Ride along with Terry Segraves, pro bass fisherman, in his Ranger Commanche Z20
KISSIMMEE -- Of course, the first thing the professional bass fisherman did once he got the city girl trapped on a boat in the middle of nowhere was make alligator jokes.
"Oh yeah," Terry Segraves said, grinning, "they just come right on up to the boat."
It is true the 57-year-old Segraves, who has fished on the professional BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) tour since 1992 and earned more than $100,000, often sees alligators when fishing in the Kissimmee lakes.
But for pros such as Segraves, alligators and other wildlife merely fade into the backdrop when it's time to fish.
"Alligators are just part of the environment," said Segraves, who lives here. "I see some of them sitting up on the grass. I've never had any of them try to attack me."
BASS, with its headquarters in Celebration and owned by ESPN, has been in operation 40 years and is considered the premier league for bass fishing.
The sport is a lot more complicated than throwing a rod into some water.
Segraves revealed during our ride-a-long that a skilled bass fisherman plays a chess game with the fish.
A fisherman has to be able to predict a fish's mood -- they do get prickly sometimes -- and their patterns.
It's the classic struggle of man against a fish.
Question: How long have you had this boat [Ranger Comanche Z20]?
Answer: I got the boat last December. We get one every year. We turn them over so much to keep up with the latest and greatest stuff.
Q: Do you remember your first boat?
A: It was a little canoe. It had 14 holes in it. It was fiberglass, and you had to patch the holes to go fish.
Q: Did you ever think you would be able to fish for a living?
A: You always dream about it, but you don't know if it'll ever come true. It takes a lot of hard work. Without the right people behind you, it would be tough to be out here. I've got the Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau, Ranger, Hummingbird and a number of other [sponsors] behind me.
Q: Who taught you how to fish?
A: My uncle in North Carolina. He would catch fish at night, and I would tag along as a little boy. A lot of people fall in love with baseball. I fell in love with fishing.
Q: Do you eat a lot of fish?
A: I like lobster and king-crab legs. It's probably been 20 years since I ate a bass.
Q: Describe your typical professional bass fisherman.
A: I think he has to be able to enjoy solitude a bit. He has to be able to turn off the outside factors. He's got to be able to turn everything off and say, 'What are the fish doing?' We have to be isolated individuals at times. Just like football and basketball players, you've got to be able to get into a zone.
Q: How long does the BASS season run?
A: Generally, it starts in January, and we'll end in September. I'll probably fish in about 20 tournaments before it's over.
Q: What's the setup at a BASS tournament?
A: Sometimes, you'll have three days of practice, and you can practice any time. You put patterns together, try to locate the fish. The most cumulative weight wins.
Q: How much does the rise in gas prices affect bass fishermen?
A: In an average [tournament], I can burn $100 a day. These gas prices hurt. I spent $8,000 in gas last year. I'll probably spend $15,000 on gas this year.
Q: Why do so many fishermen lie about the size of the fish they catch?
A: [Laughs] We exaggerate because we get excited about what we're doing. We don't deliberately tell lies.
Q: Tell me about Angling Against Cancer, the annual bass-fishing tournament you have in Kissimmee where the proceeds go to [former North Carolina State coach] Jim Valvano's Cancer Foundation. [It's Oct. 28-29 this year.]
A: It's something we started here in 2000. We thought it would be a good idea. People could come to the lake, and it would help us promote a good cause. My wife was killed in a car wreck, and we also wanted to do it in her memory because she was a kind, wonderful person.
Q: How much money have you raised?
A: Last year, we raised $50,000. Altogether, we've probably raised a quarter of a million.
Q: Which is easier, winning a golf tournament or winning a BASS tournament?
A: It's easier to win a golf tournament. You spend the night in a hotel. You get a good night's sleep and then you go out on a manicured lawn. Here, you got other challenges. A lot of it is endurance. You got a caddie in golf. Here, you've got to clean your own equipment. You also have the weather. I've been hunkered down in this boat before trying to avoid the lightning. I'm not saying golf ain't tough, but bass fishing relates to your endurance and mental toughness.
Q: Is bass fishing a sport?
A: It's a different sport than race car driving or baseball. It's still a competition. You're competing against the fish's attitude. You may not be competing against Michael Jordan, but you're competing against the elements. Hey, there are lots of days I wish I was back at my full-time job at Sherwin-Williams [paint company].
Q: How does bass fishing fit among the other pro sports?
A: We don't have an arena. We're at a lake. We may drive 100 miles on a lake to catch a fish. That's difficult to put on TV. It's just hard to do. It's not going to get to the level of NASCAR or the NBA. It has its own place.
Q: What other sports do you watch?:
A: I grew up in Indiana. I love college basketball. College basketball is second to none. When you grow up in Indiana, you either play basketball or move out of the state.
Q: You ever flipped a boat over?
A: I haven't flipped a boat over, but I've done doughnuts in it.
Q: Do you ever want a yacht?
A: [Laughs] Why would I want a yacht? You can't fish off it