On April 11, at a signal, the 10 boats took off, running flat out at 60 mph. They zoomed under Howey Bridge without throttling back, toward the area chosen as the tournament site.
The lake was divided into 10 fishing holes. Each was marked with orange stakes along the shore. Pontoon boats, anchored in a ragged line down the middle of the lake, carried tournament judges, who observed the action at every hole. At a quarter past each hour the fishermen sped to the closest pontoon boat, reported on their catches and then raced to the next hole.
In the middle of the day a fisherman named Roger Farmer got lost. He had left one fishing hole and then somehow misread the boundary markings and ended up back at the same hole. He fished there for 45 minutes before tournament director Harold Sharp was notified and made it out to the hole to inform him of the error. Farmer had to throw back all the fish he had caught from the wrong hole. First he released a smallish bass, maybe a pound. He paused for a bit, trying to remember exactly which fish he had caught at the wrong hole, then reached into the live well of his boat and pulled out the largest of the three remaining bass—a 4-pounder. He returned it to the lake.
"I 'bout got sick," said Farmer later. "But it was the right thing to do."
Indeed it was. Twenty minutes later, fishing the proper hole, Farmer hooked a 9-pound, 8-ounce bass, which helped him to lead the 10 finalists at the end of the first day.
The next day found Farmer, a slender, bearded, 35-year-old roofing contractor from Dalton, Ga., nervously trying to hold on to first place. As he approached the bridge shortly after 10 a.m., four hours into his day, he was amazed to see how many people were there. They were clustered at the foot of the bridge and strung out along the span. They were cheering Roger Farmer on. Some had binoculars, others, cameras. Somebody was selling hot dogs and sodas. Farmer was so undone by the cheers that he broke a plug when he cast and hit the concrete bridge support. "I never fished for an audience before," he said.
At the end of the day the fishermen returned to the weigh-in area, where, remarkably, a crowd of 3,000 people awaited them. Spectators lined the lakeshore and occupied the two small bleachers on each side of the platform where the fish were to be weighed. A little flotilla of boats bobbed near the shoreline. These, too, were full of people waving and clapping.
Farmer was the last man to reach the weigh-in stand. Scott milked the moment like a game-show host. "There's a whole lot of money riding on these fish," he said to Farmer. "You need to have 7 pounds, 1 ounce to win." As the digital scale signaled an 8-pound, 12-ounce catch, Farmer pumped both fists into the air. The crowd cheered. Farmer's wife, Kathye, gave him a kiss. The crowd hooted. But Farmer was unusually restrained for a champion who had just won $101,000—or rather, a customized '86 Camaro, a bass boat and a 10-year annuity worth $63,000. He had something more to say. "I want to show y'all something if I can keep my composure," he said. He reached in the pocket of his red shorts and brought out two small objects. His fingers worked compulsively around them. "My father died in February, and uh...." He struggled manfully, but there seemed to be something in his throat. "He always carried...a buckeye...and a bent nail with him. And when he died I got them...but I wish he was here, where he could see me...." He blinked and looked helpless. The crowed blinked, too, then cheered with gusto.
Celebrity fisherman Wilson came in fifth, winning $8,999 in cash and a bass boat valued at $18,000. A man who is used to having an audience, Wilson said of spectator fishing, "It's a new wrinkle in fishing that obviously inspired people to watch."
A delighted Scott pronounced spectator bass fishing a success and announced that the MegaBucks tournament would return to Leesburg next February. Later he was doodling again, sketching on a napkin.