A Classic Rookie No More – by Rob Lever

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by Rob Lever of We Love to Fish

The 2013 Bassmaster Classic is now over, Cliff Pace has been crowned and the confetti has been cleaned up.  In a blink of an eye, my first Classic is in the books.  The five days that I spent in Tulsa, Okla. may be over, but the memories will be fresh on my mind for some time to come.  These memories have been documented with photos and notes that are now spread across my desk in piles that have been sifted through, but not cleaned still a week later.

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Media Day Boats Lined Up – photo by Rob Lever

My dream of going to the Classic has been growing by the year.  The opportunity to attend and cover the event this year has served as a humbling reminder of how lucky I am to be a part of the sport that I love so much.  My experience at the event just served as a way to feed my passion, and thrill of attending will just grow in anticipation for next year.

When it came time to leave for the event, I set out on my journey on a cold New England morning at three o’clock.  The night before was filled with last minute planning and the anxiety that I would miss my flight.  Every hour on the hour I would jump up and look at the clock just as if I was a 10-year-old waiting for Christmas morning to arrive.  Once it was finally time to head to the airport, I knew I was in for something special when I turned my truck on and heard a commercial on talk radio for ESPN’s coverage of the event I was heading to; I knew that my trip was meant to be.

Once on the ground in Tulsa, I was greeted with similar weather that I had at home.  Snow and bitter cold temperatures cut the competitors’ official practice day short.  While it cut the coverage of the event a little short, it made it possible to go over to Gene Larew and Bobby Garland Lures’ home office.  There, I met the amazing people that own and work for the company.  After a short tour of the building I was invited to a Classic kickoff party later that night with my friends that took me to the factory.

The party was at Boots & Diamonds Saloon in Tulsa; which is a line dancing bar in Tulsa.  This would serve as a small venue to country music star Craig Morgan for the night.  As this New Englander walked around in his New Balance running shoes and cargo pants; others were equipped with cowboy boots, and hats.   It would be an understatement to say that I stood out in the crowd, but I did not let that bother me, but I didn’t stand out as much as I could have, because my friend from California was wearing shorts.  It didn’t matter, because I was there to enjoy something new, and of course ride the mechanical bull that was in the corner.

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Rob Lever on the World’s Shortest Bull Ride – photos by Dan O’Sullivan

After a couple of Oklahoma watered down beers, and a little coaxing from other guests, it was time for my ride.  Until that night I always thought the hardest part of riding the bull would be the ride itself, but  Let me tell you, I was wrong.  Being a person that is vertically challenged, I am used to being the short guy in the crowd, but on that night this short guy could not even reach the seat of the bull.  I think I fell three times just trying to jump up on that seat.  But, once I got on, I was ready to see how long I could hold on.

Holding on to dear life for what seemed like an eternity, I was thrown from the bull.  I thought for sure I had been on for a good amount of time and was proud that I had done so well.  Above the control unit there is a timer to show your time.  I peeked up and stood there in shock.  It took me longer to get up after the fall than it did to actually ride.  I will always remember my seven seconds of mechanical bull rider glory!  (Editor’s note – that seven seconds included his climbing on the bull).

The next day was my first Bassmaster Classic Media Day.  It was also time for my first walk through the swag area for the media.  I was like a kid in a candy store as I went from table to table.  A short time later I had a backpack full of booty from the sponsors of the event.  It was now time to do my first interviews of the week.

Media day took place in a building that is used for the fair held in Tulsa every summer.  It was the perfect place because all the boats could be lined up, and each angler could be working

on tackle while being interviewed.   This was a great way for a “rookie” to get used to how the next three days would be.

It served as a learning experience at each stop.  The other media would be interviewing and I would listen to pick up pointers.  Most of these writers are people I look up to, and am honored to see them work.  That day I took 300 pictures, but these are not just for my work, but were also taken as a fan.  My work in fishing is based on my passion for the sport, and those pictures will always serve as a reminder of how exciting it was to have a small part of that day.

The next day was the first day of the event.  But, first on our agenda was to visit the Bassmaster Classic Expo.  Over the years I have been to many outdoor shows but none as crazy as this.  Thousands of people lined the rows of tables and I stood there in shock wondering where did all these people come from?

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Rob Lever with Ray Scott – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Going to cover the event I had three goals for myself.  The first was to meet and talk with Ray Scott; the founder of B.A.S.S.  Scott is the patriarch of the bass fishing world and one of my first memories of fishing fandom was watching him with my father on TV.  That first day at the Expo, I ran into Mr. Scott in the first hour, and I will always remember our conversation.

Once introduced, we talked about the first Classic at Lake Mead in 1971.  I sat there is amazement as he told me little insider stories and how he planned that historical event.  We talked about my memories of watching his Bassmasters TV show with my dad, and how excited I was to be at my first Classic.  We took a picture and our conversation ended with him showing me a fake mouse that he would try to scare people with throughout the event.  This was his 43rd Classic and you could tell he was just as excited as me, who was at my first.

Still in shock with how crazy the expo was, it was time to go to the weigh-in.  Walking through the halls in the underbelly of the arena, I could feel my anticipation growing.  My job for the event was to do video interviews of the anglers after they had weighed-in for The Bass University, and for you here at Advanced Angler.  I was new to the task, and I was very nervous but was helped by a few other veteran media members in the room.

Standing in the corner waiting for the night to start I heard someone call me over.  Travis Perret was there covering his second event.  He told me about his first event and told me that he had read my article on Advanced Angler about my prep for the Classic.  Our conversation was short, but it helped me feel like I belonged backstage.  I am grateful to Travis for calling me over and helping me calm down.

The next three hours were a blur, I did a total of 20 interviews that first night, and I could feel my confidence growing after each one.  Covering the classic was my dream and I was living my dream that first night.  I’d have to say that the highlight of my night was my interview with Shaw Grigsby.

Grigsby is a veteran angler who was my first friend in the sport.  Attending The Bass University three years ago, he needed a ride to the airport.  Grigsby being someone I looked up to, I was more than happy to bring him.  My wife thought I was crazy for getting up at 3:00AM to bring him to the airport, but I always told her that good things would come from it.  That ride

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Rob Lever on the Floor Moments Before the Super Six Arrive – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

has served as a spring board that has helped me reach my goal of covering the event.

The confidence from that night help me though the rest of the event.  The days flew by and I was amazed at how much support I was getting from the other people I was meeting.  The best way to describe my experience came to me on the final day.  Entering the arena for the last time before the final weigh-in, I could feel a buzz in the building.  Everyone knew a new Classic champ would be crowned and all were eagerly awaiting the moment.

Backstage that afternoon I was able to sit and eat lunch with Bassmaster.com and Wired2Fish.com writer Don Barone.  Known to the fishing world as DB, Barone gave me advice about my first event.  He told me to take it in and enjoy the moment.  Once finished, I thanked DB for letting me join him and he told me that we are “all a family.”  That is what I will take away most from my time at the Classic.  That week is not just about the guys trying to become world champion; it is also about friends in the industry getting together.  The Classic is also a big family reunion.

My second goal for the week was to do the best job I could covering the event.  Sunday night after a new champ had been crowned, I stood in the empty arena, thinking about my week.  I was able to understand more about the job I was there to do, and how I reached this goal.

A good friend always says that we are there to “tell the angler’s story”, and that is what I was able to do.  Each interview I did let the fans understand more about the person catching the fish, not just how they were catching them.  Anglers told me how important it was to have family experiencing the moment with them, what it was like to fish it for the first time, and others told me about the disappointment of not winning the event.

That night someone asked me about my experience and I told them it was overwhelming. I could tell they thought that was a weird response so I elaborated.  The experience was overwhelming because of my love of the sport.  We dream to be around what we love, and I was able to live the dream on the biggest stage there is.  The bass fishing family accepted me with open arms and I happy to be a part of it.

This whole thing has also served as a learning experience.  If I didn’t volunteer to do that airport run three years ago, I would never have started working for The Bass University, and without my work at BU, I would never have become a contributor on Advanced Angler.  That drive to the airport was the start of the three year journey that culminated with me watching Pace be crowned new Classic champion.

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The Confetti Flies as a Champion is Crowned – photo by Rob Lever

I was there to tell a story, and at that moment; after finishing my duties, I was able to start my story.  That story is about a fan that was able to live a dream and see a champion raise the trophy.  Goosebumps ran down my neck as the explosion of crowd echoed through my body.  I had officially arrived at the biggest event of the sport that I love.

My first story I ever wrote was about bass fishing from a fan’s perspective.  It is fitting that one year later I am writing a story about my experience of being a classic rookie.  My last goal was to meet Bill Dance.  At first I was upset that I did not reach this goal, but now I understand why I didn’t get the chance.

Next year I will return to the Classic.  While I will no longer have the title of “Rookie”, I will still have the same excitement I had this year.  I will be returning to achieve my goal of meeting Dance, but also to tell the story of the next crop of Classic competitors.

I understand that I am there to cover the event, but will work hard at never losing the excitement I have as a fan.  Grateful for my opportunity, I will continue to learn from all that will teach.

Now that I’m a part of the family I am truly looking forward to going to another family reunion.