Bankin' on Winnin'

The Swamp Gas Corners Bass Club's tournament year was drawin' to a close, and once again me 'n' Harry was in a dead heat with Wilbur Wangle (Harry's arch rival) 'n' Crusty Popodopolous (the club president), last year's winnin' team. Only one more tournament remained on the docket, and its location was about to be revealed at our club meeting. Whichever team won it would be crowned Anglers of the Year!

The Dew Drop Inn was packed with bass clubbers. As expected, Wilbur 'n' Crusty was makin' the rounds, blowin' smoke about how they was gonna be the championship team again this year. "Charlie, I'd like to congratulate you," Wilbur allowed as he shook my hand. "Somehow you've managed to put your team way up there in the points standings, in spite of being burdened by a partner who's an incompetent doofus!"

"Oh yeah?" Harry snarled. "I was about to say the same thing to Crusty!"

"Order! Order! This here meeting will come to order!" Crusty demanded. "We'll hereby dispense with the reading of the minutes and git down to the bidness of finding out where the final tournament of the year will be held." He hoisted two cheesy pot metal trophies and said, "As you know, the Anglers of the Year will take home $500 and these two swell trophies! So, without further ado, I'll turn the meeting over to our esteemed tournament director, Dead-Eye Dingle."

The aged angler hobbled to the podium and croaked, "Boys, for our last tournament of the year, we've been granted permission to fish Shady Acres Lake — a private lake on the outskirts of town!"

"Exactly how many acres is Shady Acres Lake?" wondered Mouse Mozzarella.

"Thirty," Dead-Eye replied.

"What?!" Lefty LePieux steamed. "We got 25 teams signed up for this tournament! How we gonna fit 25 boats on a 30-acre lake?!"

"That's the catch!" Dead-Eye answered with a crafty smirk. "There ain't gonna be no boats! Everybody's gotta fish from the bank!"

Well sir, every bass clubber who was making payments on a fancy bass rig went ballistic upon hearin' this news, but not me 'n' Harry. "Yes!" my pal enthused, givin' me a high-five. "All them years of sneakin' into farm ponds 'n' private lakes has finally paid off! Nobody's better at catching lunkers from shore than we is!"

Come Saturday, we all met at the Truck-A-Teria at 5 a.m., then followed Dead-Eye to the hidden lake. The caravan turned off the main road onto a gravel trail that ended at an iron gate. Dead-Eye unlocked the gate and ordered, "Grab your fishin' gear from your vehicles and follow me!"

It was quite a sight — 50 bass clubbers, each totin' an arsenal of rods, reels 'n' tackleboxes, marched through the woods. "Y'know, bank fishin' requires a lot more physical stamina than fishin' from a fancy bass rig!" Harry informed Wilbur as we slogged along. "As out of shape as you is, I'd suggest headin' back to your truck right now, before you suffers some sorta seizure!"

"Don't be pullin' them mind games on me!" Wilbur retorted. "I've caught more big basses from the bank that you ever dreamed of!"

Finally we topped a hill and Shady Acres Lake lay before us, all bassy-lookin' in the misty dawn. It had all the markings of a genuine lunker factory: water the color of pea soup, grassy flats on one side, steep banks indicating deep water on another side, and plenty of logs and stumps protrudin' above the surface. "Be still my heart!" Harry twitched excitedly. "We're about to get our strings stretched!"

"OK, y'all listen up to the rules," Dead-Eye said. "We'll fish till noon. I'll be on yonder dock to weigh and record your fish as you catch 'em, but each team is only allowed to bring five bass total to the scales! There won't be no cullin', so you'll hafta decide right then and there whether you wanna weigh in each bass you catch! Everybody ready?" KA-BLAM!! He fired the official starting gun in the air, and we all ran helter-skelter to find a good spot on the bank.

"Phew!" I panted as I plopped down my tacklebag at the edge of a grassy knoll that sloped off quickly into the lake. "Bank fishin' is too much like work!"

"This looks like a choice spot!" Harry exclaimed. He chunked a spinnerbait with blades the size of hubcaps into the murky water and retrieved it past a submerged tree. Instantly a 2-pounder grabbed it! "Now what should I do? Weigh it in or let it go?" he wondered as he examined the keeper.

My first cast answered that question when a clone of Harry's bass swallered my scuppernong Jelly Worm. "I bet there's a zillion 2-pounders in this lake, so let's try for somethin' bigger," I suggested. We both flipped our keepers back into the water and kept on chunkin'.

Wilbur saw us catch them two basses and sauntered toward us to try his luck. "Stand back, you varmint!" Harry insisted. "This here's our spot!"

"I didn't hear no rule about how close members of opposing teams could be to each other, but if you wanna go back to the dock and file a official complaint with Dead-Eye, go right ahead!" Wilbur allowed as he chunked his trusty Hula Popper toward our sunken tree. It landed with a plop, he popped it once, and instantly a 4-pounder loaded on!

"Why, you no-good polecat!" Harry huffed as Wilbur began reelin' his bass to the bank. "I'll teach you to horn in on our real estate!" He cast a frog-pattern Devil's Horse across Wilbur's line and snagged it. Wilbur's fish felt some slack, gave a flop, and the hook fell out! "There!" Harry snapped. "That'll teach ya!"

That's when the brawl ensued! Wilbur hit Harry with a left hook to the nose, Harry countered with a right cross to Wilbur's chin, and a crowd gathered as they both commenced to rollin' down the grassy slope! They snarled and swung at each other like a couple of alley cats until they both ended up in the lake!

KA-BLAMMM!!! Dead-Eye fired a warning shot with the startin' gun and hollered, "OK, you hoodlums, break it up! Any more shenanigans and you'll both be disqualified!"

"Help me keep an eye on that scumbag, will ya, Charlie?" Harry sputtered as he coughed up a tadpole.

"Quit worryin' so much about Wilbur and start focusin' on catchin' a big bass!" I suggested.

We caught a half-dozen more scant keepers but nothin' worth weighin' in, so we decided to move to another locale. We hiked to the upper end of the lake to where a little feeder creek flowed in, but the ground there was so swampy, we almost lost our tennis shoes in the suckin' mud. That's when Harry spied an old wooden flatbottom boat half-buried in the grass. "That'd make a swell casting platform!" he said. "Let's slide 'er down the bank so's we can stand on it and keep our feet dry!"

"Better not turn that boat over!" I cautioned. "That's a perfect hidin' place for …"

"SNAKES!!!" Harry shrieked as he flipped over the boat to reveal a writhing colony of cottonmouths! He froze in his tracks, but I managed to jerk him out of harm's way just as the menacing moccasins commenced to strikin'!

The bigger fish proved hard to come by — it took us nearly all morning to scratch out four that weighed 12 pounds, 1 ounce. At 11:45, Wilbur 'n' Crusty weighed in their fifth fish, which put them in the lead with 14-12. "We still got time to catch us a 3-pounder and win this tournyment!" Harry panted as he chunked his spinnerbait at a half-submerged brushpile. As the lure throbbed past the shrubbery, there was a toilet-flush boil, his rod bowed double and he set the hook in the lunker of a lifetime!

"What a monster!" I gasped as Harry's bass leapt clear of the water, then splashed down like a sack of potatoes. "She's 12 pounds if she's an ounce!"

Suddenly Wilbur appeared behind Harry and whispered in his ear, "Right now you is probably wishin' you'd changed your line before the tournament! That kinky ol' mono on your reel is so full of nicks 'n' scrapes, it could break any second!" But Harry's line held, and he had the lunker just about whupped! He was just about to slide his prize onto the bank when, from out of nowhere, a Godzilla-size alligator appeared and CHOMP!!! gobbled down the behemoth bass in one toothy gulp!

KA-BLOOEY! Dead-Eye's shotgun sounded again, this time signifyin' the end of the tournament. "Tough luck, Harry!" I sighed. "I guess we'll have to wait till next season to be Anglers of the Year!"

"Don't make me no never mind," Harry winked as he spit out a chewin' tobakky stem. "At least that gator didn't get my spinnerbait! And, now we got us a brand new lake to sneak into!"