Fish vs. Fuzzballs

Here's a mental dilemma most aspiring athletes probably never find themselves in: Would I rather turn pro in tennis or fishing?

For if you have the proclivity for fast-paced fuzz-ball flinging, you likely don't have an intimate understanding of fly lures. And if you have the patience to spend all day casting a line, you probably can't chase down a drop shot.

That is, expert anglers and tennis stars mix like (cod) oil and (Perrier) water.

But the dandy news is, they don't have to. Ain't no wildlife preserves next door to Wimbledon or clay courts amid Lake Okeechobee.

In fact, about the only place you'll find professional fishermen and tennis players together is on your TV.

Last weekend, the bait boys rode the wave of national television coverage on ESPN. From August 1-3, the annual B.A.S.S. (Bass Angler's Sportsmen Society) Bassmaster Classic was contested near New Orleans. (Actually, the official name of the event is the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, but listing the sponsor's names like that sounds too much like a NASCAR driver at post-race interview. You know: "Yeah, we just was runnin' kinda loose all day this afternoon, but I'm still darn proud of the way the Quaker State, Quaker Oats, Mopar, Kibbles 'n Bits #58 Penske team fought during this whole entire S&P 500 race.)

And this weekend, ESPN covers the tennis set, televising the Tennis Masters Canada from Montreal. This tournament is the sixth stop on the Tennis Masters Series, a circuit within the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) that invites only the current top-ranking players to participate in its nine annual events.

But today is (yawn) still midweek. Today is merely part of the undistinguished space between last Saturday's bass action and this Saturday's racquet racket. Hence today, there is time to ponder. Time not only to pose, but also to resolve (as a thoughtful service to readers in the unlikely event that any of them are among the elite, highly-evolved beings that demonstrate the rare potential to succeed as fishing/tennis two-sport athletes) the above incongruous conundrum: in an era that demands specialization, which would I rather master, bass or tennis?

Well, really depends what you're after.

If you would like to be shown the money, invest in some good court shoes. Total purse at the Tennis Masters Canada is $2.45M for 64 competitors. For the Bassmaster Classic, B.A.S.S. managed to fish up only $700,000 for 59 entrants.

If it's important to be PC, go fish. According to a B.A.S.S. customer service agent, B.A.S.S. is scheduled to soon become an empty acronym, standing for nothing (indeed, on the organization's web site, B.A.S.S. is only spelled that way in the logo, everywhere else it is spelled BASS, sans periods). The reason: B.A.S.S. has determined that the "Society" portion of the acronym is too limiting; B.A.S.S. does not want to be seen as an "exclusive club." (Holy mackerel!) Whereas tennis remains unabashed in the face of political correctors, paying male players more than the women at the events in which both sexes participate.

As far as gear goes, the angler's got the edge. A fishing vest epitomizes practical-yet-posh fashion. Plus, you can never go wrong in jeans. Top off the look with a floppy sun hat with a couple of hooks stuck in it, and you've got yourself Americana. In tennis, the headgear (hats, head bands, bandannas) is choice, but the rest of the garb is inconsistent: either too plain (like all white at Wimbledon) or too flashy (like Serena's cat suits or the early-90s Agassi wear).

Tennis can't touch fishing equipment either. Micro-fibered, longer-lasting balls and graphite racquets (even the ones with Kevlar strings) are nothing compared to motors that are quieter than a sleeping lemur, SONAR-powered fish-finders, and boat bottoms plated with Stealth technology (okay, Stealth technology isn't utilizedyet). But even excluding boats, fishing stuff still rules because you need a multi-tiered tackle box to lug around just the stuff that attaches to the end of your line.

The Bassmaster Pro Tour makes stops at such places as Eufaula, Ala., Manning, S.C., Many, La., and Bainbridge, Ga. The Tennis Masters Series goes to renowned cities including Rome, Paris, Monte-Carlo, Miami. Oh, and Cincinnati (next week). Tennis, anyone?

Plus, since it is physically more challenging to achieve pro tennis player status, you belong to a more select echelon of athletes once you make pro. Therefore, you become more famous/popular outside your sport and then get to go to Italy instead of Alabama. And date models/celebrities. While fisherman score chicks found within the Women in Waders calendar (who are attractive in their own right, but no Bridgette Wilson-Sampras).

As a positive contrast, though, if you wake up one day when you're 39 and decide you want to pursue professional fishing, your body will let you. And you can have a 20-year career from there before you reach your prime.

But in fishing, nobody's around for your best moments. On purpose. Because you need to keep your secret angling spot just that. Okay, maybe you're like Paducah's Mark Menendez-the Classic leader after Day 1 who finished 23rd (good for $8,200)-and you let your yellow lab Barkley ride shotgun. But dogs can't get you juiced, or live and die with you, like thousands of passionate tennis fans can.

And, that's it. There you go. All you need to know to help you choose to pursue a life of bass mastery or tennis eminence.

Which would I choose? Well, fishing's got better gear, cooler equipment, more PC-appeal, and a longer career span. But tennis has more money, more fame, sweeter tour stops, and a bigger stage. Seems like a tie. Bummer. Kind of defeats the purpose, huh?

Hold on. Almost forgot. There is one other very small thing that makes a big difference.

BASS has its own no-annual-fee Platinum Visa Card from First USA Bank. Does the ATP? I think not.

Deuce over.

Advantage: Bassmasters.