“Sometimes I sit in my backyard, I kick back and drink iced tea…”
Dateline: Onondaga Ocean
Knock, knock little basses.
Knock, knock little Smallmouths
Knock, knock little Largemouths.
Ahab is here.
And the Captain has brought,
his dropshot … thingy.
“… I stare all the way to the ocean and dream of how it would be …”
I am rigged, and ready.
To catch me some basses.
On Onondaga Lake, right there where the New York State Thruway zips by the upstate town of Syracuse, N.Y.
The land of ‘Cuse.
Call me, Ahab.
You see, up until a moment ago, I had nothing against bass fishes. Then my wife and I got invited to fish a BASS TOURNAMENT.
FISH A TOURNAMENT!!!!
And suddenly, something inside me clicks, and… and I begin thinking … er not thinking … OBSESSING about “greenies” and “brownies” even though I’m not sure I could identify a “greenie” or “brownie” if they jumped out of the lake and slid down the new fishing pants with the zipper at my knees that I suddenly also became obsessed with.
I bought six pairs.
I’ll be on the water, all of 4 hours.
I’m suddenly going to bed reading the Bass Pro Shop catalog.
I’M FISHING A TOURNAMENT.
Four of my shirts now have Epilates.
My sunscreen SPF factor is so high, I’m almost invisible.
I asked the old guy at Walmart, the dude typing out my N.Y.S. Fishing License stuff one finger at a time, I asked him exactly this, “So, how ‘dey bitin’.”
I did so smiling standing in my new fishing pants, boat shoes and shirt with an epilate on my shoulder while holding a package of the stinkiest worm things, which frankly I think the EPA needs to be looking at …
… “So, how ‘dey bitin'”
“Date of Birth”
“Of the basses.”
“Date of birth.”
“How old do the basses I’m about rip lips and crank blast out of the lake, how old do they have to be …”
Now picture this … I’m standing in Walmart, back there in the corner where they stick the fishing stuff, I have on brand new, pressed with a crease, fishing pants, new shoes I bought that came with the holes already in them, a shirt with a flap so my back can breathe, SPF factor in the thousands, a backwards baseball cap and holding a package of fake worms that smells like pretty much how you would think the Middle Ages smelled like and I have just asked the one-finger-at-a-time-typing NYS fishing license Walmart guy if I have to basically card the basses before I put them in the live-well.
He’s just looking at me.
My wife Barb has walked away pretending we suddenly needed Walmart towels in our house.
Come on … don’t be thinking that … I’m well aware I’m in a “blue state” one with all them rules … who’s to say someone in the fish regulatin’ biz in Albany didn’t come up with this rule, “before you start throwing all them basses in your livewell they have to be at least 12 inches long and a teenager.”
“Sir … YOUR date of birth.”
“Oh … my bad.”
“…If I were a ship captain somewhere…”
And with several apologies … and 15-bucks … I become a legit Bass Tournament Angler.
Knock, knock basses.
On the way out of the store, I bought this singing Bass wall thing.
Just had to have it.
So in the parking lot Barb, now also a fully licensed Bass Tournament Angler, looks at me and says exactly this, “I just don’t want to come in last.”
And I comfort my wife, soul mate, and loved one of either 37 or 38 years by saying exactly this, “Hon … we are going to kick their butts.”
I’m flexing my chest and my now able to breathe back, and to make the point even louder, I walk with my new shoes with holes in them right through a Walmart puddle.
In the 4runner with the A/C now blowing on my cold wet socks Barb says, “But we are fishing against the best in the world, and quite possibly, we may be the worst in the world.”
And shiver as my now fresh air back, meets air conditioning.
“…or an old fashioned sailor at sea…”
Here’s the deal, Barb and I have been invited to fish a couples tournament.
Barb and I being a couple.
As will be all the other people.
‘Cept one small detail.
At least half of every other couple will have an ELITE SERIES angler fishing.
Not us though.
So when I said we would be happy to be in the tournament, I should have ended my sentence right there, instead of where I did which was, “… and we will kick your butt.”
Not something you want to tell Kevin Short, John Murray, J. Todd Tucker, Randy Howell, Steve Kennedy or Cliff Crochet.
But I did.
I now know how bait fish feel in a sea of sharks.
The tournament … actually the secondannual one except we don’t actually do it every year … will be a fundraiser for Tackle The Storm Foundation. Each Elite couple will donate some cash to the foundation to help the kids who have lost everything to storms … and also for the pleasure of handing me my you know what.
I also got donations of fishing stuff … Darin Dohi the head dude at Seeker Rods sent Barb and I a rod each to use in the tournament. Mark “Skippy” Copley at Strike King sent us two reel things to put on the Seeker rods and a whole bunch of bait stuff … things I’m told are crankbaits and plastics.
All of the donated fishing stuff will be auctioned off after the tourney with all the money going to Tackle The Storm Foundation. In fact one of the Seeker rods was bought right at the boat ramp … thanks Uncle Buff.
It is 10am … a way better “Safe Light” if you ask me … since I’m the Tournament Director, I give them the rules, “You know what you are doing and I don’t so it is a five fish limit and the fish have to be 12 inches long … ready … set … GO!”
No mention of how old the bass should be.
Left that point out.
“…maybe I’d sail from Nantucket chasing the great white whale…”
K-Pink baits the hook and hands me the rod, “Don’t kill anyone on board please.”
Barb and I are fishing from behind the seats in the pink boat. K-Pink and his wife, Kerry (K2 as I call her) are fishing up in the front part.
Barb whispers to me, “I don’t want to be in last place.”
I tell her there is no chance of that since we have driven at 70mph across the lake to get to this spot, “…and all the basses are still swimming to catch up to us so they are coming right at the backside of the boat…we got this babe…we’ll get all the pooped-out-from-swimming-to-catch-us bass.”
Piece of cake.
Two hours later, we have no pooped out bass.
K-Pink and K2 … have a limit.
They are throwing fish back.
Even when I drop my bait stuff right into the bubbles where they just plopped a bass back … I still have nothing.
I’m thinking, we might not even make last place, but as a loving husband I don’t mention it to my couples tournament partner.
So I do what I know every great angler does … I start talking to the fish.
I’m back behind the boat seats and I’m saying, “Please fishing god ruler of the lake, please just have one blind stupid hungry bass not know I have some fake food out there and just bite the damn thing.”
I see a kid on the bank roll up a piece of bread on a shoe lace and safety pin and catch a five pounder.
And me … all I have is a dragon fly sitting on my supposedly invisible line.
“Kevin…how deep is it here.”
I am not a patient man.
I’m starting to take my shoes with holes in them off when Barb says, “Don’t you even think of jumping in.”
Being the Tournament Director, as I am, I know full well I never mentioned EXACTLY how to catch the fish … CrankBait, DropShot, by Hand … never actually came up.
Suddenly, the rod snaps in my hand, I look at it in amazement, vaguely aware of some yelling from the front of the boat.
I watch as the tip bends this way and that way, I see a big flash of white just below the surface, while noticing that the yelling is getting louder…and closer…
“Reel…REEL…reel it in db…” Kevin says as he is bounding from the front of the boat.
Oops..forgot the object of the game isn’t actually to catch the fish…the object is to move the fish from the lake to the livewell.
So I start reeling, while looking at Kevin with the look that said, “Would you get your arse back here and do something after all you are the Elite guy and I’m just the dummy guy who just caught the secondfish OF HIS FREAKIN’ LIFE.”
“…oh without a sound, I’d run him aground then I’d bring old Ahab the tail…”
Somehow based on mainly luck that a real dumb fish swam by my hook, I caught the fish … maybe a 2-pounder with a low IQ … and 3 other bass. Barb also caught a bass, she had to fight it a while, so she caught the smart one.
K-Pink and K2 had a limit long ago. They boated a little over 12 pounds of basses.
Barb and I managed to get a little under 9 pounds of fish into the livewell.
We did not come in last place.
First place went to the Cajun Baby … Cliff Crochet and his girlfriend, Sara … they caught 17 1/2 pounds of what should have been my basses.
But to be honest, I knew this on the shore, I knew this on the lake, I knew this back in the parking lot as we weighed in the fish..
…it ain’t about the fish.
It’s about your friends.
It’s about the yucks and the stories told in the boat.
It’s about sportsmanship.
But above all … it is about talent.
For those of you who read me, and don’t fish … please try it … please … because only then will you understand the challenge it is …o nly then will you understand how much time and effort goes into the art, the science of fishing.
And once you get that, you will understand the joy of fishing.
The magic of the treasure under the water.
I have now fished twice in my life, and each time I have come away with a deep respect for the planet we live on.
And the balance this planet demands of us.
Catch the fish, but be gentle with this living creature…and put it back. Respect life whether it has legs or fins.
And then there is this … I am blessed to be able to cover a sport where the athletes are doing exactly what they were put on this planet to do.
They are called Elites because they are elite.
A special thanks to Kevin and Kerry Short, John and Amy Murray, Steve and Julia Kennedy, Robin and Randy Howell, JTodd and Uncle Buff, Cliff and Sara…and also to Ott and Jenny Defoe who showed up and launched but who had babysitting issues for their infant twins and daughter Abbey and who had to leave early.
Thanks to those folks the tournament has raised so far … $400 for Tackle The Storm Foundation … and that alone will put rods and reels into the hands of 55 children.
No basses were harmed in the making of this story …
… but my ego was crushed.
“…yeah I’d bring old Ahab his tail.”