The national anthem, invocation and finally a shotgun blast rang out over Florence Harbor Marina at 6 am as the first tendrils of sunlight came over the hills surrounding Pickwick Lake.  The Walmart Bass Fishing League Mid-South regionals were underway.

It was an exotic scene to a New Englander — 160 metal-flake, superfast bassboats loaded with gear and guys heading out to battle the wiley bass. And this wasn’t even a big-league event — the Walmart league fishermen are supposedly “weekend” bass hunters, even though they were going for a $75,000 truck-motor-boat combination as first prize.  The “pros” fish for a $1 million purse.

All 160 boats fish for the first two days and the top 12 on Saturday.  The idea is to catch the greatest weight of bass within a five-fish limit each day over a roughly eight hour period.  At 3 pm the boats come roaring into the weighing area and the results are announced one-by-one to the crowds in the stands.  Yes, people sit and watch their heroes get their fish weighed, since bass fishing is almost as big as Friday night football in these parts. The weigh-in is also broadcast on radio and cable TV.  The fish are then released back into the lake (the bass all tell one another “I didn’t get caught, I just happen to be swimming by this part of the river.”)

Virtually all these guys run 250-horse Mercury Optimax engines ( a super high RPM two-stroke detuned to meet the emissions limits) so they can travel at 50 MPH from secret spot to secret spot.  They tow the boats with four-door pickups with shiny mag wheels — mostly GMC with the occasional Dodge or Ford.  It seems that in Florence, AL, you don’t show up at the launch ramp with a Toyota or Land Rover towing a boat with a Suzuki or Yamaha engine hanging on the back — unless you are a very large persion with a lot of tatoos, one of which is “Semper Fi.”

Anyway, everyone seemed to be having a great time on a lousy, windy day.  But we Loopers have learned that you don’t hit these guys with a big wake unless you want a shotgun to “accidentally” misfire at your stern.  The rule of thumb is 16-gauge birdshot for Mainships and Bayliners who don’t know any better and 12-gauge buckshot for Cabos and Vikings who should.

The Walmart Bass Fishing League

Typical bassboat — the poles at the back are rams that go down into the bottom and hold the boat so the fishermen don’t have to waste time anchoring,

Bassboat — they cast for the fish from those things that look like bar stools.

Weigh-In area — announcer had two lines for 320 guys — “Hey, you’re right in there, Jimmy Joe,” or “You’ve still got a chance to catch up tomorrow, Jerry Jeff,”

Fish get dunked into these tanks on the way to the way in to keep them alive,

Release area. Little girl was very concerned that Daddy get his fishies back in safely. She’d should also be concerned about that Yamaha jacket.