SHREVEPORT, LA. — Kim Bain-Moore is making history as the first woman to compete in the Bassmaster Classic, but many of the 50 male anglers she is fishing against aren't happy about it.
They insist they have nothing personal against the 28-year-old Australian native; they just don't think she deserves a shot at the $500,000 first prize and the endorsements that come with a Classic victory.
The Classic, today through Sunday on the Red River, has the top 37 anglers from the Bassmaster Elite Series, an 11-tournament circuit, plus qualifiers from other events.
Bain-Moore, who lives in Pelham, Ala., 30 miles south of Birmingham, qualified as the 2008 angler of the year from the five-tournament Women's Bassmaster Tour. That policy was instituted last year by BASS, which is owned by ESPN. The cable network is televising the event.
"I don't really care that she's fishing," said Peter Thliveros, of Jacksonville, a 12-time Classic qualifier. "My biggest gripe about it is she was given an opportunity that none of us were ever given. None of us had the opportunity to fish [the WBT]. It's a girls' club only."
"Kim is a really good angler and she's also a good ambassador for the sport," said pro Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla. "But the simple fact remains that she did not qualify like the rest of the competitors. She didn't compete against the guys who earned the right to be here. She competed with a completely different league of anglers."
Most of the pros like the buzz that Bain-Moore's presence has created, especially if it brings new fans and new sponsors to the sport. Bain-Moore has been deluged by writers and television crews seeking interviews and signed countless autographs.
"She's already gotten more publicity than the winner will probably get," Schultz said.
Asked about the comments made by some of her fellow pros, Bain-Moore said, "I just want to enjoy myself and do the best that I can."
That has been her goal since she got hooked on fishing as a young girl in Brisbane. Her parents, Stephen and Lynn, and her older sister Leigh were all into fishing, and Bain-Moore happily joined them.
"We were kind of always spending time in the outdoors together as a family, camping, fishing, hunting," said Bain-Moore, who got a taste of competitive fishing as a junior angler in fishing club tournaments.
She also fished in an Australian bass tournament trail that her father ran. Having read magazine articles and watched videos and TV shows about bass fishing, she decided at age 19, and with her family's support, to fly to Los Angeles and see what bass fishing was like in the United States, where her father had some contacts.
Her first largemouth bass was an 8-pounder that she caught in the California delta. That same year she traveled to Chicago for the 2000 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Michigan and was wowed by the magnitude of the event and dreamed of fishing in it. Soon she was fishing BASS Western Open tournaments and qualified for two BASS Open championships, then headed east.
A rookie on the WBT last year, she won the first tournament, finished no lower than sixth in the next three and won the season-ending WBT Championship to secure the angler-of-the-year title and a place in history.
"I'm going for a victory like the 50 other guys here," Bain-Moore said. "And if I catch one fish or no fish, I'll walk on stage with my chin up and smile and wave to everybody and enjoy the greatest day of my life."