days of the Championship. It's fair to say that if McQueen had boated more than two fish on Day One — when about eight of them shook themselves off her 3-ought hook — she would have been tough to beat.
That night, she went with a smaller, 4-ought hook on her Texas-rigged Zoom worm. The adjustment was arguably the most profound of the tournament, as she caught 20 fish a day on Days Two and Three.
"That'll be in my mind the rest of my life," she told the weigh-in crowd. "I'll always change sooner."
Could have been a rookie mistake. McQueen grew up in Luna, N.M. — "which is 70 people and little trout streams" — always elk hunting and fishing, but never from a boat. Her husband, Roger, fished bass tournaments and suggested she give it a shot, appealing to her sense of competition.
She's an eight-time champion elk caller in part, she said, because an elk-calling pro once told her that she didn't have the lungs to be much of a caller. "That was the biggest drive for me to go kick their butt," she said. "And now, eight titles later, I've got more than anybody."
After she weighed in fish on Day Three, she indulged the crowd in an a cappella elk call. It was an otherworldly sound that ranged from piercing high notes to a thundering, wooden throb.
Imagine an elephant trying to dislodge a bassoon from its windpipe. Lungs, she's got.
"When the elk are bugling, and you're after them, you could climb Mt. Everest after them," she said. "It's the adrenaline that gets into you. And that's almost like this. If your back's just killing you and you're bored, once you catch a big fish, you're right back in it."
Her finish at the Championship was her best of her short career. She's still something of an unknown quantity among the other anglers on tour. Not that she's not friendly — she delighted her colleagues this week by passing around small ultrasound images of her unborn baby at an angler meeting — just too new to be well-known.
About all Helen Gordon could offer when asked about McQueen was, "I know she can rip lips. When she finds fish, she can catch 'em."
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Women's Bassmaster Tour Championship from Lake Hamilton, Ark., Oct. 23-25, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 4:00 p.m. ET.