I remember the time I fished my first tournament by myself. I was nervous as could be and you know what happens when you let the moment overwhelm your emotions; you make mistakes. That dang trailer didn’t have an inch of grip tape or even diamond plate to give my boots any grip when boarding the boat. The only ounce of grip you had was certain rust spots on the trailer.
Of course, I feel like everyone at the boat ramp was looking at me. They weren’t, but I was a young kid and not nearly as secure with myself as I am today. I was in this ugly, patched-up boat and I’m surrounded by 150 sparkly boats that shined like new pennies. Needless to say, I slipped off that nasty trailer and got wet. We ain’t talking about my boots getting wet, either. We’re talking about ol’ Walk doing a cannonball into 48-degree water and submerging his entire body underwater.
I was hoping nobody noticed. But my ded gum left boot let out the biggest squeak you can possibly imagine as I slipped, which served as everyone’s alert to look at the young scrawny kid in mid air. I’m almost in tears laughing as I type this, but man, it was mortifying at the time. Any pattern I had went out the window that day and I just fished sunny banks all day so I wouldn’t get pneumonia. But I can remember every fish I caught that day and exactly what I caught ’em on. The guys were all really cool about it at weigh-in, too. I made a few friends that afternoon that I still talk to nearly every day.
I also remember the time I hit my buddy right in the face with a goose. That old bass boat didn’t have hydraulic steering so compared to my current boat, it turned like an 18 wheeler. Two buddies and I had been working on the Johnson GT150 one afternoon, which was quite the regular occurence, and we needed to go run it around the lake to check some things. We were cruising about 30 mph and this dang flock of geese landed right in front of the boat. I don’t know how you don’t see a bass boat three-deep with ugly kids coming towards you but apparently they weren’t the most observant animals on the lake that day.
As they landed, our eyes got as big around as tennis balls. I looked at my friend who was sitting in the port-side of the bench seat and all I saw were his eyes frantically looking for an escape route while he repeated the same four-letter word in slow motion. My other buddy was looking down which would soon prove to be a painful mistake.
I tried to turn that dern steering wheel as hard as I could and I could barely get it to budge. The frantic port-side buddy totally panicked and just dove head-first into the floor of the boat. Even though he weighs about 300 pounds, I’ve never seen a big man move so quickly. That joker looked like Pete Rose sliding into home plate. Looking back, it was a thing of beauty.
But the middle seat guy was not as fortunate. The dude got jacked up by an overgrown duck. He looked up after he felt the 300-pounder’s thud on the bottom of the boat and was greated by a large Canadian goose right in the face. Now, I don’t know how much a goose of Canadian descent weighs, but it looked about the size of a wild turkey and I’ve never seen three 18-year-old supposed men scream like that. We had this huge goose in my buddies lap, my other friend on the ground covering his face while hollering like a young child and I’m also screaming, “Hold it together!” while trying to keep us from running onto the shore. I was picking feathers out of my boat for days.
I also think about the time my bearings locked up on the way back from the lake. I was a dumb kid; we’ve already established that. I was pulling into the gas station on the way home and I smelled something burning. I just kinda said “screw it” and got back in the truck. As I was driving down the highway about to pull into my apartment complex, I looked in my rear view mirror and couldn’t see the boat. I saw smoke instead.
I had a tournament in two weeks at Logan Martin, so I had an army of buddies in the back parking lot of that apartment complex lined up waiting to help me fix everything. I learned how to take better care of my stuff and I also learned how many good people I knew. Those late nights spent in that parking lot were some of the most fun and frustrating memories I have of my college experience.