Denton, MD- Just west of the Choptank river, there is a man that eats, sleeps and breaths bass fishing. He’s not an Elite Series pro. He’s not a big time guide. Actually, he’s a lot like Joe the plumber. His name: Brian LaClair; hailing from Denton, MD on the Delmarva Peninsula. He works for a living just like you and I, driving a seafood truck around the region delivering the area’s hot comodity. When he’s not driving a truck, you can often see him out on one of the local rivers driving a bass boat… or fishing from it. Brian is a die hard tournament angler, a competing member of the DE B.A.S.S. Federation Nation. The organization holds regular local tournaments consisting of local anglers, all sanctioned by its mother organization B.A.S.S. If an angler does well enough he/she could find themselves in the national spotlight attending the annual Bassmaster Classic. As it turns out, that’s just what Brian did.
I recently caught up with Brian. I asked if I could grill him on his experience thus far and he was more than receptive to taking a few questions from a fellow Federation Nation angler. I had never been to his place before. I really had never carried a long conversation with him and never fished with him either (though I hope I do at some point). I only knew him from a handful of meetings with the Federation Nation where we had spoken briefly about various organizational topics. I really didn’t know what to expect.
I arrived at his home in the evening, cold and dark. Among wide open fields (typical for Delmarva) a few houses scattered along an unlit road. Matching up the next house coming with the checkered flag on my GPS, I see it’s just a regular farm house, horseshoe driveway with a white picket fence in between. I follow the driveway around the back of his flat noticing the property also contains a sizeable pole shed with a 30 x 10 garage connected to it. I think to myself “This is what I need”. As I dismount, I notice Brian approaching from the pole shed to greet me. After our welcome and introduction, he invited me into his think tank. Yeah, remember the 30 x 10 garage? Inside was about 50 sets of deer antlers, various hunting gear and his boat with just about everything in the Bass Pro catalog strewn about on both front and back decks. We stood beside the heater (thank God) for good clip talking about the impending event which will occur Feb. 18-20 in New Orleans, LA. He showed me some maps he’d been pouring over in an attemp to get some kind of grasp on the place. From what I gathered, it’s not too different geo-characteristically from here. A giant marsh with lots of little tributaries feeding into one another untill it finally finds the Gulf of Mexico. Really the only difference is climate and square miles. A lot more ditches and canals. Yes, way more of those too. Oh, and the big lakes that connect all the ditches and rivers. Wait, it has canal locks too. Okay, maybe it’s not as similar as I thought come to think. As we were discussing the maps, previous bag weights and tackle, I kinda got the feeling that this guy was relived to be talking about all this with one of his fellow local anglers. Almost as if he was venting… getting a weight off his shoulders. I could only imagine the nerve wracking pressure he has been through in the two very noteable tournaments he has been through to qualify for the Classic; the Mid-Atlantic Divisional and the Federation Nation Championship. With him having experienced all this first hand, I had a mind full of questions I was practically peeing my pants to ask him. After all, this is what I ultimately want. This same exact opportunity. This is what he had to say…
Me: “Brian, congrats on making it to the big show. You have accomplished something many attempt but only few succeed. First off, how long have you been fishing on the tournament level?”
BL: [pauses and gleans into thin air]
Me: “That long huh?”
BL: [laughing] “I’m going to say… probably since 1992. You’d have to calculate them years.” (19)
Me: “And that’s on the Nanticoke and the other rivers?”
BL: “Yeah I started fishing rivers in the early 80’s but I never bothered with tournament fishing until about 1992.”
Me: “So I guess it’s safe to say you definately know exactly what you are doing around these parts.”
BL: “I can catch a few fish”.
Me: “You pretty much proved that.” [snickering]
Me: “Has this always been a realistic goal for you? Did you ever doubt that it would happen? Because you have to admit, making it to the Classic is like one notch below winning the lottery if you are’nt an Elite Series Pro.”
BL: “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever pictured myself going to the Classic. Being a goal and a dream? Yes. But actually getting there? I didn’t know if it would ever happen.”
Me: “So you basically just had the mindset that ‘I’m fishing, and if it happens it happens’. You never actually set brackets on the Classic and made it your primary target?”
BL: “More or less.”
After that answer I couldn’t help but think ‘but isn’t this what everyone is fishing for?’ The chance at being the best and a big pile of cash? How could you not set it as your pinnacle? All the time and money spent on getting there. That brought me to my next question…
Me: “Has this journey been taxing on your life in any way? Obviously you have had to spend copious amounts of time and money on this. How has that affected your family… or has it?”
BL: “Uh… maybe a little bit. It’s just me and my wife. She’s very understanding; I support her in all her hobbies and everything she does and she in turn does that for me. I think this year though, it has gone more my way than her way. [chuckling] No doubt.”
Me: “Who’s going with you?”
BL: “My wife will fly down the Wednesday before. My father will drive down around the same time bringing a brother, and a brother-in-law who’s coming from Birmingham with his wife.”
Me: “Tell me about the Federation Nation Championship, the tournament that ultimately got you to where you are now.”
BL: “Well it was on the Red River, [Louisiana]. I did’nt get a chance to go down there and practice. So I had three days, and uh… it’s… the river is real vast. It’s got a lot of stump fields in it, it’s got a lot of back water; you gotta know how to get through it all. To me, three days wasn’t enough time to try to figure all that out so I just summed it up and said I’m just gonna stay out on the main river. I practiced two days out on the main river- I caught a few fish [but] not enough to win the tournament. Then I jsut said well I need to push on, I need to go find something better. I went through a lock and I went down and got into a creek. I went in there and took about twenty minutes to figure out that there was enough fish in there for me to stay on for the whole tournament. I went up about a half mile from that creek on the main river and continued to catch em’ so I backed down at that point. I figured there was no reason to keep stick’n fish.”
His explaination of obviously a remarkable ability to search out bass, told me that Brian knew it was his saving grace. Without knowing that water and having no prior practice, it would have been very difficult to stay up to pace and find his fish during the tournament. An ability that you find common in the best of the best bass anglers. Brian managed to place 8th overall and first among the Mid-Atlantic Division contestants. So with his accomplished spot in the standings and an uncanny ability to locate fish, he will attend the Bassmaster Classic. But that tournament will contain a completely different set of obstacles to contend with, according to Brian…
Me: “Do you think that tournament was a good representation of what you will be up against next month on the Delta?”
BL: “Federation anglers are very good fishermen. But I think some of these pros have more of a professional outlook on how to break things down to get the job done. I think a lot of people get caught up in certain things where I think a professional that gets paid a lot of money and been on the tour for a while. I think they really know how to analyze things and get out of a situation if it’s not happening; to move on. Something I think people that don’t really spend much time on the water, don’t grasp. I really had to learn how to just put it in high gear in these last two or three tournaments, just to get where I got.”
Me: “If you had to chose just one defining factor attributing to how you managed to make it all the way to the Classic by means of which some say is the most difficult road. What would it be?”
BL: “Just a lot of time on the water and keep on push’n; just keep on look’n for something better. I wasn’t satisfied with anything I was on until I found it. Like Iaconelli says ‘never give up’. If you are going to be satisfied with just satisfactory it’s not going to happen. And never stop until you are done.”
Just what one would imagine the answer would be; a lot of time on the water. But what did he mean by ‘done’? Being an angler all too familiar with disappointing days on the water, I think he meant done with fishing all together. I’ve had those times when I felt that way, but I did’nt stop. He said the word with almost a somber feel. Like someone had died or with the meaning that it was the absolute end of something. I had to find out more. Now that he admitted the all encompassing trait one must posess, I needed to know the lure. His bread and butter…
Me: “Has there been a solid technique or lure or combination of the two that history has told you this is it- this is the go-to?”
Brian pauses for quite some time and thinks carefully with his arms crossed. I thought I would help him out a little…
BL: “All-time? Yeah… If I had to fish one bait; the jig. But throughout these tournaments, nothings the same. That’s where I think you gotta be open-minded, don’t get hung up on whatever your go-to bait is. If you can’t do that, then maybe you need to find water where you can fish on ’em [with that]. You gotta be versitile. You gotta be able to throw a jig as good as you can throw a spinnerbait and a crankbait and all. It’s hard to just catch fish on one particular bait unless you’re being left alone completely and you have a vast area that’s loaded with fish. But it just don’t happen that way.”
Me: “Do you have an idea of how you might pick the Delta apart?”
BL: “I have a plan. My approach is still in processes but I have three days to practice.”
Me: “Has this become a reality for you yet? Has it fully sunk in that this is happening?”
BL: “[very serious] Yes. It took a while”.
Me: “When did that happen for you?”
BL: “I’d say probably a couple weeks ago.”
Me: “What were the circumstances? What were you doing?”
BL: “Just sat down, got in my boat, got out some of this new gear people are giving me. Sat down and started looking at this GPS. I’m just sitting here summing it all up say’n man this is happening and I gotta get right. Ya know I gotta put my act together and try to go down there and represent Delaware.”
My spine shivered at his reply. That’s really when it became real for me. That Brian was going to be on TV repping Delaware. And what’s more, is that seemed to be his biggest concern of all. Not that he wanted to catch the eye of sponsors or get as much time in the spotlight as possible. He truly, genuinly, wants to go down there and look good for those of us back home…
Me: “Funny you mention representing Delaware. That relates to my next question as a matter of fact. What are your feelings toward being from Delaware? No one really expects much from us because there is no major lakes; no reservoirs. Nothing you could just cut out from work early and spend a few hours on the water. I mean, you would have a little bit of a haul to the closest noteable lake. We have the Nanticoke but it does not equate to anything like these Elite Series guys fish on a regualar basis.”
BL: “No, it doesnt. I feel real good about it. I always wanted to see someone from the eastern shore. Even though I live in Maryland, I still am representing Delaware. I feel so great about that. I always wanted to see someone go [from Delamarva] because it’s close to D.C., Baltimore- you always hear about the Potomac, the upper [Chesapeake] bay, but you never hear about anybody coming out of here. We’ve only ever had three anglers in history, that I know of, that have even had a chance. I feel good about that”
Me: “So if someone were to outspokenly write off the guy from Delaware and consider him to not stand a chance, what would you say to that?”
BL: [laughs] “I’m the kind of person that probably wouldn’t say a whole lot. And then I would go hard to force him out and then that guy is gonna think twice before he said that again”.
Me: “I like that. Prove them wrong by making them sorry they ever opened their mouth”.
BL: “I think we have some really strong anglers from Delaware. In fact I know we do. It’s just the professional bass fishing industry is a very expensive thing to do. And unless you are sit’n pretty fat, it’s hard to go out and fish for a living. I think some of the guys in our Federation could do that. I could.”
Me: “You did. You’re there.”
BL: “Well I mean for a living, on a regualar basis. I can’t afford that.”
Me: “Does that make you feel like an underdog at all?”
BL: “In some sense, because I have’nt been touring and fishing with a bunch of different professionals. The only thing that has been weighing on my mind, is whether or not the fish I find are going to be competitive in size. Fishing against these guys; I don’t have a problem with. I don’t compare myself to any of them.”
Me: “Are you fully prepared mentally?”
BL: “I have a couple things to work on. I’ve been advised about the hype. I was just sitting in my boat the other day, by myself, and got a little nervous. I’m just gonna go fish and do what I can.”
Me: “Is it intimidating to know you are up against guys that have fished the Classic, and won it, multiple times?”
BL: “It doesn’t leave my mind. I think of two guys… Mike Iaconelli and Kevin VanDam. I just keep thinking and thinking that hopefully the fish that I find will be able to compete with thiers”.
Me: “What are your expectations for this tournament?”
BL: “I would like to come across that weigh-in station with at least a limit each day”.
Me: “Let’s say you do the unimaginable and win. What comes next for Brian LaClair?”
BL: “I think I would have to sit and talk it over with my family. I think there would definately be some professional fishing going on. I’d have to see if it works out, you know?”
Me: “Well let’s put it this way. You have qualified for the Bassmaster Classic, which is aimed at bringing the best 50 anglers in the world together to fish against one another. You are one of them… so in my mind that means that even if you finish dead last, you’re still 50th best out of millions. Right?”
BL: “I haven’t really ever thought of it like that. I figured I would want to be up in the top ten at least. In past Classic history, the only ones that are ever really remembered, are the guys that win it. I’m not going to just cut myself short to be satisfied. If I think I can go for it… I’m going for it. I’ll be swinging for the fence. I don’t have anything to lose in this one. I think that’s the only way to look at it. This might be my only chance.”
He told me his mindset for the big tournament in February. I got a good inkling that Brian is focused and won’t be distracted by all the glitz and glam. A truly devoted character that deserves all his accomplishments by all the work he’s put in, and the positive attitude he has carried all the long way. I finalized our interview by asking him about what it takes…
BL: “Take it very seriously the next time you get in a boat to go fishing in a qualifier tournament. Fish it like it’s the Classic. You gotta fish hard… extremely hard.”
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