The story of tournament bass fishing on Pittsburgh's three rivers has all the markings of a classic fish tale.
Let's start with the first catch. It was a whopper, BASS Federation's three-day Bassmaster Classic in 2005. Forty-seven anglers competed for a $700,000 purse, ESPN ran more than 15 hours of coverage and 8,000 fans cheered the final weigh-in at Mellon Arena.
After that resounding success, two big ones wiggled off the line -- a Bassmaster Major and the Forrest Wood Cup championship both chose other sites for 2007. But chasing the ones that got away has a long tradition in the world of fishing, which is why city and state officials were gleeful when they announced they'd snagged the world's richest bass event.
The first lines in the Forrest Wood Cup tournament, named for the founder of Ranger Boats, drop this morning and fishing continues through Sunday. First prize is $500,000 but the champion gets another half-million dollars if he fishes from a Ranger boat.
Make no mistake, this contest is nothing like going fishing with your Uncle Mitch in Moraine State Park.
First of all, there's the field. The pro division features 77 fishermen and all but two of them are from fishing's professional and semi-pro circuits. Professional Dave Lefebre of Union City, Erie County, is one of the frontrunners and can claim home river advantage as the only Pennsylvanian.
Then there's the gear -- $3,000 depth finders with split screens that simultaneously map the river, showing fishermen where they've been and what's happening under their boats. And those boats. A top-of-the-line bass boat can cost $15,000 to $60,000 or more.
The actual fishing doesn't lend itself to spectators, but the Family Fun Zone and Outdoor Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is a place to meet fishing superstars, learn safe boating and fishing techniques and drive a life-size motorboat as it simulates conditions on a choppy lake.
Now this fish tale starts to sound like exaggeration. Every day, at 5 p.m., anglers arrive at Mellon Arena, each with five fish in his bucket, to have the bass weighed. Thousands of people will be in the stands and, as the needle on the scale stops, they will hoot and holler and cheer.
This you gotta see.