HashtagMarshalLife; the Pros and the Cons
Text and photos by David Lucas
I like to think that the ethos of this blog is “Dave will do it.” If it’s happening in the Great South Carolina outdoors, I’ll give it a try. So when tournament organizers offered me the chance to volunteer as a “media marshal” at the 2018 Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament at Lake Hartwell, I jumped at the chance. Regular tournament marshals are integral to the operation of a professional fishing tournament like the Classic, riding in the boat with the anglers as observers to make sure all tournament rules are followed. Normally, these key volunteer jobs are handled by the guys and gals of the Bass Nation amateur fishing clubs.
Check out the photo above. That's Bassmaster pro angler Jason Williamson of Wagener, South Carolina, bending a rod on his first bass of the tournament just after sunrise on Friday morning. That's the kind of amazing scene you get to witness first-hand as a marshal -- you're literally sitting in the passenger seat while some of the best anglers on the planet do their thing.
Below: Jason Williamson does his thing. At the end of the Tournament Day 1, Williamson finished just out of the top 10 -- he'll be in contention and tied for 11th place going into Day 2.
But, like any great job, being a marshal has it's downsides. I thought about calling this post “HashtagMarshalLife; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” but, really, there wasn’t much bad or ugly to be found, so instead I'll just break it down into the good, and the not so good.
Good: the aforementioned awesome access and photo ops. Below, is a shot of Williamson being interviewed just prior to takeoff. Sure, you might see that same footage on ESPN2 or the Bassmaster website, but watching and listening as it's happening in real time is very cool.
Or how about this shot of of Williamson pointing out the route we'll be taking in just a few minutes when the first flight of anglers takes off from Green Pond Landing? Talk about being in the thick of the action!
The scene at the takeoff is a little crazy -- controlled chaos you might say, and sometimes you see something that you just have to get a picture of. Here's a shot of first flight anglers heading out to open water, with a giant lizard waving us on (No, it's not the Lizard Man, it's actually the Geico Gecko, the insurance company is a major tournament sponsor).
Good thing these guys are around to keep an eye on things.
About that ride. File this one under "Not so great." When these guys take off, they're in a hurry, make no mistake about it. Every minute spent getting to the fishing spot is a minute not spent fishing. They go fast, and In the early morning, it's still cold, the water is choppy and the wind can be brutal. Add in a bunch of boat wakes from other guys similarly in a hurry, and the ride out can be a little harrowing. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of this I can share, as both hands were otherwise occupied hanging on for dear life til we reached some calmer water.
While we're on the subject of downsides, I should also mention, all of this happens early. REALLY early. Marshals have to gather and check in well before dawn, to make sure everyone is accounted for and ready to go. Each is issued a phone (or an app for their personal phone) that allows them to record each fish caught by their assigned angler and send it back to Bassmaster HQ. It's not an official weight, that comes later, at the end of the day's fishing, but it allows the tournament media folks to deploy a flotilla of video and camera boats to capture all the best action when and where it's happening, so fans at home (or on their cellphones at work -- c'mon, admit it) can keep up with what's happening via live streaming video. The level of technology employed by Bassmasters to bring the tournament action into your living room (or cell phone) is pretty darned amazing. They even erected a temporary cell tower at the lake before the tournament to expand and improve their reach. Hard-core fans should thank them (their bosses, maybe not so much).
Anyway, for marshals, making sure this system is set to go requires getting to the lake REALLY early. Definite downside.
On the other hand, check out the biscuit in that guy's hand. Folks that is what you call a fat cathead biscuit stuffed with fresh eggs, and locally sourced country ham. The tournament organizers go out of their way to take care of marshals and staff with hot coffee, delicious breakfast, lunch bags, drinks, etc. HUGE upside. A salty, delicious, artery-hardening upside. The tournament caterers are tha' Bomb!
Are you kidding me? OMG that thing looks delicious.
So back to the good. There's two awesome things about spending all day in a boat with a fantastic angler like Jason Williamson (aside from the fact that he's just a really nice guy, and that I grew up one small town over from Wagener, so we're kind of like super-rural homeboys). Number one: Watch and Learn! These guys can make a bass rod do amazing things. I watched Williamson sidearm lures into weeds, around docks and downed structure and into other tight spots the size of one of those puny organic cantalopes from the fancy grocery store. Over and over again with amazing consistency. All. Day. Long. The result looks something like this.
It's all about consistency with these guys, that's why they are the best. There is somewhat of a downside to this though. You're sitting mere feet away from one of the best anglers you've ever seen doing his thing. Seeing the amazing casts, choosing of lures and setups from an impressive battery of rods and reels, and constantly re-rigging and trying new things as conditions change. (It's unreal how hard these guys work). Awesome, right? You gotta text your fishing buddies and send them some pictures of all this, right?
Wrong. W.R.O.N.G. No pics showing off the rig your angler is throwing, no calling up and rubbing it in to the guys at work that you just saw him land a big one and where. Nada. All that stuff is strictly against Marshal protocol. You can take pics, and you can send them to Bassmaster Staff and they might upload them to the tournament website (which is cool, they'll give you a photo credit), but basically, you are prohibited from communicating with the outside world while fishing is underway. Them's the rules.
"Hey Bo, check out this cool rig Jason Williamson is using on the upper end of Hartwell."
Nuh Uh. I could show you, but then I'd have to kill you, or else Senior Tournament Manager Chuck Harbin might have to kill me.
Not really,. Harbin, like all the Bassmaster crew, is as affable a guy as you would ever want to meet. But he's got a huge task to manage, and I wouldn't want to cross him, you know what I'm saying? Sort of like Wilfred Brimley with a little bit of Chuck Norris thrown in. When we met for the pre-tournament briefing, Chuck explained the rules and the responsibilities of marshals in great detail. At the end, he suggested we go back to the hotel and read the rules. I did.
Below: Chuck explains the rules.
More good: Absolutely awesome scenery, everywhere you look. Not only are you getting great fishing shots, the backdrops around Lake Hartwell are beautiful.
Gallery -- click on images to go to the next one:
Also, the fans are great. Everyone loves to see the anglers in their boats -- other anglers out for a day, of fishing, guys watching from shore, dogs, even guys in sailboats.
If there's a downside to seeing all these great scenes, angling action, fans, etc., it's this. You also spend an inordinate amount of time looking at your assigned angler's butt. That's just kind of the nature of it. They're in the front fishing, you're in the back trying to pay attention and make Chuck proud of you and taking pictures. A lot of those pics are gonna involve the angler's rearview, if you know what I mean.
As a graduate of rival Pelion, it pains me greatly to admit this about a guy from Wagener, S.C., but at the end of the day, I have to admit that Jason Williams -- Or J-Will, as his fans call him -- has a pretty decent butt.