UL­TI­MATE OUT­BOARD PIT CREW

We spend a week­end with Mer­cury’s Bass­mas­ter out­board tech­ni­cian.

Boating - - FRONT PAGE - By Charles Plued­de­man Pho­tos by Bill Doster

AA Florida gator nest is not a good work en­vi­ron­ment, even when the ga­tors ap­pear to be gone. But right now Scott Beat­tie is will­ing to do what­ever it takes to res­cue the fortunes of pro bass an­gler Shaw Grigsby. Which is why Beat­tie is bent over in a Lake Okee­chobee gator nest, spin­ning a socket wrench lick­etys­plit to back off five nuts and drop the dam­aged gear case from Grigsby’s out­board.

It is not a typ­i­cal morn­ing for Beat­tie, but few days are rou­tine for a Mer­cury Ma­rine tour­na­ment ser­vice sup­port man­ager. Thirty week­ends a year “Scotty B” mans a 40-foot Feather­lite trailer stocked with the parts and tools re­quired to keep Mer­cury-spon­sored pro an­glers on the wa­ter and in the money. I spent a few days in Fe­bru­ary with Beat­tie at the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bass­mas­ter Elite tour­na­ment in cen­tral Florida to see what life is like for a fish­ing roadie. I came away im­pressed with the man and his mis­sion.

GET­TING THE FIX The gator-nest in­ci­dent took place in 2012, the last time the Bass­mas­ter Elite cir­cuit vis­ited Okee­chobee.

“It was about 8:30 in the morn­ing, and the phone rings and it’s Grigsby,” says Beat­tie. “He’s hit bot­tom and bent his prop shaft. He says: ‘Scott, I need a gear case. My buddy’s com­ing to your trailer, and he’ll drive you down to the ramp.’ So I got out a gear case and some tools.”

In a few min­utes, a truck tow­ing a boat pulls up, with Grigsby’s friend and “an­other fel­low named Dobo, who is drink­ing a tall­boy for break­fast, and the next thing I know, we are go­ing 100 miles per hour down High­way 98 to­ward Belle Glade,” says Beat­tie. “Then we launch the boat, and he’s run­ning full throt­tle up an air­boat trail, and we meet an­other boat and make a lit­tle eva­sive de­tour through the weeds, and then find Shaw in an open area. He’s still fish­ing, of course.”

The gator nest is the only solid ground in sight, so Beat­tie has Grigsby ease his boat up to the tamped-down pad of grass. “I sent Dobo up there first, to clear out snakes,” says Beat­tie.

Beat­tie can change a gear case in five min­utes, but this time, per­haps feel­ing gator breath on the back of his legs, it took maybe four. Grigsby went on to catch 79 pounds and 2 ounces of Okee­chobee bass to place fourth in the four-day tour­na­ment, taking home $15,000. At this year’s tour­na­ment, Grigsby con­firmed to me that Beat­tie is telling the story with very lit­tle elab­o­ra­tion.

“To be able to count on a pro­fes­sional tech­ni­cian is one of the great perks of a pro an­gler,” says Grigsby, who has been fish­ing on the Bass­mas­ter cir­cuit for 33 of his 61 years. “It’s a priv­i­lege to have them here.”

THE TECH LIFE

Mer­cury Ma­rine tour­na­ment sup­port pre­dates Grigsby’s ca­reer by one year. Mer­cury sent its leg­endary tech Roy Ridgell and a van of parts on the Bass­mas­ter trail in 1983, and ev­ery sea­son since, the com­pany has ser­viced its pro bass, wall­eye and salt­wa­ter an­glers, cur­rently with Beat­tie and two other re­gional techs. Yamaha and Ev­in­rude also have field-sup­port trail­ers in the Bass­mas­ter “pits,” parked in rows with those from more than a dozen boat, elec­tron­ics and ac­ces­sory sup­pli­ers. Beat­tie started as a con­trac­tor in 1995 and has been a full-time Merc em­ployee since 2006. If there were a man born to do this job, it’s Scott Beat­tie. “I grew up watch­ing

Flip­per,” says Beat­tie, who was raised in Pom­pano Beach. “I wanted that life. My first boat was a 13-foot Bos­ton Whaler, just like

To be able to count on a pro­fes­sional tech­ni­cian is one of the great perks of a pro an­gler.” With them, the pros can keep on fish­ing.

the one Sandy and Bud had. I started scrap­ing boat bot­toms as a teenager. My dad died when I was just 18, so I quit school and went to work at ma­rine deal­er­ships in the area, learn­ing to rig boats and work on en­gines.”

Along the way, Beat­tie earned a cap­tain’s li­cense and a Mer­cury Cer­ti­fied Tech­ni­cian rat­ing, raced tunnel and offshore boats, and in 1995 opened Pre­ferred Ma­rine Sales Group in Fort Laud­erdale as a sales out­let for his line of Dakota Yacht cen­ter con­soles. That’s a deep re­sume, but it’s his re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive at­ti­tude that makes Beat­tie ef­fec­tive and pop­u­lar in his field­sup­port role.

I caught up with Beat­tie at C. Scott Driver Park, tour­na­ment head­quar­ters on the north shore of Lake Okee­chobee. Beat­tie ar­rives on Sun­day, and prac­tice fish­ing starts on Mon­day. The four-day com­pe­ti­tion be­gins at dawn on Thurs­day. Beat­tie is ex­pect­ing the dis­abled boat of New York an­gler Jamie Hartman to ar­rive at the trailer soon. Hartman, a 44-year-old rookie on the Elite cir­cuit, has called a buddy, who en­listed a lo­cal to meet Hartman on the wa­ter. His bright-blue Nitro tour­na­ment boat was re­trieved and trail­ered back to the park. Hartman had called Beat­tie and told him, “The mo­tor just quit.”

When the rig pulls up, Beat­tie lifts off the Mer­cury 250 Pro XS cowl and in­structs the driver to

crank the mo­tor. Beat­tie places his thumb over the air-in­take tube on top of the mo­tor’s belt-driven air com­pres­sor. In an in­stant, Beat­tie has di­ag­nosed the prob­lem — no suc­tion means there’s a bro­ken petal on the com­pres­sor reed valve — and gone into the trailer to grab tools and parts. In just a few min­utes, Beat­tie is show­ing me the dam­aged reed petal, and in a few more, a new reed assem­bly is in­stalled. The mo­tor barks to life when Beat­tie turns the key.

WHAT IT TAKES

The in­ci­dent il­lus­trates Beat­tie’s pri­mary ser­vice role at the tour­na­ment and of­fers in­sight to the pres­sure-filled life of a pro an­gler. The 2017 Bass­mas­ter Elite series fea­tures 10 four­day tour­na­ments, open to only 111 an­glers who have earned an in­vi­ta­tion to fish at this top level of the sport, most by win­ning in the semipro Bass­mas­ter Open series. The par­tic­i­pa­tion fee for the sea­son is $48,000. Only those who place in the top 70 in sea­son points re­qual­ify for the Elite series next sea­son. The win­ner of each Elite tour­na­ment takes home $100,000. The purse pays down to $10,000 for 50th place, but the field is cut to 50 an­glers after two days, and only 12 fish on Sun­day. The points leader at the end of the sea­son be­comes the Toy­ota Bass­mas­ter An­gler of the Year and wins $100,000. The top 39 in Elite series points earn a berth in next year’s GE­ICO Bass­mas­ter Clas­sic, where they’ll fish for a top prize of $300,000 plus con­tin­gen­cies, and the abil­ity to earn that amount many times over in spon­sor and ap­pear­ance fees.

Even the high­est-pro­file pros are un­der con­stant pres­sure to fish well, stay lucky, and cover ex­penses.

“There’s a ca­reer on the line at ev­ery tour­na­ment. A bad week­end at a tour­na­ment like Okee­chobee could mean miss­ing the cut for the Clas­sic, or los­ing that Elite series in­vi­ta­tion you’ve worked so hard to earn.”

Which is why, when his mo­tor conked, Hartman stayed on the wa­ter in a bor­rowed boat.

“There’s a ca­reer on the line at ev­ery tour­na­ment,” ex­plains Grigsby. “A bad week­end at a tour­na­ment like Okee­chobee could mean miss­ing the cut for the Clas­sic, or los­ing that Elite series in­vi­ta­tion you’ve worked so hard to earn.”

A pro bass boat carries a backup for ev­ery sys­tem — ex­cept the out­board mo­tor. Ac­cord­ing to Beat­tie, pros at this level gen­er­ally take good care of their equip­ment. Aside from prop strikes, the most com­mon out­board is­sues are caused by bad gas (wa­ter in fuel low­ers oc­tane, lead­ing to det­o­na­tion and de­stroyed pis­tons) and clogged cooling systems.

“This week­end we’ll see mo­tors with clogged ther­mostats be­cause Okee­chobee is shal­low and they will suck up all kinds of stuff,” says Beat­tie.

Grigsby has come to the Merc trailer be­cause his mo­tor’s SmartCraft Engine Guardian sys­tem is scrolling a “run­ning cold” fault text on his Lowrance screen. After con­firm­ing the fault with his di­ag­nos­tic ter­mi­nal, Beat­tie re­moves a cover and, sure enough, bits of veg­e­ta­tion and shell frag­ments are hold­ing the ther­mo­stat open. Beat­tie next re­moves a plas­tic strainer in­tended to keep de­bris out of the air com­pres­sor cooling pas­sages. It’s com­pletely clogged with green muck.

Beat­tie slides open a drawer in the trailer and pulls out a new strainer, one of hun­dreds of parts he stocks, an in­ven­tory he es­ti­mates is worth about $300,000. The rear third of the trailer has slide-out racks de­signed to tote four com­plete pow­er­heads, nine lower units, a dozen Tem­pest and Fury pro­pel­lers, and five bow-mounted Mo­torGuide X5 elec­tric trolling mo­tors. An over­head track hoist is used to lift a pow­er­head.

“I can change a pow­er­head in about 45 min­utes,” says Beat­tie.

Late Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, Beat­tie got a call from an­gler Gerald Swin­dle, the reign­ing Toy­ota Bass­mas­ter An­gler of the Year, who said he had good news and bad news.

“The good news is that the new Fury 4 prop I loaned him this morn­ing is the fastest prop he’s ever run,” says Beat­tie. “The bad news is that prop is at the bot­tom of the lake.”

Swin­dle hit bot­tom and snapped the prop shaft. On trolling-mo­tor power, it will take him four hours to limp to a launch ramp. Rather than change the lower unit at the ser­vice trailer, Beat­tie makes a plan to meet Swin­dle at the camp­ground where he is stay­ing in an RV.

“Pro angling can be a men­tal game,” says Beat­tie. “I try to help them not worry about the mo­tor. Some­times I’m the field psy­chol­o­gist when they are hav­ing a bad day. I try to keep them fo­cused and pos­i­tive, let them re­lax in the trailer.”

Beat­tie fin­ished chang­ing Swin­dle’s gear case, in the rain, at 9 p.m. And that’s why the pros love him.

TURN THE CRANK Beat­tie can change a prop un­der the tough­est of con­di­tions.

IN THE WEEDS

Run­ning in shal­low wa­ter can cause all kinds of strainer is­sues.

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