A 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 lickety-split 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 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 field-support 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 four-day 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. 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.