By RALPH BARTHOLDT
COEUR d’ALENE — Antony Mello is doing his homework.
Dressed in a camo coat and a ballcap that advertises something outdoorsy, something to do with fishing, Mello watches the fish finder between his tennis-shoe clad feet as he casts toward shore across a drizzly Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“What’s up with this weather?” he asks.
Then, as if struck by a bug, he points to a spot on the screen of the Lowrance fish finder nestled into the deck of his bass boat.
“There’s a fish right there, it’s a smallmouth,” he says. “You can tell by the size and how it hangs off the bottom.”
The other fish that look like specks drifting past on the fish finder’s screen are probably perch, he says.
The spring rain starts to hasten as fat drops splat on the water and the wheels of cars whizzing by on the nearby highway splash and hiss.
Today’s homework includes learning a different area of the lake that Mello will likely be fishing in an upcoming tournament later in the year.
The 19-year-old bass scholar is a two-time state bass champion who twice made it to nationals while he was a Boise high school student.
These days, in addition to casting for bass as often as possible in pursuit of a spot on the Idaho pro team, the former wrestling standout is trolling for sponsors that would allow him more time with a line in the water and his foot on the peddle of his trolling motor.
“It’s tough to get sponsors,” Mello says as he drops a minnow-shaped plug off a point and starts cranking it toward the boat.
Being sponsored by a local restaurant, dealership, store or business could help with the entry fees to the tournaments he travels to, or with lodging and meals.
“Entry fees add up really fast,” he says.
Bigger sponsors such as bait or lure companies, boat manufacturers and gear makers have floated some offers, but he hasn’t bitten.
“If I want to be sponsored by them it would have to be with a product that I use and like,” he says, reeling and casting, one foot on the pedal of the trolling motor that hangs off the front of his Ragin’ Cajun 20-foot fiberglass bass boat. The boat has a carpeted deck and two seafoam-colored cushioned seats in back by the Mercury — where he and his fishing partner, Gabe Litterell, sit as they pound across Western lakes, chasing the hardware earned by hooking small and largemouth bass.
Mello, who works as a construction manager apprentice, came to Coeur d’Alene to wrestle. A high school mat standout and state champion, Mello trained hard throughout his school years in an effort to earn a grappling scholarship and attend college.
“Then I won back-to-back state bass fishing championships,” he said.
The fishing finned its way between his old dream and a new one.
He was invited to NIC to hit the mats, but he hit the lakes instead and hasn’t looked back, except at his wake.
Mello will fish in a tournament this weekend at Banks Lake, Wash., and recently finished a Moses Lake tournament. He won’t be tossing crank baits at bass in this weekend’s tourney on Lake Coeur d’Alene, but plans to enter another one here later in the summer.
Before his first cast on a lake that he hasn’t fished competitively, he turns to the internet for charts, or contour maps and studies weather patterns. This time of year, he looks for places that fish hang out before spawning next month.
“Every lake is different, and largemouth and smallmouth stage differently,” he says.
Largemouth bass may hang along a point, “because they want to push up that bay to spawn,” he says.
He marks those points on a GPS so he can find them later, and he keeps notes. Often in his head.
Mello has been doing this — slamming bass — for a long time. Both his dad and uncle fished competitively, and aside from wrestling, bass fishing has always been at the forefront of his mind since he was a boy.
“Growing up, I was always fishing,” he says.
The rain falls harder and a brisk wind turns the lake to a chop. Mello flips the collar up on his camouflage fishing coat.
“I want to take this to a whole other level,” he says. “I want it to be my career and my profession.”
Qualifying for the state bass angling team is the first step toward his goal.
When it’s time to head back to the dock, Mello sits in the open seat behind a short windshield and starts the 200 hp Mercury. He mulls the return trip.
“I could make it back in a couple minutes, but this rain might hurt,” he says.