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Bracketology collides with piscatology in pound-for-pound tourney

That early bow-out of the Salmonid Conference tournament really hurt the Chinook salmon's seeding in the Big Dance, so they'll have to go fin-to-fin against some of the South's best right at tip-off.

The Kings would have been a No. 2 seed — probably behind Steelhead, a perennial No. 1 seed — in the West Region. But bracketologists now have them a No. 4 seed in South Region, opening against a tough Mahi Mahi for the right to face either Carp or Smallmouth Bass in the Sweet Sixteen round.

At least the Northwest's two toughest fish aren't in the same region as Bluegill, which open against White Sturgeon in this inaugural tourney to see which game fish is, pound for pound, the toughest out there.

"I'm going to take the Bluegill over the White Sturgeon, but that's a tough one," says Mike Hodgdon, a Colorado internet marketer as he fills out his Big Fish Madness bracket. "Imagine the pull of a 300-pound bluegill."

This NCAA-style tournament of imaginary pull-offs among anglers' favorite game fish comes from Versus.com, which is borrowing March Madness bracketology to beg angling's age-old question — pound-for-pound, what's the toughest fish around.

Riding the expansive coat-tails of NCAA Basketball's March Madness, Versus.com has set up its first "Big Fish Madness." It's a faux tournament, where fish species square off in hypothetical, head-to-head match-ups for anglers to choose which fish species is the tougher fighter.

There are 32 species in the bracket. Anglers log on to www.versus.com, then pick the fish they believe would advance to the Sweet 16, Great 8, Final Four and, eventually, the single species they believe to be the toughest game fish, pound-for-pound.

The public's choices will be matched against a winner's bracket filled out collectively and in secret by a panel of Versus' on-air angling hosts. The panel includes Babe Winkelman, Roland Martin, Tred Barta and Hank Parker, and Al Lindner.

Various fishing shows on Versus over the next week will highlight the match-ups and reveal the panel's pick of head-to-head winners. The champion will be crowned March 23 on "The Best and Worst of Tred Barta."

Versus.com is quick to say it's not March Madness, which is a copyrighted trademark. But their madness runs concurrently with that of the NCAA's.

"It's a fun and spirited way to, hopefully, add to the discussion about which fish is the toughest, not solve it," says Ben Lines, Versus' director of events and promotions. "And this is a great time of year to spark that debate."

The pound-for-pound concept of comparing the fight in the fish is a simple one, one that can't keep anglers' traps shut.

Take two species of fish the same size, tie their tails together and see which one out-fights the other. Which fights better. Which fish is tougher.

"It's like the ultimate question to every angler," says Hodgdon, who considers such imponderables between selling online ads at www.bigfishtackle.com, where such chatter is fine fodder for fishing forums.

"And it's so hypothetical."

It's also very regional. Even secular.

Northwest anglers are fighting proud of steelhead, while Southerners can't say enough of their redfish, and Heartlanders always have a soft spot for bluegill.

"You'd get kicked out of Oregon if you didn't say steelhead," says Lines, who is based in Connecticut. "But you go to Boca Raton (Fla.), people say nothing out-fights a bonefish. Everyone has their thoughts on who your best fight was against."

There's also a saltwater verses freshwater bias. Rainbow trout in cold-water streams have devoted fans back to The Compleat Angler days, while bass anglers like Hodgdon can't discount their beloved "Wipers," a hybrid species cross of white and striped bass.

Mahi Mahi have a cult following and fighting a tarpon is a must on every anglers' 50 fish to fight before you die.

Peeking over Hodgdon's shoulder reveals the mammoth White Sturgeon and Bluegill battle a no-brainer, despite their big-school, small-school status.

Here, the Davids theoretically grow to the size of the Goliaths before they square off.

"The biggest bluegill I've ever caught is 2 pounds, and that thing really fought," Hodgdon says. "Imagine that bluegill the size of a sturgeon. You'd be out there fighting it all day."

Hodgdon is a Southern California native who has fished across the country and talked big fish daily on his Web site. So consider him the Dick Vitale of Big Fish Madness.

And like Dickie-V, Hodgdon has his PTP's — Prime Time Pisces.

Hodgdon sees Wahoo, Steelhead, Mahi Mahi and Bluegill making his Final Four.

In the semis, Hodgdon has Steelhead outrunning Wahoo in a thriller. In the Finals, they meet Bluegill, which swam circles around Mahi Mahi in their match.

It's a fight of the ages. The puffed-up David wins, fins down.

"If you really think about it, pound-for-pound, it's got to be bluegill," Hodgdon says. "They win. Hypothetically, of course."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Bracketology collides with piscatology in pound-for-pound tourney