Hawgs and Cadillacs. To catch hawgs you need Cadillacs," drawled a fisherman surveying Ross Barnett Reservoir outside Jackson, Miss, with a knowing eye. By hawgs he meant largemouth bass—large largemouth bass—and by Cadillacs the posh, overpowered tournament boats that pack nearly every angling weapon known to man.
The proliferating bass boats are the wonder of the industry. They range from single-handed skimmers to 18-foot wedding cakes and in their most sophisticated form they boast:
Huge engines—up to 150 hp—that make them fly as much as float.
An oxygen meter to reveal where the hawgs hang out—the more free oxygen in the water the more likely the presence of bass.
An underwater thermometer. Bass prefer cool water to warm.
A depth sounder—not to find fish, but to get a profile of the bottom of a body of water and detect holes where hawgs might lurk.
A live well, because many tournaments nowadays give bonus points for a live catch. In the past tournament fishermen were stripping lakes and reservoirs clean of bass in a single competition, but that is changing. More often than not the bass now are returned to the water after weighing.
Then there are fishing chairs that swivel and tilt to satisfy the pickiest angler. There are special platforms to elevate him above it all and give him a sharper view of his quarry. There are rod holders, glass holders and iceboxes. Underfoot, carpeting deadens sounds made in the boat, lulling the unsuspecting fish.
Finally, there is the ubiquitous electric outboard. Having sped at 50 mph to a hole where the bass should be biting, the contestant switches to silent electric power and sneaks up on 'em.
According to Forrest Wood, designer of the Ranger boats that at present dominate most tournaments, some people are bigger on equipment than they are on fishing. He should know. At the Rebel Invitational on Ross Barnett Reservoir this year he drove a silver-flaked Ranger that would dazzle the most jaded largemouth. It cost him about $6,000, which is a lot to pay for a small open fishing boat, even if it is replete with fancy gadgets. "How many things you got on that, anyway?" yelled a friend one day.