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Archive for January, 2010

Note: This column also appears today on The Fishing Wire, which can be accessed here and has a free subscription by clicking on the “Subscribe” link in the menu. Please subscribe to receive daily email updates about fishing industry news, features and opinion.

It had only been a few months after Claude “Fish” Fishburne and ESPN-BASS parted ways in 2004 when we bumped into each other at the 2005 Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh, a challenging tournament on the water bolstered by a well-attended outdoors show at the city’s stunning riverside convention center.

Fishburne was moving through the crowd at the show, glad-handing, smiling, signing autographs and greeting fans. We chatted for a few moments and he said he was doing well. But the disappointment and hurt was obvious. After six years as the emcee at BASS tournaments during the most recent gravy days before the industry’s current economic woes, the once-titled “Clown Prince of Fishing” (or something like that) found himself on the outside of the circuit he competed on for 12 years.

Fishburne said he’d bounce back. He had connections in the industry, sponsorships with a few companies and a positive vibe that touched fans young and old. Goofy and wise-cracking at times, and sometimes pushing the “Don’t go there” buttons of anglers on stage, he was a popular ambassador whose platform had been disrupted after contract discussions turned sour.

Almost six years later, Fishburne is back.

A month from now at the Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, Fishburne will take the stage again during the three weigh-ins at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex at bass fishing’s oldest and, some will argue, most prestigious event. Fishburne will be providing reporting, analysis and his unique wit to the festivities along with appearances at the outdoors show in the adjacent exhibition hall.

Bravo. It’s about time.

For all the arrows flung at BASS over the years for some of its questionable decisions – and it, like the FLW Tour, has had some head-scratchers – Fishburne’s return is a good move. He brings a vitality and fun nature to the ceremony, a dash of irreverence at times mixed with his knowledge of the sport.

“I want to make it happy and fun and exciting,” Fishburne said. “I want to help create a good time for everyone there — whether I’m, say, in the stands talking with fans, or backstage interviewing an angler waiting to weigh in, or on the outdoor show floor.”

Fishing for “Team Grandma” during his 12-year career, an homage to his loving and supportive grandmother, Kathryn Rounsaville of Canton, Ga., Fishburne competed in 108 tournaments. He won two of them, including a MegaBucks “hole course” event, and qualified for four Bassmaster Classics.

Fishburne’s free spirit didn’t stop once he was on the water. He clashed at times with former Bassmaster tournament director Dewey Kendrick, whose no-nonsense demeanor played like Sgt. Carter to Fishburne’s Gomer Pyle. If Kendrick could have put Fishburne on the shore peeling potatoes with a worn-out pocket knife, he’d probably have done it a time or two.

During one event, there was no question about who was lobbing water balloons at other competitors in the bay before takeoff. At the MegaBucks he won, Fishburne told BASS officials he didn’t have much weight in his catch as they checked anglers in the final day boat line. They would pull three or four of the guys with the most weight to the end of the line to create a little drama for the fans. But when Fishburne, in the middle of the pack, happily yanked out what proved to be the winning catch to show the crowd, the drama circled the drain like a slimy hairball.

Fishburne carried that fun-loving attitude to the weigh-in stage as emcee, joking and poking anglers waiting on the scale to settle. Sometimes they didn’t appreciate the jab. But they couldn’t overlook his knowledge and experience from his tournament days, which he deftly used to ask specific questions to elicit good information during their brief appearance on stage. If the bite was tough, Fishburne had an idea of what they were doing. If the bite was on fire, he rolled with them as they explained how the bass leaped in the livewell and slammed the lids.

Keith Alan will continue to handle the emcee duties for the weigh-ins at the Classic, joined by tournament director Trip Weldon and former two-time Classic champion Hank Parker. Three dudes with microphones (Weldon is busy watching weighs, you know) may seem like overkill. But it should mesh well at one of the most popular venues for the Classic in a state as crazy about bass fishing as it is about college football, relatively speaking.

Fishburne was on stage at the 2002 Classic in Birmingham and said this year “will feel like a homecoming.” The fans, many of whom for years on Internet message boards have expressed a desire for Fishburne’s return, will get their wish.

Perhaps whatever wounds existed years ago have healed. Time, it is said, does a good job of helping in that regard. The outdoors industry, like others, can be frustrating and painful at times. The roller-coaster ride from the peak to the valley isn’t always a scream of heart-throbbing exhilaration.

Whether he returns for future events is unknown at this point, but having Fishburne back for the Classic next month is a good start. We’re glad to see it, and will be on the lookout for incoming water balloons.

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Country music sensations Darryl Worley and Chris Young will perform live, free concerts at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center to open daily festivities at the 2010 Bassmaster Classic.

The Classic is Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake and will be based in Birmingham. Fifty-one qualifiers from the Bassmaster tournament circuits will seek professional fishing’s oldest championship title.

Worley will be featured Feb. 19 at 3:30 p.m. Young will open the Classic weigh-in Feb. 20 at 3:30 p.m.

Throughout his impressive career in the music business, Worley has scored numerous award nominations and has had countless hits from his stellar albums that have more than two million copies worldwide.  Worley’s 17 hit singles include “A Good Day To Run,” “When You Need My Love,” and chart-toppers “I Miss My Friend,” “Have You Forgotten” and “Awful, Beautiful Life,”

Last summer Worley released his sixth studio album, Sounds Like Life. He wrote eight of the 11 tunes on the album. “Sounds Like Life To Me” quickly soared up the country singles charts, landing Worley yet another Top 10 song.

“I’m really looking forward to hanging out with some serious fishermen at the Bassmaster Classic,” Worley said.  “Although we weren’t after the big bass, I use to make my living as a commercial fisherman.  I think the Classic fans will be able to relate to my music just like I can relate to their love of the sport. I’m excited about the event and I just know it’s going to be a good time.”

While Worley is a country-music veteran, Young is quickly distinguishing himself as a newcomer who honors country music’s best traditions in addition to adding a fresh, new chapter to the genre’s legacy. With his rich, warm baritone and penchant for writing relatable, slice-of-life songs, Young’s sophomore project, The Man I Want to Be – featuring his current smash single, “Gettin’ You Home” – is  an album that showcases a new traditionalist poised to take his place among his musical heroes.

It’s that combination of youthful enthusiasm and seasoned musicianship that has earned Young the respect of his elders and the devotion of country fans. His self-titled RCA Nashville debut project made him country’s best-selling new male artist of 2006 and earned him a nod in the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist category.

For more details on the Bassmaster Classic, visit Bassmaster.com/Classic.

(Information provided by BASS Communications.)

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ZAPATA, Texas – After three nights of chicken-fried steak with gravy, and two of those with the “special” of a taco and two enchiladas, it was time for a change.

Our merry crew of wet, dried out, wind-blown, sun-baked anglers was in the home stretch on our final night in town. We had passed the final turn of last weekend’s trip to Falcon Lake, catching the tail end of the worst Arctic occurrence in south Texas in 80 years. I felt like a nasty dishrag crumpled by the sink on a Navy boat after chow.

Quick recap: Rain began falling about 9 p.m. the day of our arrival and lasted through the night well into the next night, about 1.35 inches worth to register among the “Top 5” of all-time for the area. I’m certain ol’ “Heatwave” didn’t know what to think for his weather forecasts. Day 2 saw a weather pattern that looked like Gozer from Ghostbusters was creating a worm hole to dive into, some weird mini-hurricane wind formation from the north, northwest and east blowing at a steady 25-30 mph most of the day (which kept me sanely in bed late and then on the couch until mid-day before three good hours on the water). Day 3 revealed bright sunshine, enough to turn my face into a ruddy windburned, sunburned mask.

If the Weather Gods had hurled hail and lightning bolts, I’d have assumed the Bassmaster pros were slipping into town for a tournament. But the FLW’s WeHaveNoSponsor tournament had survived (barely) the week before, so our band of eager lure-chunkers were mopping up the scraps. Dressed in Gore-Tex, Under Armor and hoodies, of course. Nothing like dressing for the Dakotas when you’re down on the border, eh?

“Gas station breakfast tacos” typically carries an unpleasant visual, during consumption and hours-later departure, yet the fine ladies at the Valero Stripes megastation put on a hell of a feed. Each morning they create divine handmade tortillas, warm and ready for the line of hungry men to choose from a buffet of scrambled eggs (with bacon, ham or potatoes) refried beans, refried beans with something (eggs? cheese?), shredded meats (critters unknown) and other selections. With a little pico de gallo, salsa, tomatilla and jalapenos, the foil-wrapped treats live up to the hype.

A little bit of chicken fried

Nighttime found us at the El Paraiso, one of 11 restaurants listed in the Zapata Chamber of Commerce guide, for three straight nights. If it’s good, go with what works, I say, and the Paraiso’s legendary chicken-fried steak found its way to my fork each visit. That would be chicken fried steak with cream gravy and cheese, a quite hearty melange definitely not found on the “recommended” list of American Heart Association choices. Rumors proved untrue of hubcap-sized slabs of pounded beef breaded and deep fried, but suffice to say the offering was quite ample. The second and third nights were needed for confirmation, of course.

Chicken fried steak is a misnomer, of course, leading Yankees to believe they may be ordering a tidy platter of yard bird. Chicken has nothing to do with the meal, despite the name. The offering is simple: take a flank steak or other portion, tenderize well, batter, fry and serve. Cream gravy is required, too, as if the red meat or crunchy outer covering isn’t enough to give cardiologists nightmares. Chickens snicker heartily and await their doom as chunks for fajita platters.

I’d been teased with the possibility, too, of cabrito one evening. Goat is uncommon in the states – “It’s not common anywhere in the world,” my wife exclaimed – but is a typical dish in South and Central America, Africa and Asia. My wife is wrong. But it, too, like the posole, was not to be.

Our final night called for a change, and it was suggested we visit La Hacienda Del Rey, which also has a legendary chicken fried steak. I’d attest it might be a notch better than Paraiso’s. One time may not be enough to accurately compare, though. Future visits will be required. I may pack a defibrillator along with the undies and crankbaits, for just typing the words chicken fried steak is causing at least one artery to spasm and another to seize up.

Soup? Of course!

La Hacienda Del Rey’s menu offered three soups but neither it nor Paraiso listed posole, which I’d read about in Calvin Trillin’s wonderful “Feeding a Yen” published in 2003. Trillin is a diehard foodie and wonderful author who writes for The New Yorker, and posole is one of his favorites. Alas, it was not to be found and left me wondering whether to attempt it myself or wait. I’ll wait.

But La Hacienda’s offerings included “Mariscos,” a seafood soup consisting of fish chunks, shrimp and crab along with garlic and spices in a thin but rich-tasting broth. The crab, unfortunately, was imitation strips that were nasty and should be banned for public consumption. There was no shrimp, either. Two strikes. But there was a treat – octopus!

“Looks like a jig trailer,” someone remarked as I spooned out a chunk of tentacle. Eh, but it was a tasty one. Our server informed me that I must add a couple of squeezes of fresh lime and some Tabasco, “and it will lift you up.” I followed directions and found her to be truthful, despite the nasty fake “crab” strips.

Our departure the next morning required a stop at Valero for a final breakfast taco, of course. The day wouldn’t have been complete without one.

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Yeah, I know that typically when we hear “it’s good for you” our first thought is there’s no taste and what is there has the flavor of a cork fishing rod handle after a day in Bubba’s sweaty left paw.

That’s not always the case, though.

Popping through the NY Times revealed this nice little gem that certainly has more than one tasty item. Good for you? Tasty? Pshaw, surely you jest.

But it’s true. I probably could count on one hand the number of people I’ve encountered who like sardines (or herring) in the little tin cans. My father is one. A pal in Kentucky is another. And … my brain is empty. But someone must be eating them or they wouldn’t be on shelves of every grocery store, bait shop or convenience store in America.

Sardines are good for you, you know, and they definitely have a flavor. I can’t wait to visit Italy or Greece one day to enjoy truly fresh sardines. I’ll be eating solo, though, because The Wife hates them.

The list says dried plums — that means prunes, but you’re not 87 years old — are good for you “Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.” Uhhhh … doesn’t that kind of negate the goodness, to wrap in meat (even though that meat is quite delicious?).

Check out the list. Some you’ll like, some you’ll hate.

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An interesting twist emerged today in the form of Genmar’s creditors pursuing their avenue to gain payment from the embattled company split up in last week’s bankruptcy auction.

Soundings Trade Only Today reports the more than 4,000 unsecured creditors have asked a judge to toss out the auction results. Interestingly enough, in lieu of that, they’re also asking him to consider disallowing the sale of two Genmar lines to former company chairman Irwin Jacobs and his partner in a new venture.

“The committee objects to Jacobs, an insider, or his non-debtor affiliates using any of their assets to reacquire portions of the debtor’s businesses while leaving over 4,000 unsecured creditors, owed over $100 million, unpaid,” the committee said in court documents reported by Trade Only Today.

There are sure to be more legal twists and turns in the coming days, with a hearing set Wednesday to approve the deal and another Jan. 20 to finalize everything.

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Rounding up some of the info from the Genmar bankruptcy auction last Friday:

Many questions still linger in some corners after the auction news arrived that Platinum Equity’s subsidiary landed 11 of the Genmar brands for a $70 million bid, including Ranger, Stratos and Champion freshwater bass lines.

Foremost, probably, is with Irwin Jacobs now owning FLW Outdoors and its tournament circuits but not Genmar (and Ranger) anymore, would the boat company continue its relationship with FLW? That appears to be answered deep in a story on ESPN Outdoors that includes this:

Besides the yacht group, Jacobs will retain control of FLW Outdoors, which did not figure in the bankruptcy proceedings. Ranger Boats will remain a major sponsor of the FLW fishing tournament circuit, Hopper said. (My note: Hopper is Ranger Boats president Randy Hopper.)

We just signed a new contract with the FLW a couple of weeks ago,” Hopper said. “Obviously, it’s been a very trying economic environment for everybody in the boating business, but we look forward to another season with the FLW and better times ahead for all of us.”

So, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, comes word that FLW and Ranger Boats will continue to do business. Part of the bankruptcy included a clause absolving the buyer of Ranger’s sponsorship requirements so it remains to be seen what might happen with that aspect.

I was told last autumn Ranger would emerge from all this “completely debt-free” and have much smoother sailing in the future. At the time I was skeptical and didn’t understand how (hey, I’m not a legal whiz), but now if that’s the case then Ranger certainly is positioned quite well to not only deal with FLW but possibly also with BASS or anyone else.

Some other links to stories about the Genmar auction:

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (where the auction was held, and Genmar is (was) headquartered)

Jon Storm’s editorial column at BassFan.com, “When the Foundations Shake”

And, in other news …

It was a quite busy weekend in the fishing world, with several interesting stories emerging.

The International Game Fish Association certified the 22 pound, 4.97 ounce largemouth caught by Manabu Kurita last July at Lake Biwa in Japan.

The fish ties the 77-year old record set by George Perry although technically larger by almost an ounce. IGFA regulations for freshwater fish 25 pounds or less require a tie in the event a prospective record fish is not 2 ounces larger than the existing record.

It’s a quite cool feat to have a record established after all these years, and after the big bass wars of California in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. The diehards saw a new generation come into the game and in 2006, a 25-pounder was caught by Mac Weakley but released since it was foul-hooked while sight fishing. Weakley did not pursue the record through IGFA’s qualification requirements.

Of all the fish caught throughout the years and all the anglers who pursue bass, common thought is the world record would have come from Florida, Texas or California. Most believe it would have been the  latter two states, due to the copious trout-stocking program in California and the ShareLunker breeding program in Texas.

My good pal Ed Zieralski in San Diego writes in the Union-Tribune (owned, coincidentally, by Platinum Equity … hey Ed, can you spare a boat?) about the Japanese largemouth record and how Cali anglers already are on the prowl even harder to break the mark.

I’ll be looking to break my own personal record of 10.75 pounds with a little jaunt soon to Falcon Lake, with an ample supply of Kicker Fish lizards, worms, 1-ounce lipless baits and some Tight Line Jigs with a couple of new skirt colors for “field research.”

And finally, and industry move

Congrats to Jason Sealock, who is joining Wired2Fish.com and Get Outside Media after a successful four-year stint at FLW Outdoors.

Sealock will be wearing many hats with G2 and W2F, and probably will have to handle the greasy box from time to time as part of cleanup duties. I don’t envy him for that.

He helped shape the FLW Outdoors magazine into a fine publication and blogged quite nicely on the FLW site. I’m sure his talents will be quite useful across the Wired and G2 platforms.

And for any tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists thinking Sealock fled FLW in a time of duress, that’s untrue. This was, and should be, a strong move enabling him to work with good folks doing fun things.

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Auction proceedings have ended for the assets of Genmar including boat brands, production facilities and technology, with a subsidiary of Platinum Equity investment group of California buying the majority of the lot.

Soundings Trade Only Today is reporting the winning bid was $70 million for 11 brands including Ranger, Champion and Stratos. Project Boat Holdings is a subsidiary of Platinum Equity, which is based in Beverly Hills. The auction spanned two days in Minneapolis and a court hearing is set for Wednesday to finalize the deals.

The publication also reported that former Genmar chairman Irwin Jacobs and other investors bought the Carver and Marquis brands for $6 million. Hydra-Sports was sold to another group for $1 million.

This means Jacobs is no longer co-owner of Ranger Boats, founded and based in Flippin, Ark. The storied company has strong ties to the FLW Outdoors family of bass tournament circuits and publications, also owned by Jacobs.

Interestingly enough are quotes from Jacobs in the Trade Only piece indicating he wants to purchase other specific cruiser brands from Platinum Equity, but there was no mention of Ranger Boats or the other bass boat lines.

Anglers and industry personnel anxiously await news about how the auction’s sale and Ranger’s new owners could affect the FLW Outdoors brands. There are fears that without Jacobs as owner of Ranger, the FLW tournament circuits could be greatly impacted.

Two FLW Outdoors officials said Friday night that employees have not been notified of any changes or even of the auction news.

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