BELLEVILLE — Brad Scheuer knows that competitive bass fishing isn't a man vs. man sport.
It's man vs. bass.
"Everybody thinks it's easy to catch those little green fish, but it's not," Scheuer said. "You have to work your butt off. There are days that you go out and you get only one or two bites all day. It's a matter of finding the ones that are catchable. That's the hard part. It's like a big puzzle. You're not fishing against the other guys, you're fishing against the fish."
Scheuer (pronounced SHOY-er) caught enough of those little green fish this year to earn the title of Mr. Bass for the Mid-State Bass Anglers. He was honored Saturday night at banquet at Bel-Air Bowl.
Scheuer fished in nine tournaments this year, winning one and placing second in two others. He caught 40 bass weighing a total of 82.5 pounds.
Scheuer also won Mr. Bass for the Illinois Bass Anglers Association. The two groups participate in several joint tournaments during the year.
While it ended successfully, Scheuer's fishing season got off to a slow start.
"Usually, you have to fish all 10 tournaments to have a chance of getting what they call Mr. Bass -- I prefer to call it Angler of the Year myself -- but my dilemma this year was that I missed the first tournament," Scheuer said. "I chose to miss it because it was at Lake of the Ozarks and we had real bad weather. We had a snowstorm last year. I didn't feel like driving down in all of that snow and ice and taking a chance of having a wreck."
So Scheuer started the season trailing in the club standings.
"There were only five guys that went, so the first-place guy was already 200 points ahead of me before the year started," Scheuer said. "That's why I feel pretty fortunate to do as well as I did."
Scheuer, 61, has been casting his rod and reel at local lakes since he was a little kid.
His grandfather, Babe Brenfleck, a sheet metal worker from Belleville, was an avid outdoorsman who introduced him to hunting and fishing.
"My grandfather would take me fishing and my mom would drive me to the lakes," Scheuer said. "My friend's mother and my mother would take turns driving us to ponds and dropping us off and then come back and pick us up four or five hours later."
Scheuer began competing in bass tournaments in the late 1980s. He started as a non-boat participate and eventually graduated to a small John boat and then a Fiberglas boat.
"It's an expensive hobby," Scheuer said. "Plus, the boats suck up gas like crazy. I get 3.5 miles to the gallon at most with my boat. The gas is probably the most expensive part of fishing because you have your vehicle gas and you have your boat gas. A trip down to the Lake of the Ozarks, you leave Friday night and come back Monday morning, you're probably going to spend $500 doing that."
Scheuer joined the Mid-State Bass Anglers in 1995.
In his first tournament on April 1, 1995, at Lake Barkley, Scheuer caught a club-record Big Bass that weighed 8 pounds, 13 ounces.
Scheuer said that's not the biggest bass he's ever reeled in.
"I actually caught a bigger one in a farm pond one time, but I didn't weigh it," Scheuer said. "I think the fish was over 9 pounds. It was a deal where I was working in this area and I asked the guy who owned the pond if I could fish it before or after work for a few minutes. He said, 'No problem.' I said, 'If I catch anything, I'll throw it back it in."'
Scheuer kept his word and released the fish back into the lake.
"I don't like killing them," Scheuer said. "I did keep that one I caught at Lake Barkley. That's the only fish that I've ever had mounted in my life."
Scheuer, a 1970 Belleville East High School graduate, retired in March.
A member of Labor Local 459, he worked at power plant in Lively Grove for the last four years of his career. He was a hod carrier for many years prior to that.
"It is a grueling job," Scheuer said. "It's kept me in pretty good shape. I'm not totally broke down. It'll make you strong or kill you, one or the other."
Scheuer doesn't have a favorite bait or lure. He likes to practice what's called flipping and pitching, a technique for catching bass in shallow water, but he is quick to point to out that versatility is the key to consistent success.
"You might have a favorite way you like to catch them, but you can't just fish that way all the time because you won't catch fish," Scheuer said. "You have adapt to the weather and the fish's mood."
Another key to success for Scheuer is having an understanding longtime girlfriend, Pam Schoendienst.
"My better half," Scheuer said. "The first real date we went on, I said, 'I hunt and I fish a lot, so don't ever make me choose between hunting and fishing and you because you'll have to go. I'm never going to stop doing it."'
Scheuer qualified to fish in a Red Man division tournament in North Dakota a decade ago, but competing professionally on the Bassmaster's tour only has been a dream.
"Guys like me who like to bass fish, that's always in the back of your mind, 'Boy, I wish I could be a professional bass fisherman and earn a living like that,"' Scheuer said. "It's kind of like winning the lottery. There is a very small percentage of guys who try to do it that ever make it. It's very expensive to try to make a living until you get established. You have to have sponsors or you have to be real rich and have somebody else take care of your business while your fishing."
So Scheuer will continue to fish for the Mid-State Bass Association and he'll enjoy having bragging rights over his buddies for now because he knows that next season those little green fish might not be biting.
"Fishing is a real humbling sport," Scheuer said. "You do good for a while and you think, 'I'm really hot stuff.' But as soon as you start thinking that, you have a year or two where you don't catch as many fish. It'll make you think you forgot everything you learned."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.