I had no idea what a big freaking deal the Bassmaster Classic would be, and as a result I spent the entire weekend marveling at the spectacle. The picture here, snapped by The Wife on Sunday, is of Kevin VanDam, the dude who ended up winning the tournament and the $200,000 check that goes with the top spot. This was taken while KVD, as he is known, took a victory lap around the Civic Arena, where 14,000 people watched the final weigh-in on Sunday. We’ll come back to that.
Unless you have access to a boat — which Uncle Crappy definitely does not — you don’t really watch any of the actual fishing. Instead, you go to the fishing and outdoors show at the Convention Center and look at fishing stuff. And, you collect the freebies that are handed out at many of the booths. My favorite freebie was a shot of Evan Williams single barrel bourbon, which was being given away at a booth towards the beginning of our tour of the convention center. There were also free fishing hooks, hats, shirts, lures, beer, keychains, maps, pork rinds, energy bars (Hooah bars, developed by the military for the military — the wife tasted one and said biological warfare would be a better application). You could meet pro fishermen — in our case only the ones who didn’t qualify for the classic, because they were all, you know, fishing — survivors (Rupert, the hippie guy) and hucksters of all varieties. Trade shows like this tend to be a little overwhelming because there’s so much stuff, and this one was no exception.
Except that at about 2 p.m. every day the convention center cleared out as people made their way up to the Civic Arena to get seats for the weigh-in. This, boys and girls, is where the unsuspecting and uninitiated get a real look at what bass fishing is about. What I would easily recognize as the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins under any other circumstances had been transformed with a huge stage set, video boards, lights, a kick-ass sound system — oh, and thousands of fishing fans. I watched Saturday’s weigh-in from the floor, after my mother in law and her husband scored passes at Friday’s kickoff. The noise, the lights, the screaming … think pro wrestling with a vague smell of river water.
Each guy rides into the arena on his boat, and hauls a bag o’ bass out of the live well to be weighed. If he has a couple of impressive fish in the bag, he holds them up for crowd, which shouts its approval. (The funny thing about this tradition is that instead of holding up real monsters, like the ones they catch in the south where it’s warm enough that the fish grow nearly all the time, they’re holding up what passed for huge bass in Pittsburgh, not a single one over three pounds. I’m told that’s tiny. And I know some of the contestants looked totally sheepish to be waving these skinny little fish around for the audience.) And the guy who tallied the highest total weight over the three days — this weekend, it was Kevin VanDam — takes home the big check.
I was at work for the final weigh-in, but I got to watch the whole thing on ESPN. And it was just nuts. When the final guy weighed in — and failed to reach KVD’s total — the arena erupted, there were fireworks, exploding streamers, the victory lap. Wow.
While all that was going on Saturday, there were another 70,000 people getting ready for a concert by chinless Jimmy Buffett wannabe Kenny Chesney at Heinz Field that evening. Pittsburgh reached Redneck Critical Mass this weekend, and seemed to survive the experience. And, apparently, we did as well.