Growing up in Australia, Kim Bain-Moore heard tales of the fabled Florida largemouth bass.
"All I ever did was fish, but in our freshwater lakes, we only had white bass, which are much smaller," she said. "I always dreamed about coming to the United States and fishing for the largemouths."
As a girl, she loved to watch the Bassmaster Classic, referred to as the Super Bowl of Freshwater Fishing, on television. But this weekend, she earned her place in the record books as the first woman to compete in the 39-year-old event.
"I can't believe I am here," Bain-Moore, 28, said Thursday, the night before she and 50 other anglers were to take off out of Shreveport, La., onto the Red River. "I am still adjusting to all the attention."
Bain-Moore, who moved to the United States when she was 19, has been a media darling in recent months. The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric recently did a segment on Bain-Moore after she qualified for this year's event by winning the 2008 angler of the year title on the five-tournament Women's Bassmaster Tour.
But not all of her fellow competitors are happy about her presence at this year's event.
"Kim is a really good angler, and she's also a good ambassador for the sport," Gainesville bass pro Bernie Schultz told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "But the simple fact remains that she did not qualify like the rest of the competitors. She didn't compete against the guys who earned the right to be here. She competed with a completely different league of anglers."
Bain-Moore takes the criticism in stride. "I think I have earned everybody's respect," she said. "At first, I think they didn't know what to think. But once they saw that I could drive the boat, cast and land a fish, just like them, things quieted down a bit."
She has been to the Classic before, as both spectator and a television analyst. In 2005, Andre Moore, a Classic competitor, proposed to her on stage.
"I have done all types of fishing," said Bain-Moore, who lives in Pelham, Ala. "My father was a big saltwater angler. And my husband and I compete in the SKA kingfish tournaments. I just love to fish."
The Classic, which concludes today, will be broadcast at 10 tonight on ESPN2. Bain-Moore finished 47th after catching a Day 2 five-fish limit of 8 pounds, 12 ounces for a combined weight of 12 pounds, 2 ounces. Leader Jami Fralick of Martin, S.D., has 38 pounds, 9 ounces as the top 25 move to today's final.
"Well I did it … I walked across the stage and weighed in at the Bassmaster Classic," Bain-Moore wrote on her ESPN.com blog after Day 1. "That's it right there — a life's dream fulfilled!"
Even though she won't win the $500,000 first prize, Bain-Moore said she hopes her being part of this year's event will bring more attention to the sport and encourage more women to fish.
"When I came here I had nothing," she said. "I just packed a bag, bought a ticket, and next thing I knew, I was in Los Angeles looking for a place to stay."
She started in small region tournaments and worked her way up through the ranks.
By 2008, her rookie year on the women's tour, her career gained momentum. She won the first event, never finished lower than sixth in the next three, then won the tour's championship and points race, which earned her a berth in the 2009 Classic.
"You just have to go out there and do your best," she said. "That is all I want to do. That is all I can ask for."