Well, here we are, entering a brave new world of fantasy sports. For the first time ever, a fantasy sports player will be taking home a guaranteed $1 million winner’s check, not to mention the other seven $100,000 winners. To top it all off, the sport in question is fishing, of all things.
Who’d a thunk it?
Well, I can tell you exactly who thunk it – because I work for the man – but that’s not really what’s important to you, the player, I imagine. What you’re thinking right now is: “Fishing? How do I play fantasy fishing? More importantly, how do I win fantasy fishing?”
All in good time, but first a little background. I, along with my esteemed colleagues in FLW Outdoors editorial, have been covering professional fishing tournaments for the FLW Outdoors Web site and magazine for the better part of a decade. We’ve written about, photographed and just generally celebrated the exploits of tournament anglers from Washington State to South Florida and everywhere in between for a pretty long time. That’s a lot of miles, a lot of lakes, a lot of anglers and, yes, more fish than you’d ever wish to count lodged into the brains of some of us around here.
And while, as a fisherman, this kind of work is its own reward – like seeing 14-pound monster largemouth bass pulled out of California lakes or watching the drama of a hopeful young pro lose out on $100,000 by the factor of a mere 1 ounce – I’m not going to lie to you: The mind wanders at times on the road.
Sometimes it wanders toward football.
I am, by default of my upbringing, a Minnesota Vikings fan. Anybody who has the distinct displeasure of calling themselves the same knows what I mean when I say that rooting for that team is truly yeoman’s work. I mean, take a look at the Vikings squad, version 1998: Who takes a knee to go into overtime? In the NFC Championship game? I mean, really, who does that?
The bottom line is, that particular game almost put me off pro football for life. Almost.
Shortly after that fateful game, about eight years ago, I discovered fantasy football. Just like that, presto, a whole new world was opened to me. Ever since, watching football has never been the same. Now I can watch any given football game and have a legitimate reason to do it other than some strange form of self-abuse: because there are usually players on the screen who are helping me take money from my friends. And believe me, I watch football, obsessively. As most fantasy-football widows can understand, it’s enough to drive my fiancee to distraction on Sunday afternoons.
So, with the fantasy bug firmly implanted in my head as well as those of my cohorts here in the office, it was only a matter of time before our road-weary minds wandered toward the prospect of having fantasy-fishing teams, too. It was a natural step; we’re already fishing fans, the sport lends itself quite easily to a fantasy game – with lots of numbers, anglers, and other measurable variables to rank – and we all like to think we know a lot about the sport of tournament fishing, some more than others.
So we decided to try and prove who knows the most by holding informal pseudo-fantasy contests. Here in the office, we’ve been doing it for years. Nothing big. No major transactions involved. Nothing illegal or unseemly for a representative of the FLW Outdoors organization. We just pick anglers, big-bass weights, cut estimates or the like prior to tournaments and see who comes out ahead in the end.
You might have seen this on FLWOutdoors.com manifested in the past as a feature called “Pundits’ Picks.” That’s basically our internal fantasy-fishing league published online under the guise of providing pre-tournament information. We even got a few pro anglers to join the fray.
What you don’t see is the behind-the-scenes smack-talking, squawking and general competitive skullduggery that accompanies each Pundits’ Picks column, usually by e-mail, and some of it I’d not be proud to print in a family publication like this one.
But what it lacks in decorum, the competition of even informal fantasy fishing makes up for in fun. One thing I’ve learned in all my years of covering fishing tournaments is that anglers are some of the most competitive people on the planet. Multi-million-dollar-winning FLW Tour pro David Dudley once told me that he doesn’t care if it’s a million-dollar fishing tournament or a gum-chewing contest, either way he’s going to do everything in his power to beat you. Also – while this can’t be positively verified – you get a sense after knowing pro Clark Wendlandt for a while that he might one of the few fathers you’ve met who doesn’t let his daughters win at checkers. So it’s extremely rewarding when you see the steam coming out of Wendlandt’s ears after you beat him in a round of Pundits’ Picks, or when Dudley calls you to complain about the rules of the game because he’s losing.
This, friends, is the foundation upon which the new FLW Fantasy Fishing game is built: competition. Some of you have already been playing along, faithfully entering your pre-tournament picks into the “Fishing Challenge” game we’ve had at FLWOutdoors.com for a couple years. To you, we salute you and thank you for your participation with the Wal-Mart FLW Tour.
But that was just the foundation, the beginning. With the new FLW Fantasy Fishing game, we’re building the superstructure of the future for fantasy fishing. Indeed, not just fantasy fishing, but for all fantasy sports. Just like when FLW Outdoors came along in the `90s and blew up tournament fishing into the multi-million-dollar, corporate-backed behemoth that it is today, now we’re doing it for fantasy fishing, as well. Not only can you now form your own leagues, but the roaring citadel against which all other fantasy-sports endeavors will be measured from here on out is obviously our payout.
If you think Scott Suggs’ teary hoisting of that $1 million check last August was a breathtaking moment, just wait until you see when one of Suggs’ or some other pro’s biggest fans hoists a million-dollar check next August.
Make no bones about it, this game is an obvious promotional ploy. The goal here is not only to reward current fishing fans with a new, fun and lucrative way to enjoy the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, but to attract legions of new fans to the sport, as well. And if we’re not working to promote fishing around here – that means everybody in the industry from FLW Outdoors staff to the sponsors to the anglers to the outdoors media and even to the fans – then we’re not doing our jobs. What better way to reel them in than with a free chance to win a million dollars? Now it truly is possible to win like a pro even if you can’t fish like a pro.
As such, expect to see a whole new influx of fishing fans for the 2008 FLW Tour season. In addition to the diehards, we’re going to see people who don’t know Dave Lefebre from David Fritts. We hope, for you anglers out there, that you’ll have non-fishing co-workers coming up to ask you whether it’s better to pick Shinichi Fukae or J.T. Kenney at Lake Toho. We hope, for those of you new to the sport, that you’ll take the time to learn the differences among Fukae, Kenney and everybody else who fishes the FLW Tour because, believe me, it will only help you make better picks.
This has obviously worked for the NFL. Fantasy football is a monster. Consequently, the NFL’s TV ratings are through the roof. The fact that, right now, I know every detail about the bruised knee of Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison – and that it pains me to see he might be sidelined for the 10th week in a row – is testament to that. In the real world, I couldn’t care less about the Colts, nor Harrison, for that matter. But the guy’s on my fantasy team, and he’s been killing me all year long. Like in so many weeks past, this weekend I’m sure I’ll be glued to my TV set and computer screen Sunday morning to see whether he’ll finally be fit to play.
But now I’ll be glued to FantasyFishing.com and “FLW Outdoors” on Fox Sports Net on Sunday mornings, as well. (Full disclosure: Actually, I already was.). As you do the same, there’s one thing to remember: While your fantasy-football friends are sweating over the details of Marvin Harrison’s worthless knee, you can smile in the knowledge that your sweating over the state of Larry Nixon’s touchy casting wrist is a waaay more profitable use of your time. Because let’s face it, there’s a big difference between fantasy football and fantasy fishing these days: You can’t win a million dollars playing fantasy football.
As for this blog, I’m going to try to reserve this space to bring you timely angler-related news, quick features and analysis in order to help you make your best picks. Tournament fishing can be a tricky business to predict, so I’m definitely not always going to be right. But I’m going make my best effort to try and bring you as close to it as possible.
Until next time, best of luck on your picks.