Last Tuesday, during the practice day for the BASS Masters Classic, a tournament pro and his press observer were returning to the launch ramp at Dundee Creek Marina in one of the 18-foot Ranger bass boats as a Chesapeake squall was passing through the area.
"We were in sheltered water," said the angler, who is sponsored by Ranger, "but a gust of wind just picked up that boat, blew it sideways and put it down 70 feet later. When we went airborne, I can tell you I was scared."
The three competition days at the end of the week were gentle, but if there was a negative for the fishermen in this tournament, it had to be the daily prospect of running north or east in the Chesapeake Bay to get to the areas that held bass.
"The Chester River?" said Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark. "It would be totally stupid to go to the Chester. Just the thought of getting over there and then having to head for home scares me."
You must understand the nature of the fear, however. It is not simply a matter of having to cope with rough water. It also is a matter of being able to plan a day of fishing that will be the most productive in a tournament schedule that already is short of time.
"I like to be on the water and casting by the time the sun comes up," said Nixon, the career earnings leader in B.A.S.S. tournaments. "But in the Classic, we miss that by about an hour because of the launch time -- and we lose an hour or two because of early check-in times."
In the Classic, boats are launched in three flights from 6:15 a.m. to 7 a.m., and the last boats launched return at 3 p.m.
"In addition to the schedule cutting short the fishing hours, it also eliminates the best fishing times," said Nixon, who finished on Saturday in 35th place after checking in only nine fish.
"Fish feed at daybreak and in the evening, no matter where you are fishing -- tidewater or impoundments -- in this tournament we get a shot at neither."
The reason, of course, is that the Classic is the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society's big bash, the week when the sponsors get to show off, when awards are given to B.A.S.S. members and when the event gets a liberal dose of national coverage.
The fishermen seem to get short-changed.
"It is going to take a thinking man to win this tournament," Ken Cook said before competition began Thursday, "someone who can make decisions on the move.
"In most cases, you are probably talking about having 5 1/2 hours a day of actual fishing time. Someone who can make the most efficient use of his time is going to win."
Cook's solution was to pick two spots relatively close to another and transport between them in search of the best water quality for a given time of day.
Cook did not chase the tide, he said, but concentrated in grass during the morning hours and then went to another grass bed, where he had found a submerged log or two, once the sun got well overhead and the amount of acidity in the water (pH level) increased.
Cook said unlike the creeks in the upper-bay area, the grass beds he was fishing seemed to have more life in them. He said it was because even a weak tidal movement keeps the pH level balanced.
"It wasn't a solid bed of grass," Cook said. "It was columns or clumps of grass in 3 to 5 feet of water. It was like fishing a bunch of stumps."
The problems faced by many of the tournament anglers was to find cover -- good grass beds, submerged trees, docks, pilings, etc. -- that would hold numbers of good fish.
"We have had a little bit of everything here this week," said Ray Scott, president of B.A.S.S. "A hurricane, a stormy cold front and some guys who have caught fish and some guys who haven't caught very many.
"I have heard some of the fishermen say that the fishing here is too hard, there's only two drop-offs in the whole area and the fish are all small. But God made this place without the assistance of the Corps of Engineers -- and if it was hard on some folks, well then they just have to remember that's why they call it fishing."