I hope everyone had a warm, safe and blessed Christmas.
As far as simply starting a column, this one has been the most difficult. Ecclesiastes teaches that there is a season for all things. Unfortunately, that applies to blogs, as well.
In a nutshell, this week's column is the last one for "The Reel World."
It's ironic that just as I didn't know how to start The Reel World 18 months ago, I'm not sure how to end it now.
The first thing I need to do is thank Bassmaster.com, especially Ken Duke and the editorial team. What a fantastic opportunity and ride this column has been!
More importantly, though (I know Ken understands), is that I want to thank the readers of "The Reel World."
It has been my privilege to hear from many good folks over the last year and a half. Without exaggeration or false humility, it has been a sincere honor. The trust and confidence the readers have extended to me has been so positive and meaningful that it changed my perspective on the world in general and bass fishing in particular.
The feedback I received allowed me to see inside the mind of folks from all over this great nation and the world. I also received many messages from our troops stationed home and abroad. What a great feeling to know that our troops fighting half a world away — fighting for our liberty — take the time to read a simple blog from a fellow bass angler.
There is one thing I'm admittedly proud of regarding the column — aside from a few broad natured pokes at Washington's foibles, The Reel World never lowered itself to mudslinging or adolescent drama to garner more interest. Our column was above all that and the readers deserved better than that.
As it stands, the wonderful experiment of a weekly blog that chronicled the life of the average bass fisherman has come to an end. The story, however, will continue! The adventures I wrote about are your adventures. The people I met are your friends. The places I fished and the stories I heard are the same.
You live them.
After all this time, I think it's acceptable to write: My friends, what a joy it has been to be a part of your lives and to share a part of mine with you. You all have made me a better person. Thank you. Thank you.
Please know that Bassmaster.com has a great new audio blog scheduled to appear in the place of "The Reel World." It will feature Mark Davis and, in my opinion, it's going to be fantastic! His story is inspiring and his knowledge is vast. I'm looking forward to listening to Mark's blog and I think it will be a perfect addition to the site.
It's been a blast, loyal readers. I'll still be writing articles and such for Bassmaster.com, so please keep in touch.
As before and as always, thank you for the honor. Tight lines!
Please feel free to e-mail me with comments or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading, be safe and good luck!
I intended to submit a "Changes within, part 2" column this week, but something else came up. I think it's a little more interesting.
Last week I found myself near Happy Valley Reservoir in mid-afternoon. The weather was cold and rainy, and the wind was starting to pick up. Thinking that the guys in the guardhouse would be bored, I decided to drive to the lake and see those rascals. I was betting they weren't busy with fishermen, given the weather.
As I drove down the hill leading to the parking lot, I saw a truck with an empty trailer. As I continued into the lot, I also saw a boat with two bundled anglers making their way back to the ramp.
"You gotta be kidding me," I thought. "Those guys are either really dedicated or insane."
Of course, amongst us fisherman, the line dividing dedication and insanity is often thin.
I parked my truck as the anglers reached the ramp and secured the boat. I had to get their story. I had to find out what motivates folks to fish in this weather. I had to find out if they were successful, at least.
As it turns out, the intrepid fishermen were Evan Catz and Brent Perkey, two young fellows who have been friends and fishing buddies since high school.
I asked why they came out on that cold, wet day. They both looked a little surprised at the question and said it was to "get together and have a good time. Maybe catch some stripers."
That was a great answer.
I enjoyed speaking with these fellows for maybe half an hour and found out that they don't frequent Happy Valley much, but they'll be coming back more. I also found out that, although they bass fish quite a bit, they also pursue other species like musky and walleye. From what they told me, it seems they're pretty good at catching them, too.
Right before they left, I asked them if they had anything else to say. Brent offered, "Fish as much as you can every day, if you have the chance."
Evan nodded and replied, "Try to get kids involved, and try to introduce fishing to friends."
Now, I know this story isn't Pulitzer material. I do know, however, that it's a perfect example of what's great about the younger generation in our sport.
Here were two young men with the world as their oyster. They could have done just about anything on that miserable day. Instead, they chose to load up a boat and go on an adventure.
The allure of fishing runs deep in those of us who are smitten with its ways. It is powerful, indeed, to pull two guys away from computer games or the comforts of a warm home.
I believe it was the wisdom of youth.
Please feel free to e-mail me with comments or ideas at email@example.com. Thanks for reading, be safe and good luck!
It's been an amazing experience to write "The Reel World" for the last year and a half. It's also been a very humbling experience.
Very few people remain the same over time. Our personalities change, our tastes mature, our outlooks and philosophies evolve. In my opinion, to remain static and uninfluenced by the events and people in our lives would be boring. Our time on this Earth is too short for boring.
There are two ideas I carried around with me for years before starting this column, and I'd like to address how each of them has changed.
1. Prior to June 2008, I believed that organizations such as Bassmaster.com had enormous budgets with almost unlimited staff. This is not the case. I have found that a limited but highly talented staff brings the site to us every day. Their duties are immense, yet they are completed. They work under some pretty intense deadlines with budgets that reflect our current economic reality. They do so for the love of the sport and its players, as well as simply to earn a living. They also perform this work in anonymity. No confetti parades for them, just the knowledge that they breathe life into the most popular bass fishing Web site in history.
2. I'm embarrassed to say that I used to believe that the guys who wear jerseys sporting all kinds of logos are generally wannabe professionals. After meeting several of these fellows and becoming acquainted with their "sponsors," I now understand their perspective. Aside from the guy who sews on any patch he gets his hands on, many dedicated and honorable folks want to help the smaller manufacturers, even if it's free.
Simple as that.
I have had the opportunity to talk with many cottage industry bait creators, lure painters, rod builders, reel tuners, boat product makers and boat wrappers. These people believe in their products, and they want to be a part of the success of our sport. Most of them didn't get into the business to become filthy rich. In fact, for most, it's a time-consuming hobby. Nevertheless, they contribute a great deal to the passion we all embrace.
I no longer look askew at the guy with stickers all over his boat or a patch-burdened fishing vest. These anglers, largely, want to help the little guy. They use the products the little guy makes and they appreciate the effort the little guy puts into it.
More power to the fellow with a burdened vest and a Web site logo on his truck. The big guys even understand that it's good for the sport, in general. They didn't all start out as industry leaders, either.
I know a few small manufacturers I'd be proud to share the news about, too.
Indeed, my perspective has changed and, I hope, for the better.
Please feel free to e-mail me with comments or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading, be safe and good luck!
Wow! I never expected such a great response to the last column about the importance of life vests. Out of respect for the appreciated feedback, I'd like to post a few edited excerpts from selected e-mails to eliminate any doubt in our minds that boating safety can be a life or death issue.
The first e-mail is from Dan Cleaver. His story speaks for itself:
"I was wearing slick shoes, and I lost my balance. Next thing I realized, I'm looking through 2 feet of water as I struggle to grab the boat. My first thought was 'Why hadn't my inflatable life vest popped?' Then I realized I had slipped out of it. It was a Father's Day gift, and it was sitting in the boat's seat. I was wearing long johns, sweat pants and three top layers and it became instantly unmanageable. I was lucky enough to hold on to the rail as my buddy idled to a spot where I could get to my feet. The whole incident had taken about 5 minutes, and I was totally exhausted, but no longer stupid. Tell all your friends, family and readers to never, never, never take off your personal flotation devices if you are fishing alone, if you are fishing with novice boaters or if the water temp is below 70 degrees. Very simply, never take off your PFD while you're in the boat. I never will again."
Matt Goins shared this:
"I fell over and my clothes were filling up with water. I could not pull myself up into the boat. Every time I tried, I would sink. My wife told me to go to the back of the boat and grab the motor. Knowing she would not stop until I did, I went to the back of the boat and grabbed the outboard. Once I grabbed the motor, my wife hit the trim button and the motor lifted me out of the water. I went out the next day and bought an inflatable PFD."
Darold Gleason sent this sobering message:
"I helped search for two guys at Sam Rayburn Reservoir. They were not as lucky as you. They were unable to save themselves due to their overalls and boots. If I'm wearing my cold weather gear, I always keep my life jacket on. Glad you passed on the word of safety to others."
Most drownings can be prevented. The experiences above are real life. I promise not to beat this drum forever, but I wanted to strike while the iron was hot.
Reality eventually finds us all.
I also want to thank David Landon, Scott Staples, Chris Barrett, Bill Barnett, Jake Chambers and many others for their quality feedback. I wish I had space to post every e-mail.
It seems this year has been a doozy as far as personal injuries. I've chronicled a couple of them such as the braid cuts and the swine flu. I was sort of hoping I would be clear of such extreme drama for a while.
No such luck. In fact, the latest story could have had a much worse ending.
Last weekend I went out in the boat with a friend, Larry Sharp. It was a cold, windy morning and I was wearing clothes that included long johns, insulated bib overalls, layers of shirts and a parka. I had every intention of staying warm, I guarantee.
About midmorning we came upon a sunken hump and decided to try our luck. I stopped the big motor, took off my bulky life vest and sat down in the front to troll.
Somehow, the rolling waves from the wind and a broken pedestal seat conspired to throw me off the side of the boat. All I remember was reaching to my left for some reason and then looking up at the boat through water.
My initial reaction was embarrassment. I'd never fallen from a boat before, and I knew Larry was going to rib me about it for a long time.
My second reaction was confusion that I couldn't swim very well. I'd always been a good swimmer, but this was going badly very quickly.
I managed to grab hold of the boat, but all the clothes I was wearing were dragging me down. On top of that, I could feel the overalls filling with water. Every time I moved or tried to pull myself into the boat, it caused the clothing to get heavier.
Within seconds I realized this wasn't going to be a dunk and climb. The cold water and the struggle with the added weight were causing me to lose my grip on the boat. Larry was trying to pull me back up, but that was hopeless.
I suddenly realized that I was in serious trouble. I was going to drown if I couldn't make it to shallow water quickly.
I wrapped my arm around a rail the best I could and told Larry to idle us to shore. Thankfully, I had shown him how to start the boat earlier that day.
Thank God for serendipity.
I literally held on for life as Larry got us to a place I could stand. I was exhausted, though, and could barely stand up. My legs were like rubber bands and my arms were drained completely.
I owe my life to Larry Sharp and his calmness. I also owe the good Lord and plan on thanking Him daily.
Please take boating safety seriously. From now on, I will keep the float cushion handy, I'm buying a ladder and I'm wearing an inflatable PFD.
Life's too precious for stupid.
I got that scratchy throat feeling about two weeks ago. I took some meds and expected the stuff to come and go in a few days.
It became worse. As it turned out, what I thought was a cold that had turned into strep throat was actually the one and only H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
I missed some work, but late last week I felt a little better. By Friday, I felt well enough to take the boat out on Saturday. Well, let's just say I rationalized that I felt well enough to fish.
I moseyed over to Happy Valley early Saturday afternoon. After dropping the boat and getting back in to troll away from the dock, I discovered that the trolling motor wasn't working. It had worked when I tested it earlier, but now it was dead.
I had already pushed off from the dock and the wind was quickly driving the boat toward a bunch of tied up paddleboats. Thankfully, no one else was trying to launch so I had time to check switches, connections, etc.
The motor started working again after I wiggled the plug connection, and I thought I was good to go. At least I'd found out that the plug was going bad.
Since Happy Valley is a restricted horsepower or electric motor only lake, I started trolling across to a rock wall in hopes of locating some smallies.
Suddenly, about halfway across, the motor stops again. "No worries," I thought, "I'll just mess with the plug again."
Twenty minutes later, I'd drifted across to the rock wall and was still no closer to finding out why the motor wasn't running.
Not having a tool kit didn't help, either.
Fortunately, I had brought an extra-deep-cycle battery because I hadn't had a chance to charge the one on the boat. During those 20 minutes, I'd discovered that the indicator said the battery was dead so I switched out batteries, but still no trolling motor.
I checked all the fuses and connections again with no luck. At this point, I had resigned myself to calling the Happy Valley office and asking for a tow back to shore. The problem was that those rascals are good friends of mine, and I would never hear the end of it.
In a last ditch attempt to salvage my pride and maybe even have a chance to fish a little, I decided to remove the trolling motor plug and wire the leads directly to the extra battery.
Success! The trolling motor snapped to life like it was free-basing electricity. I was golden and even had a couple hours left to fish.
The moral of the story for me is that it's important to learn how bass boats are wired. I'm going to trace and label every wire so that the spaghetti mess I had to deal with initially won't be an issue. Plus, a good toolkit is essential.
Live and learn.
It's official the readers of The Reel World know what they're talking about.
This unsurprising revelation has come to me over the last few weeks as I dealt with a new boat and tow vehicle.
Shortly after posting the news of the boat back in October, I was happily inundated with good advice and quality tips. So far, what I've received has been spot on.
The journey from non-boater to boater has been an insightful one. After many years as an observant non-boater, I thought I knew something about boats and what it takes to keep them up. I thought I knew something about operating them correctly and safely, as well. I even thought I knew something about outfitting a bass boat.
Maybe I know more than someone who never set foot on a boat, but that's about it.
The learning curve has been pretty steep lately, but thankfully, I have some great information to help me through it.
For instance, when I bought the hitch I was able to tell the guy I needed a 2-inch ball with a 2-inch shank. Nothing to it.
Of course, when I had to turn the hitch over to raise the height, I discovered that the nut was cross-threaded and ultimately had to be cut off and replaced.
All part of the curve.
The first time I finally hooked the boat up and pulled out on the highway made me a little nervous. A hundred thoughts were going through my mind- Is there enough room? What if the truck stalls? Will I run over the curb? What if the trailer comes unhitched?
I just told myself to, "Man up and drive, Nancy Boy".
I was good to go after a few miles, but it sure is a different animal to pull a boat on the road rather than just pulling an empty trailer off a ramp and into a parking spot.
And, how's this for speed learning the storage spot I have was wide open in front when I rented it. Now there are poles for a new storage area directly across from mine. The room I had to back the boat up has been cut in half.
I almost balked.
I admit that I was a little intimidated at the reduced maneuvering space at first. Nevertheless, like a bass angler, I manned up and just did it.
In a way, pulling the boat out of that tight spot and then backing it in with no mishaps was like a rite of passage. Everybody with a boat will have to do that eventually. Why not get it over with?
It may take me a while to really get the hang of the "boat thing". At least I know I don't know everything and I'm willing to learn. That's a plus. I'm also taking the advice of more than one reader who wrote, "It's better to go slow and let people think you're a fool than to speed up and prove it."
I fished the last tournament of the year today. No more club events or local circuits.
Unless there is a benefit or pickup tournament, the well has run dry.
In the past, this brought a sad feeling to heart similar to finishing a good book or watching the credits roll in a movie that I don't want to end.
This year, however, I'm OK with it. Unfortunately, I think I know why.
Perhaps my general wish for 2009 to be over may have something to do with it. As much as I cherish every day of life, and as grateful as I am for the blessings in my life, it seems time for 2009 quietly to retire. This year needs to accept the inevitable and mosey on.
In reality, though, I think that's a copout.
The real truth the ugly truth is that I need to reset my priorities. If I may wear my heart on my sleeve for a few paragraphs, I'll explain.
Throughout the year, I've come very close to losing my focus on the real reasons I love bass fishing. Though I firmly believe I've regained that focus, I need to reinforce it, and the best way will be to fish for the sake of fishing.
I think the great number of tournaments I fished this year took its toll. By September, I was so caught up in the competition aspect of fishing that I lost sight of the enjoyment.
A few years ago, a friend told me about a guy he knew who didn't enjoy fishing unless he was competing. At the time, I couldn't understand the concept. This year I came perilously close to understanding it all too well.
The competition bug grabbed me and almost took over. By late summer, my main goals became finding a tournament and trying to win. I even found myself competing against fishing buddies who asked me to join them simply for a day of fun.
The turning point came after a bad tournament in September. Thankfully, I came to my senses before too much damage was done.
However, a quiet voice inside is saying I need more "therapy." I need to walk the bank with bank fishing friends and take the boat out with non-club member friends.
In short, I need to replace the obsession to compete with the obsession to merely fish.
That being said, make no mistake, I fully intend to continue tournament fishing. I love that aspect of our sport and I refuse to believe it is anything but beneficial.
Nevertheless, just like the pros, I also need to take the time to reset and refocus. I've had opportunities to ask Elite Series anglers what they do to get their minds off the circuit. Believe it or not, most told me they take time to fish.
I look forward to next year's tournaments, but for now it's all for the love of the game.
Ah, fall ... the time of year when there's a chill in the air and crispiness underfoot. I usually embrace autumn, and I'm finding that easy to do again this year.
It's difficult to believe, though, that summer is over. I know it's irrational, but it's almost as if it never really arrived. Our temperatures never reached "hot" for very long, and even the humidity stayed fairly pleasant.
The fishing was off this summer, as well. After the absolutely incredible spring bite, the last few months have been a serious no-show.
Last week it was June. Suddenly, however, when I start the car in the morning, more often than not, there's a light coating of frost on the window. Moreover, after hearing what some friends are already going through in the upper Midwest, it seems like this was the "summer-that-never-was."
What happened to June?
Oh, well. Since there isn't much a short, round angler can do about the seasons, I might as well roll with it, huh?
As before, I usually enjoy this season. The colors, the smells and the football bring back good memories.
I also like the challenge of fishing in the fall. This time of year is either boom or bust for bass fishermen. If you can find the bait, then you've found the bass. That doesn't seem to be playing out this year. I've found the bait, but the bass are few and far between.
In an effort to garner a few more hours of coatless fishing before winter, I took advantage of an Indian summer day to hit the waters of a local reservoir and capture a few new memories. Maybe even snag a bass or three.
The sun came out just long enough for me to lose the sweatshirt and catch a 19-inch largemouth. She was hunkered along the edge of a dying weed bed and inhaled a green pumpkin Trick Worm. I thought she was going to bring the whole weed bed with her until I got her secured. Another angler was kind enough to snap the picture before we watched her swim away.
Shortly after the photo, I came upon a familiar hornets' nest. Normally, there are carrier-sized insects flying all around the thing, and I wouldn't consider inspecting it so closely. Now that the temperatures have plummeted, the hornets are safely tucked in. In my opinion, the nest is a fantastic example of nature's genius and I hope no knuckle-draggers mess with it this winter.
I also got to see a few deer in their winter gray coats and a couple of enormous fox squirrels.
Unfortunately, after a couple more dink bass, the clouds started rolling in again and it was time to head back to the fort.
The weeds are dying, the hornets are sleeping and the bass are heading to their winter haunts. Summer's over, but the fishing isn't.
Half a lap more around the sun and we'll be starting it all over again.
I've written often of how bass fishing can influence our lives in a positive way. The people we meet, the mental challenges it poses and the benign nature of the sport can provide us with friendship, accomplishment and recreation.
However, what about hope for the future?
A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of fishing Table Rock Lake in Missouri with a man named Kory Johnson. Kory is a successful tournament angler and, along with his wife, Britney, is the owner of an up-and-coming jig company called Thunderstruck Jigs.
I had traveled to Missouri simply to write an article on jig fishing in hot weather. What I ended up doing was meeting two of the most genuine and rock solid people who have become lifelong friends. The hospitality Kory, Britney and their families showed me was beyond compare.
A few months after the article, Kory called and said he was going to be a daddy. We spoke many times over the ensuing months about names, baby fishing gear and baby tournament jerseys. The funny part is, I never felt weird talking about baby stuff with my buddy Kory. He was immersed in the fatherhood thing completely.
On September 30, 2009, I got a call that the big day had come. Weighing in at 7 pounds, 10 ounces, Laken "Lake" Johnson became a member of a family full of hope, love and character.
Shortly thereafter, I received a few photographs of the little crib cricket. Kory had mentioned something called a onesie; in previous conversations but to be honest, I didn't really understand what he meant. The photo of Lake is of him in his own onesie Thunderstruck tournament jersey. Kory and Britney even sent out a press release announcing the newest member of their pro staff.
As I write this column and look at the photos, I'm reminded of just how big, relevant and deep the world of bass fishing is. The benefits of our sport cross every border and influence every aspect of our lives at every stage of our lives.
Lake's birth into such a fine family, like thousands of other babies, gives me greater hope for the future of our world. What better environment to raise a child than that of a bass fishing family? What better role models can a child have? I have absolutely no doubt that Lake will have a greater chance at success in life because of the values our sport can instill.
All the newest rugrats, crumbsnatchers, and little Winston Churchills are entering a world of conservation, sportsmanship, respect for Nature, appreciation for life, integrity of character and proper stewardship of possessions.
I can go on, but I think the point is made.
I'm extremely proud of Kory and Britney. They'll make wonderful parents. Lake will have a great life built on a solid foundation of love and respect.
When it's his turn, he'll be able to give back all that he's received.
And that gives me hope.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, Operation Bass Boat was a success!
I finally found a bass boat, and a fine specimen of new-to-me watercraft she is. Sixteen feet and and 85 horsepower of pure hawg-slaying power.
Man, it feels good to be able to post that news.
The decision to forgo some of this year's tournaments and concentrate on saving really paid off. I am, and will always be, grateful for the many folks who kept a vigilant eye out and sent supportive tips and feedback.
I have to confess, as this year seems to be wrapping up quickly, I had a bad feeling that my self-induced deadline to get a boat by year-end was going to go unmet. Even a few weeks ago, I was awash in some minor melancholy over the real world prospects of being a boat owner by December.
Last week, however, a friend happened to mention that he knew a guy who was selling his boat. I asked him a few more questions, and it turned out that I knew the fellow, too. One phone call and a trip to the lake later, I handed him an envelope and walked away with a boat.
The cool thing, in my opinion, is that this was one of those too-good-to-be-true deals that wasn't. It was just luck, if luck means opportunity met with preparation.
Now, after the confetti has settled and the band has packed up, I get to experience what it means to own a boat.
The first things I need to address are insurance and registration. Both boat and trailer have different registration requirements, and I need to be sure everything is taken care of. T's crossed and I's dotted.
The next items are the boater safety course and actually learning how to drive the contraption.
Make no mistake, I fully understand that simply being a passenger and watching someone drive a boat doesn't make one a boater. The last thing I want to be is that guy who endangers himself or others through inexperience or ignorance. I plan on taking her out often this winter (weather permitting) and getting some practice in before the busy season.
Moreover, when you don't have a trailer to pull around or back down a ramp, it's not easy to find someone willing to help you learn how. Quite truthfully, I need to practice backing the boat down a ramp as much as driving it.
I should also look into "safety" equipment like side-imaging sonar with those GPS lake maps, or maybe a digital trolling motor!
Then again, maybe I should concentrate on learning how to back the thing down a ramp first.
Has anyone ever asked you why bass fishing is so important? What's the big deal?
Did you try explaining but failed?
That happened to me last week, and I found myself in a conversation that had no conclusion. Every answer I gave was too incomplete or vague. It was like trying to describe fire to a dolphin. There was no common reference point.
The questioning began when I said I was close to buying my first boat.
"What kind of boat?" led to "Why do you need a boat to fish?" which ultimately led to "Why is fishing so important?"
As annoying as the questions became, it drew me to a realization I previously hadn't given much thought. That is, I don't believe I could have provided an adequate answer to the question: Why is bass fishing so important?
Even after the conversation ended, I couldn't let the issue go. I actually laid in bed thinking about why fishing is what it is to me.
I can list the things associated with the sport that I enjoy, like seeing animals, sunrises, camaraderie and such. Those things, however, are only cool bonuses. Can't we experience the same thing by simply meeting a few friends at a farm pond at 6 a.m?
How can we describe why we're so passionate about the sport? Why is it so difficult to define in terms that nonanglers can understand? What is the stripped down, unpainted framework answer? Does the answer even exist?
Even today, at the very writing of this column, I have no definitive answer, but I'll give it a shot. The problem is that my written language skills are not up to the task.
I have found that, for me, the act of bass fishing itself is the answer, not the question. It is not so much the love of the sport by itself, but everything associated with it mentally, emotionally and physically.
Fishing satisfies my need for competition, accomplishment, mystery and fellowship. Aside from my faith, family and career, it provides the secular focal point of my existence. Bass fishing allows the part of my brain that craves art to be fulfilled in the curves of a rod or crankbait. It feeds the desire to acquire new knowledge and skills and apply them to reach a goal. It allows me to step away from the immediate day-to- day concerns of this world to see what's going on outside the here and now.
Bass fishing centers me and helps me prioritize what's most important my faith, family and career.
In general, I also sincerely believe that our love for bass fishing is a blessing from our Creator. As the old saying says, life is a gift from God. What we do with it is our gift to Him.
Why do I love bass fishing? Any answer I give will be inadequate. Maybe someday, someone will be happy with, "I just do. You should try it because you will, too."
As I alluded to in a previous column, the Bait Monkey bites me on a regular basis. I routinely find myself with bags of plastic that remain sealed for months. Unopened and nearly forgotten, they live in various shoeboxes and drawers patiently awaiting a chance to prove their mettle.
Every so often, though, the urge hits me to do some unscientific field testing if for no other reason than to make room for more bags. These field tests sometimes provide some of the best days on the water for the year.
In reality, I should probably take more time to try out new styles of baits and new colors of familiar baits. I don't know why I enjoy this "testing" so much. Perhaps it's simply because I don't have any expectations other than to discover what the bait looks like and how it behaves in the water.
I usually try to throw the bait a curveball, too. For example, I have no problem threading a soft jerkbait backwards or wacky rigging a spider jig just to see just to know what it will do. Sometimes this experimentation uncovers a presentation that is deadly. Last winter, I found that a plastic craw with the pinchers and antennae removed was more effective on smallies than the whole bait. The bite with that particular modification didn't continue past spring, but I'll eagerly use it again as the water cools this year.
Another unusual application I found is to tail-hook a small lizard around holes in grass. I noticed that the local spring lizards tend to slowly sink tail first when they stop swimming.
Nonetheless, when I somehow found myself with a couple hours to kill this weekend, I loaded up the truck and moved out to Happy Valley to try out some new baits.
Time was of the essence, so I simply grabbed several bags in no particular order and stuffed them in the tackle bag with the intent to use these and only these baits. Whatever conditions I found at the lake, I would stick with these options solely.
As usual, the testing proved to be enjoyable and enlightening. I discovered the incredible action of a Carolina rigged buzz frog and the spooky similarity a weightless spider grub has to a fleeing shad. I also found out that a generic spinnerbait I bought on impulse at a discount store was a bad move.
Too soon I had to mosey back to the car.
I wished I'd had more time to fish the baits, especially the ones that didn't produce. Under different conditions, I think they'd do well. In all, I landed four bass three on a new color of the Minda Spear Worm and one on a Strike King Caffeine Shad. Even if I'd zeroed, the day would have been fun and educational.
For me, experimenting with baits can be a hoot, especially when there aren't any expectations. I highly recommend it the next time you have a few hours to kill.
Last week I wrote about an extended run of bad luck and my response. This week I'd hoped to write that the drought is over.
Well, the drought is over.
Our club had a tournament last weekend. I had already missed several of the out-of-town tournaments, so this one was merely for the enjoyment. It's tough to stay near the top with four zeros after your name.
Regardless of my points standing, I was committed to having a great time and simply enjoying the day. I also took the opportunity to have a brief heart to heart with The Skunk.
On the way to the launch ramp I turned down Rush's "Tom Sawyer" and, in my best Appalachian drawl, I mentally conjured up the specter of The Skunk.
"Where you at, Mr. Skunk?" I asked.
"Right here, Mr. Jaison," he replied. "Whatchu wont?"
"Listen here, skunk, I'm gonna tell you straight. Don't be slinkin' 'round here no more."
"Oh, yah? Whatchu gonna do if I decide to stay," he smirked.
At that, I checked the rearview mirror to make sure no one was behind me and I slowed the car down.
"Well, Mr. Skunk, if you stay, I am determined to poke you in the eye."
And with that, the specter vanished.
I pulled into the parking lot just as I finished the conversation with a non-existent creature. I knew that the battle with The Skunk wasn't over. It must be fought on water, not in a car.
I was prepared to fight throughout the day, but the boater I was with had three fish before I had my first strike. I was beginning to think the day was going to be a replay of the last few weeks when I felt a tap on the line.
Wham! I set the hook and dang if there wasn't a fish on the other end and a good one, too! I was never so happy to see a bass in a net as I was at that moment. Oh, man! One down, four to go.
I snagged another one on a Carolina rig but he came unglued after the first jump. He looked like a 2-pounder... at least.
Although I caught plenty of bream, the next bass I caught was within 15 minutes of weigh-in. I wasn't disappointed, though. At least I had something to put in the bag this time.
Since it was my turn to write down the weights, I weighed in last. I was really only hoping not to come in last place, so I was surprised to discover that my fish were enough for a third place finish. The winner also had two fish but they were true pigs and looked more like cinderblocks with fins rather than bass.
Before I left the parking lot, I conjured up The Skunk and calmly said, "I told you, Mr. Skunk, didn't I? You come 'round again, and I'll poke you in the other eye!"
A foul thought occurred to me a few hours before writing this column. Driving home from the lake, I contemplated stowing my rods to give bass fishing a rest.
I was finished with this sport. I had wrung all the enjoyment out of it.
All that remained of a fiery fishing obsession was a cold cinder of disappointment.
I won't lie. I felt bitterly frustrated, dismayed and betrayed. I was also angry with myself for feeling like that, because "feelings" aren't very adult male, especially since I was raised in the South and have Mediterranean blood.
The cause of all this angst and gnashing of teeth was another fruitless day of bass fishing.
Another day of wasted money for baits, gas and water. Another day of little sleep and aching shoulders, all for naught.
Another day of watching a friend bring fish after fish to the boat while I remain fishless yet determined.
These thoughts continued to roll through my mind during the entire drive home.
They didn't even let up when I stopped for a drink at a store owned by a fellow angler. As usual, he wanted to talk fishing, but I politely said I was in a hurry.
"Next time, buddy," I offered.
Right. There won't be a next time, my friend. At least, not as long as this garbage keeps up.
I drove the remaining miles with no radio, no CDs, nothing but the thought "You gotta be kidding me!" repeating itself in my mind.
When I arrived home, I was still so disgusted with the day that I didn't even take the rods and tackle bag out of the vehicle. I didn't want to mess with them.
As I opened the front door, I happened to glance over at the couch, and I started to chuckle. There, lying on the back, was a bag of baits I had forgotten to pack.
I chuckled because my immediate thought upon seeing the baits was, "Oh, cool! I forgot about those rascals. I need to put them in the bag for next week."
I actually began laughing as the demon of self-pity fled my soul.
Who was I kidding? There's no way I was going to let a few skunks influence bass fishing! I love this sport!
Who cares if the majority of the last few trips have been weak? Wasn't I able to get out on the water? Didn't I see all kinds of nature? Am I not blessed to have my health, some free time and a little extra income to buy all this fishing stuff? What would the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan think of my whining?
What a crybaby!
Yes, for a while, I went over to the dark side, but bass fishing's ability to remind me of my many blessings brought me back. I hope you'll allow it to do the same for you if you ever get the urge to quit.
Hang in there. Don't hang up the rods.
I've been privileged over the last few weeks to receive some extraordinary e-mails from some extraordinary readers. I can't express how much I appreciate hearing about folks' fishing experiences, family memories, favorite baits and the like.
I take the kind words and confidences very seriously. Thank you all.
In response to the respect you all have shown this column, I thought I'd share some personal stuff from my bass fishing world.
Most of my gear is well-used, and it's all of various makes and models. My prized rod that will never see a landfill is a Berkley Lightning Rod from the early '90s. She's had the tip replaced twice and there is superglue-soaked thread holding on more than one line guide. I don't use that rod anymore, but she's been with me through too many battles ever to be thrown away.
My favorite set up that's usable is a Shimano Curado on a St. Croix Mojo rod. I saved for many months for that combo and I have yet to find the first thing to complain about. I also have a Pfluegar President spinning reel on a Field and Stream rod as a close second.
As far as baits, my preference is jigs, plastics, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwater and swimbaits in that order. In particular, I like Thunderstruck football jigs, Zoom Ultra-Vibe Speed Craws, Minda Lures Spear Worms and V&M Pork Pins for plastics. Three-bladed Hawg Caller for spinnerbaits, but no favorites for crankbaits, topwater or swimbaits. I do, however, like the custom paint jobs for crankbaits by Crankin' Cracker.
Preference, of course, often depends on what the fish are biting, so I try to practice with many baits and techniques. Even with all the practicing to date, I've yet to catch a bass on a drop shot or spoon. I've only caught two bass on a buzzbait.
Maybe I just need more practice.
I've never been much of an early riser, so the early bite doesn't seem that attractive to me unless it's tournament time. For tournaments, I'll fish whenever, wherever. For fun fishing, I find it hard to beat the time from sundown until just after dark, especially off a deep, rocky flat in summer.
That being said, any time on the water is a good time!
Lastly, I've received several e-mails with photos detailing readers' favorite spots. I wanted to reciprocate that trust, so I made a trip out to Happy Valley and shot a few photos of my favorite honey holes. I imagine they look similar to many other honey holes, but I wanted you all to see them nonetheless.
As before and as always, I want to thank everyone for the support and readership. I hope this week's column answers some of the questions I've received. I appreciate the feedback, and I want to make sure that the insights, trust, and confidences are not one-sided.
Oh, by the way I am, unfortunately, still without a bass boat. Let's hope that situation changes soon.
I was recently out at the lake and started to smell that freaking skunk slinking around. After hours of fishing, I'd only had a few strikes, and those were probably from sunfish. Things were looking desperate, indeed.
In a last-ditch effort to salvage a skunk-free month, I decided to slap on a Carolina rigged Speed Craw and drift with the wind over a submerged roadbed.
I could feel the difference in the line as the weight left the mud bottom and careened into a rock-strewn depression. Suddenly, there was a slight tap and the line became a little heavier. I set the hook and felt resistance but no real head shaking or serious tugging. Assuming that I'd become hung up on some weeds or a small branch, I started to bring the rig back for another cast.
After a few cranks it was obvious that there was something alive on the end of the line. Maybe I had inadvertently snagged a shad or a baby bass.
Imagine my surprise when a 12-inch, citation-sized yellow perch surfaced at the boat! I didn't even know what it was at first because I'd caught only two perch before and they were both under six inches long.
The guy I was fishing with is a big multispecies fisherman, and he immediately started to get excited about this "big perch."
"You need to get a picture of that thing, man! It's a monster for this area," he said.
I didn't want to spoil his fun. so I quickly grabbed the camera and set it on a seat. I then discovered that the perch was hooked in such a way that I couldn't remove the hook by lipping it.
In a moment of brilliance, I decided to wet my hands and hold the behemoth like a bass behind the gills to de-hook it.
At this point, I imagine some folks who are familiar with yellow perch are thinking, "What a moron." That's OK. I now understand why.
Not being very familiar with the species, I didn't know that yellow perch are basically swimming scalpels. Their gills are extremely sharp. As the fish struggled, my hand slipped a little onto the gill plates. The immediate pain and blood alerted me that something was amiss.
Perch cuts hurt!
Holding back a little girl scream, I simply shouted "Oy!" and dropped the squirming demon spawn back into the water.
In mild shock, I held my wounded hand and watched the ferocious beast swim away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my fishing buddy of many years shaking his head and mumbling something about idiots.
Now I have cuts on my left hand to match the scars on my right from the braided line incident from the April 21 column.
Ironically, I never landed anything else the rest of the day, but I avoided a skunk, caught a citation and learned something very, very important about our friend, the yellow perch.
I got a phone call as I was writing the column for this week. A friend of mine, Larry, got a boat and he wanted me to go with him and his son Trey to test it out and fish a little in the process.
One of the many things I appreciate about Larry is that he has made a conscious effort to pass on the love of fishing to Trey. Of all the good things anglers do to promote the health of our sport, I believe getting our youth involved is most important.
Fishing with a youngster who's really just beginning to grasp the concept is a different experience than fishing with an adult who's just learning.
Now, in Trey's case, the learning curve seems to be pretty short. He's only in the first grade and he already has some crazy skills with a spincast outfit, and he knows his plastics better than I do.
Trey's also a strong little guy. Larry hooked a 19-inch largemouth but didn't quite have enough energy to bring him in. Luckily, Trey was there to save the day as his dad handed him the rod and he brought the bass to the boat. In fact, Trey landed three nice bass for his dad that day. There it was father and son sitting side by side casting to the same brush, the same rock outcrop, with the same baits, Larry teaching the whole time.
As I sat in the back, I couldn't help but overhear the two rascals talking in the front. I imagine the conversations those two had are heard on every body of water in the world and in every language.
"I got a fish!" son shouts.
"You're hung up," dad counters.
"I got another one!" son exclaims.
"You're hung up again," explains dad.
At one point, Larry was showing Trey how to wait for the bait to hit bottom before retrieving it. Trey took a patient breath and carefully explained that he already knew that because he'd been watching his dad's fishing shows all week.
At another point, though, Larry said something that will probably stick with me for the rest of my life.
Trey was itching to cast toward a brushpile that was many yards ahead of us. Larry, with the calmness only a real father can muster, said, "No, son. Cast out in front of you. Just fish where you are."
Just fish where you are.
With those wise words, I realized that Trey was in good hands.
I hope that all the sons and daughters out there who have the opportunity to fish with their fathers and mothers are in good hands and learning that it's not always the fish we fishermen seek.
Sometimes the greatest catch of the day isn't a hawg. Sometimes it's the time we spend together right here, right now. Not wildly grasping for the future but actually living in the present.
Thank you, Larry and Trey, for the lesson.
I recently heard about a cartoon that featured someone in a bass boat, a wave rider, a ski boat, a kayak and a homeowner on her dock. They were all scowling at each other as thought clouds led from their minds to the center of the cartoon. It read, "Man! They think they own the lake!"
I understand no one "owns" the lake except the folks who literally own it, and that includes fishermen.
Does anyone else, though, think courtesy on the water seems to be losing its importance? Granted, fishermen are not perfect. We have our own issues, but we usually inconvenience or disrupt other fishermen.
For me, the real problem with courtesy doesn't involve other anglers; it's the recreational watercraft users who stand out.
We've all dealt with the crazy wave lice and self-absorbed ski boats, but it seems that another player has entered the field kayakers.
I'm all for folks having access to public water and getting some physical activity in the midst of nature. I empathize with the kayak fad and think it would be fun to try fishing from one in small lakes or rivers.
I can say, however, with utmost honesty that my patience and understanding is wearing thin.
Just about every time I'm out on the water kayakers take it upon themselves to inject their sport into my life. What I mean is that it's becoming a very common occurrence to have a kayaker, oblivious to anyone else, paddle between the shore and the boat.
All I can think when one does that is, "C'mon, dude! Really?"
Or a group of them will decide to stop 20 feet away to rest and splash around while conversing loudly about whom Brenda Sue's dating or the humorous bathroom antics of their toddlers.
The real issues come up at the launch ramp when the kayaker pulls his craft up and leaves to get his car. Then, to the astonishment of the guys in boats patiently waiting their turns, the kayaker proceeds to stow gear and clean the craft before lifting it onto the car top. Once lifted, there usually commences a lengthy process of tying down the kayak.
Again, all this brilliance takes place at the ramp.
Now, I know that not every kayaker acts like that; I know a few who are great guys and don't pull that garbage. The truth of the matter, unfortunately, is that enough do to leave a bad impression with other water users. If you have one, please help your fellow kayakers understand it's not cool to cross between boats and shore, stop close to boats or hold things up at the ramps.
OK, I'm off the soapbox. Whatever kind of watercraft you do have, I hope you'll use it safely and have fun with it for a long time. If people act rudely, calm down before reacting. A few choice words won't change their actions in the future they're probably stuck in stupid for a long time.
Most of us are familiar with the Cash for Clunkers program that our tax dollars are sponsoring. On the surface, this program props up the auto industry and helps remove gas-guzzling vehicles from the national fleet.
My personal opinion on the ethics of the program aside, it seems to be temporarily propping and permanently removing.
What if the boat manufacturing industry offered a similar deal with a little tweaking? What details would have to be ironed out beforehand? What kind of impact would it have?
The first detail to be ironed out might be the definition of "clunker." It must be revised to reflect the standards of the boat industry. This one is open for debate.
Another detail would be to determine who actually pays for the program. It might be best for the boat industry to keep it in-house and leave Washington out of it. I would trust the folks in the industry to administer their own incentive programs far more than some Beltway Committee. In addition, I wouldn't want a single penny of my taxes to go toward purchasing someone else's boat, and I wouldn't expect anyone to pay for mine, either.
A third detail is to decide what happens to the "clunkers." I propose that they not be destroyed but placed back on the market.
As far as impact, it may have a positive one spread out over many aspects of the fishing industry.
Firstly, the manufacturers would move more boats. By providing real world incentives, folks who are sitting on the fence may seize the opportunity to buy that first new boat or upgrade from their old one. It's much easier for someone to assume the debt of a new boat if the incentive is strong enough to justify it.
The building and sale of new boats and the rehab of older boats would put people to work. Look at your boat and consider what it took to build and outfit that beauty from bow to transom. Every industry involved would see an uptick.
Rehabbing the older boats would put affordable, safe watercraft on the market for more people. Moreover, once folks buy a used boat, they may upgrade in the future.
Selling more boats also puts more anglers on the water. That means more tackle sold, more motel rooms booked, more bass club members, more mechanics needed, more kids fishing.
All good things.
Maybe I'm looking at this idea through rose-colored glasses or maybe it's just a pipe dream. I may also be way over my head as far as how the boat manufacturing industry works. What I do know is that the boats aren't moving like they should be. I believe that we, as anglers, hold the key to making the industry strong again. By working together, manufacturers and buyers alike, we can plow through this economic sod and plant the seeds that will grow and prosper for many years.
I believe we can do this ourselves.
I figure that if you want someone to click on a column just title it "T&A." It's cheesy but effective, especially if it stands for Tackle and Anglers.
For some reason, fishing tackle has always held a special fascination to me. It's as mesmerizing and attractive as a ball of yarn is to a cat. I fully admit that I'm powerless in its grip.
Tackle is both my kryptonite and Elixir of Life, and I often wonder if it holds the same power over other folks as well.
Like a lot of guys, I only go into a grocery store when I need something. Even in those instances, I usually have specific items in mind that I locate and pay for in one fell swoop. I don't believe I've ever even considered just wandering around a store simply to check out the latest and greatest in bread, shampoo or imported fruit.
The same holds true for clothes shopping. I home in on the size and color I'm looking for and scramble back to the car.
Admittedly, in hardware stores I may loiter a while. For everything else there is no concept of comparative shopping. That is unless I'm in a tackle shop.
A tackle shop is a different animal. It exists in a different dimension, perhaps a parallel universe where the laws of time and consumer physics don't apply. It doesn't matter if I only need to pick up some finesse worms and a couple packs of 2/0 EWG hooks. A trip to the tackle store must, and ultimately will, take a good part of the day.
Even though I have more plastic baits than I could ever use this year, I find myself closely inspecting every manufacturer's offerings. I compare shapes, colors, pricing, scents, sizes, weights, etc. You name it, I'm looking at it.
The crankbait, spinnerbait and jig aisles receive the same attention. Even the terminal tackle and line areas have their own dedicated review.
Tacklebags, boxes, rods and reels? I'm there. Trolling motors, boat accessories, PFDs and graphs? You betcha!
May the Good Lord strike me down if I haven't been known to gawk at the crappie, musky and trout aisles, too.
And, so help me, I already have six pair of polarized sunglasses. That doesn't matter, really, because I can't simply walk past the glasses display on my way to the check out.
Or the fishing shirts with the cool flaps on the back.
Or the magazines and instructional DVDs rack.
I have to look.
Indeed, there is a special bond between tackle and anglers that I'm not sure other sports have. Golf may come close, but even that may be a stretch.
Truth be told, I may be in a minority when it comes to being powerless against the temptation of tackle. Something tells me, though, that when I see the same guys looking at the same stuff I'm looking at week after week, that the fascination is awfully common.
I got the call as I was preparing for last week's night tournament. My fishing partner had to work overtime and couldn't make it. The poor guy sounded crushed, but priorities have a bad habit of surfacing at inopportune moments.
I had two options available: stay at home doing something productive or find a ride for the tournament. But who am I kidding. That's just one option, so I started making some calls.
Now, I'm not the kind of guy who would ever invite himself on someone's boat. There was a chance, however, that one of the anglers may need a partner. I called one of the tournament directors, Rick Tilley, for some help. As a well-known guide and aspiring Elite Series angler, he knows a lot of people.
Rick said he'd check around. "If nothing else," he added, "you can fish with Johnny and me."
That's class, right there. Three guys in a boat, though, would make for a rough tournament. As much as I appreciated the offer, I'd never have been able to take him up on it and feel good about myself.
Rick called back shortly and said he'd had no luck. "Come down anyway," he offered, "There's usually somebody fishing by himself."
That I could do and did.
It turned out that one of the last guys to sign in was fishing alone, and he agreed to take me a total stranger out on his boat for the tournament.
The fellow's name is James Jordan, and he's one fine individual. I can't imagine what was going through his mind as I introduced myself. Who in their right mind hangs around a tournament looking for a boater?
Nonetheless, I grabbed my gear and rushed to James' boat for blastoff.
As James and I found our place in the flotilla and answered each other's questions, I realized that this was what it's all about.
Sitting in a former stranger's boat, I knew his full name, that he fished jigs, and that he's a laid back angler with a permanent, well-earned smile.
Ahead of us were boats whose riders have shared the joy of fishing every week for months.
In front of the boats were Rick Tilley and Johnny Martin, the guys who organize this tournament, checking livewells and wishing everyone good luck.
Too soon it was time for weigh-in. Walking up the dock I knew this same scene was playing across thousands of lakes across the country. I felt I was part of something bigger than just a hobby, and I think it's the fellowship that makes it so.
Most of the anglers stood around until the last bass was weighed.
Like James said, "It doesn't matter if I bring fish in or not. I always stay to watch the weigh-in."
Thank you James, Rick and Johnny. This really is what it's all about.
James, you're a stranger no more.
No offense, but until recently I regarded night fishing from a boat as being pointless and frustrating.
On a very good day I consider myself an average angler keyword being "day." On a good night, I may approach the level of inept. It's so bad that, after all the years I've been bass fishing, I can remember every gamefish I've ever caught at night.
In roughly 10 years of nights, I've caught seven bass and two catfish. Two of those bass and a cat were recent additions from just the other night.
Things are changing, though. I'm looking the specter of nighttime failure squarely in the eye, and I'm preparing to go Medieval on him.
Our club just concluded our annual night tournament. I normally dread this event with a passion, but this year I decided to change my attitude, and it actually paid off.
A few weeks ago I began to seriously analyze why I did so poorly at night fishing, especially tournaments. The only conclusion was that I was living out the all too familiar self-fulfilling prophecy. I expected to get skunked, so I got skunked.
Enter the attitude change.
I started asking some of the more successful night anglers I know for advice, scoured the Internet, read everything I could and watched every video I came across on the subject. I also took every opportunity that was graciously offered to fish after dark and tried to apply all the advice and tips I'd received.
I also signed up for a weeknight tournament series for the extra practice as well as for good company.
However, even with all the research and time on the water I was still getting regularly skunked until this last club tournament.
I think my attitude had finally changed.
I realized a couple days before that I was no longer dreading the event. I was actually pretty anxious to hit the water. Surprisingly, at the start of the tournament I didn't have any feeling of impending doom. Had something finally clicked inside my stubborn head?
I was, in the best sense of the word, confident of having a good, fun tournament.
I really don't know if the research and advice finally took hold, but I managed to hook more fish that night than during any other trip, tournament or not. It just seemed easier to identify a pattern and technique and actually catch fish. It felt closer to a day tournament where I spend more time fishing and less time changing baits and second-guessing myself.
I had entered the night angler zone for the first time, and it was cool.
I'm really looking forward to the weeknight series now, and I'm grateful for the change in attitude. It may seem odd, but I almost feel like a kid who's just now realizing that there's a whole new world out there that's full of wonderful and amazing things.
I just wish I could get back all those years I disregarded night fishing.
Thanks for everybody's patience regarding last week's column. I had the mother of all computer viruses on my laptop. The digital doctor did his thing and I'm back.
Speaking of doctors, I thought I was going to need one after last week. A buddy of mine, Bear, and I had planned to hit the water in search of that elusive morning bite. Unfortunately, neither of us had checked a weather report. We arrived at the lake just in time for the skies to open.
Noah had nothing on this rain.
We considered wimping out but reconsidered when another boat put in shortly after we did. It was, after all, only rain thankfully no lightning.
Truthfully, we both believed the storm would pass in short order.
After an hour of being hammered by increasingly colder water bullets, it became evident that the front had stalled over the valley. We were in for a considerable soaking.
There seems to be a point when the misery index peaks. For us, that was about two hours into the morning. We were in a johnboat on a 10-hp lake a mile from the ramp with water coming over the tops of our shoes. It was raining so hard that throwing anything other than crankbaits, swimbaits or spinnerbaits was useless. The air temperature was even dropping.
To top it off, I had forgotten my good rain gear at home and had to use an old set that I hadn't been particularly kind to. Every time I bent forward a torrent of water would rush down to see how quickly it could reach the backs of my shoes.
Bear was in even worse shape because he had hedged his bet that the rain wouldn't last long and had left his rain pants in his truck.
I think the misery index started to fall when I finally resigned myself to wet skivvies and decided to bail out the boat with a topless water bottle. Short of something horrible happening, it couldn't have gotten any worse.
As I knelt in the boat mechanically hoisting one bottle of water after another over the side, I asked ol' Bear what he wanted to do.
His confident answer is why we hit the lake so often.
"No matter what," he said, "fish on."
So we did.
We spent hours in the downpour only to see it stop as suddenly as it began. The sun broke through and the misty gray shore became a focused world of color and animal life.
Does and spotted fawns came out to drink and flick their tails at our presence in their world. Bluegill began feeding on insects that hadn't dodged the raindrops. And the best thing of all, one of our beautiful bald eagles honored us by boldly landing on a limb not thirty feet from the boat.
We would have missed all of these wonderful scenes if we'd chickened out at the ramp.
Bear has it right. No matter what, always fish on.
My friends know that I have had a serious crush on Stevie Nicks since middle school (Ms. Nicks, if you're reading, I'm available). As a consequence of this crush, many of the things that happen to me often end up with some Stevie Nicks song as background music in my head.
Case in point: Last Saturday I was privileged to spend a day on Smith Mountain Lake with a fellow by the name of Anthony Brooks. Anthony is a stalwart reader of "The Reel World" and a very talented angler. He offered to share his boat, and I accepted.
We had a pretty good time hitting some spots that were new to me but familiar to Anthony. Even though a high-pressure front came through causing bluebird skies and tight-lipped bass, we managed to boat a few fish and enjoy the day.
One of the things I quickly picked up about Mr. Brooks is that he's sharp, especially when it comes to humor.
At one point, as I was re-tying for the umpteenth time after a hang-up, Anthony turned in his seat smiling and said, "You know, Jaison, you could write in your column, 'Went out on the lake Saturday and practiced my knot tying.'"
Now, that's funny. And unfortunately, true.
In appreciation for the "knot tying" suggestion, I've included a photo of one of Anthony's fish.
Along with some quality fishing time, we also had a chance to look for the goat I mentioned in the May 26 column. As we rounded the bend toward the same steep ledges, Mr. Goat appeared and favored us with a short photo opportunity.
Anthony told me he's known about the goat for years. "That's my favorite goat," he said. "It's an icon of Smith Mountain Lake."
So, what's any of this got to do with Stevie Nicks?
Toward the end of the day we were fishing deep off a secondary point. I was throwing a Carolina rig with a 1/2-ounce weight and got temporarily hung up. Like a novice, I didn't pull the line free that had dug into the spool before the next cast. When I threw the rig again the weight sailed out, hit the resistance of the buried line and jerked my favorite rod and reel out of my hands and into the lake.
We dragged the bottom for 20 minutes with no results except for a photo of what two guys will do to try to retrieve a lost combo.
The entire time we were dragging the lake I heard Stevie Nicks singing, "What you had and what you lost" from Dreams.
As I look back on the day, I see that what I had was the opportunity to meet one of the excellent readers of this column, make a new friend and to learn something from a talented shaky head angler. In my opinion, these are things of great value.
What I lost was just stuff.
I rolled into the gravel parking lot of Glenn's business at 3:30 a.m. We were meeting to travel to a club tournament.
I parked my car and walked over to greet Glenn. The air had never recovered from the previous day's humidity, and it felt like I was walking through a spit-warm mist.
We stowed our gear and drove off to join up with the other members in another parking lot. The club had planned to drive convoy-style to the lake.
Once we all arrived, our club moved out a parade of bass boats of various makes, ages and states of repair.
After a few miles, I turned to Glenn and told him that I had been looking forward to this tournament all year.
I won this event off the back of Glenn's boat last year. It is the only one I've ever won and, as a non-boater, I had the option of choosing to fish it again with Glenn if he agreed. Thankfully, he agreed back in January when we scheduled this year's venues.
In the darkness of a moonless night with the truck's cab dimly lighted by the radio LED, country music in the background, I had time to think about why this particular tournament meant so much.
The answer was because of my fishing partner for the day.
Glenn is a fellow of unquestionable character and integrity. He's the kind of person words like faith, honesty, truthfulness, genuine, friendly and the like stick to. He doesn't preach these ideals, he simply lives them. Others take notice and are calmed in his presence.
A couple of columns ago, I wrote about not taking for granted what we have in our lives. On a dark country road, following a twisting line of red trailer lights, I knew I had one more thing to appreciate a great fishing partner.
When we finally arrived at the lake and prepared for blast off, Glenn said that our main objective for the day was to repeat last year's win. This was not a buddy tournament; we were competing against each other. His focus, however, was on helping me win again.
In short, that didn't happen, but that's OK because my focus was not only on winning. It was also on enjoying the time on the water with a genuinely good man. It was on listening to his stories about his grandson and the little lake he fishes in the evenings. It was on taking in his advice on lure color and presentation. It was on enjoying the absence of profanity that so many people consider conversation these days.
I may not have won that tournament because I wasn't focused on winning. But the day gave me time with someone I appreciate.
We all know people like Glenn. Please don't take them for granted. Fishing gives us an opportunity to see the character of our fellow anglers and to appreciate the good ones.
Every so often I review the topics of past columns to make sure I don't become too repetitive. I also review the many excellent e-mails and comments the column has received to ensure I've replied.
I did this review thing last night and discovered something a little troubling: It seems that I know more about many of the readers than the readers know about me, at least as far as fishing is concerned.
Therefore, in order to form a more perfect blog, I have decided to offer a few musings on my fishing philosophy as an average weekend angler.
(Warning: Some of this is not pretty. Small children and the easily offended may wish to leave the room.)
An angler who professes great skill with a baitcaster but sneers at spinning reels does not impress me. I was raised using spincast and spinning reels. In fact, I still use a spinning reel a lot. Maybe not as much as a baitcaster, but more than most of the guys I fish with. I have no problem landing the same quantity and quality of fish as they do. Each reel has its purpose, and I've seen men land 6-pound bass with a Zebco 33.
Catching bass with live bait vs. artificial is not the same thing. It's not even debatable. Either way is fine, but they're not in the same category.
I live in an area with good access for bank fishing. I firmly believe that the vast majority of bank fishing bass anglers I run into are skilled, enthusiastic and conscientious. I also firmly believe that the trash and ruination left on the bank is almost always from the carp and catfish crowd. It is what it is, and I wish they would police themselves as much as bass anglers do.
The catch and release concept is a blessing and a curse. Although I don't eat bass, I see nothing wrong with harvesting. Creel and slot limits are in place to help maintain a healthy fishery, and I see nothing wrong with keeping bass to eat legally. It's heartbreaking to see a trophy bass on the end of a stringer destined for some guy's "I Love Me" wall. Why not take some measurements and photos and release it for someone else to catch? Skin mounts are going the way of fur coats, dude, and it's just bad form.
If we, as bass fisherman, ever decide to submit our catches to fishing magazines, we should learn how to hold the fish properly. It's gut wrenching to see how some of these big bass are being treated. I think it's every bass fisherman's responsibility to learn how to lip and hold big bass correctly without breaking their jaws. Who knows when we'll get that hawg of a lifetime?
And lastly, the actions of the Elite anglers who stopped to help the marshals who were thrown from boats recently say everything we need to know about these guys. God bless you, gentlemen.
The other day I overheard a conversation between two friends, Morgan and Tom, who were discussing a recent fishing trip.
The friend who had taken the trip, Morgan, was showing photographs. Tom commented on some loons in the background. Morgan replied, "You know, I see and hear so many of them that I take them for granted. Aren't they magnificent creatures?"
I could almost see Morgan looking at the photos in a whole new light.
That exchange reminded me of an old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt." The more I thought about Morgan's loons, the more I realized that I had been taking an awful lot for granted, too, especially about fishing.
Last Saturday on the lake, I made a conscious effort to open my eyes and see how much I was truly thankful for, how many things I had become so familiar with that I simply dismissed them as part of the background.
The first things that I noticed were the swallows. These graceful birds were flying all around us performing barrel rolls and acrobatics mere inches above the water and maneuvering amongst the trees like small, brown spirits. Their song was happy and it matched perfectly with the mist coming off the water.
The second thing was the tail walking antics of a bass. Normally, as a tournament angler, I try to get the bass in the boat as soon as possible and prevent them from jumping. But, with this fish, I wanted to see the dance: I didn't care if she got off. I lifted the rod and let her have at it.
How incredible it is to see these creatures literally walk on water.
Another aspect of life I had taken for granted was common cold water. When the sun blazed down and it was time to grab a drink, I reached into the cooler and took out a cold bottle of water. It was a simple act that I'd performed many thousands of times before. But there, in the heat, I realized that I now didn't take even this water for granted.
Of course, the list of things we take for granted grows the more we dwell on the idea. I haven't mentioned things that might immediately spring to mind like faith, health, family, employment and our military because circumstances have caused me to be grateful for them everyday day. They are the big things, the vital stones in the foundations of our lives.
The small things I am guilty of taking for granted so often are the mortar. The way a bass dances, the magic of swallows in flight, the refreshment of cool, clean water, the smell of a calm, serene cove just before sunrise.
And the magnificent loons.
These are the things that bind together the stones of the foundation of our lives. They also, I believe, bind us together across the world as anglers.
Thank you, Morgan and Tom.
A few weeks ago the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) conducted an electrofishing survey on a lake near my home.
In a nutshell, the results are that the lake has plenty of bass, but they are under-nourished. This indicates that there isn't enough forage in the lake for the bass.
The thinking behind the baitfish deficiency is that the recent droughts caused the water level to drop below the areas where cover such as tree falls were available for baitfish and their fry to hide. Thus, predators gorged and baitfish spawns failed.
After a few years of drought conditions, the baitfish populations dropped and the predators were soon out of an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The optimistic view is that the rains were plentiful this year before the bass and baitfish spawned. The fisheries are at full pond and there is plenty of cover for bass and prey to hide. If the water levels hold, the natural order of things should return.
In the meantime, there have been rumors that the DGIF may decide to stock the lake while the water is up. The question of what they plan to stock it with has actually split the fishing community along partisan lines.
Unfortunately, I found myself split, as well.
One side contends that the state should stock more shad and give the baitfish population a booster shot. They say leave the other predator species as they are and concentrate on the bass.
The other side contends that the state should stock walleye, trout, catfish and stripers to help weed out all the little bass. They want the lake to be a multi-species fishery.
Therein lies the rub.
When I first heard about the possible stocking, there was one side that I immediately favored over the other and it bothered me somewhat.
I'd never considered myself a "bass elitist," but I had to admit that I leaned heavily toward simply stocking the lake with baitfish. I thought that would benefit the bass population the best until the prey populations had a chance to rebound.
When I thought about it, though, that decision screamed selfish elitism. Shouldn't the question really be, "Which decision would best benefit the whole sport of fishing?"
When I asked myself that last question, the answer was clear: If asked, I would compromise and support stocking the lake with baitfish, catfish and walleye only. None of those species really threaten the bass population and they would all contribute to the greater good of fishing.
They can keep the trout and stripers. Trout are just put-and-take and stripers are just appetites with skins stretched around them.
Maybe it's silly, but I feel good that my opinion, along with those of many others, may influence the species diversity of a fishery for years to come. I hope whatever decision the state makes will ultimately benefit the sport of fishing as a whole.
The more anglers the better. We all know that many folks will eventually move to bass fishing anyway.
I recently went night fishing with my buddy Larry Sharp. He and his wife just had a baby, and I think mom and baby needed a break from daddy.
We were finishing up a tough night alongside some ledges across from a marina. We were just about ready to call the game when a voice called out from the docks across the cove, "Hey! Ya'll got a spotlight?"
We didn't, so I hollered back, "No. We have flashlights!"
"Good," said the voice, "because ya'll got a goat above you on that rock!"
Larry and I looked at each other and then quickly shone our flashlights onto a rock bluff about 10 feet above the water.
Sure enough, there stood a goat looking down with green light reflecting from his eyes.
"Look at that," said Larry, "a goat."
I shouted a thank you to the anglers on the dock and told Larry it was kind of those folks to tell us about the goat. Otherwise, I would have joined the Walk-On-Water Club when we drifted by it.
A green-eyed, horned critter staring at you isn't something you want to roll up on at 2 a.m. in a boat.
Earlier last week, I had a chance to fish with another friend, Mike Heiler. He and I spent a few hours after work chasing bass on a trolling motor lake. As we were getting ready to head back to the dock, Mike's motor died.
We knew we were going to have to paddle the boat back, so we agreed on one more cast.
Mike threw out a sickle-tail finesse worm, but before he could close the bail Wham!
A bass hit the bait and was about to spool him.
I leaned over the edge and grabbed Mike's line before we lost the fish. Mike was sticking the rod in the water to put out the fire.
"Holy smoke, Mike," I shouted, "You caught ol' Cletus! The biggest bass in the lake!"
By that time, I had managed to wrap the line around a chair as Cletus pulled us in a circle around the cove.
"I have an idea," Mike said as he threaded another worm on a rod.
Then, he threw out the anchor. That slowed ol' Cletus down enough that we could spin the chair and bring him closer.
Mike then took his mooring rope and fashioned a bridle out of it. "When Cletus comes back," he said, "throw this bridle around him."
The next time Cletus surfaced near the boat I somehow bridled him like a plow horse.
"Now," Mike offered, "watch this!"
He then stood up on the bow of the boat and dangled that finesse worm out just in front of Cletus.
Well, Cletus' eyes got big. He started shaking and took off after that worm.
In no time flat we were back at the dock.
As folks might guess, one of these stories is true. The other is a fisherman's version of reality.
I made a decision earlier this year to start saving to buy a boat. I also decided that I was not going to finance said watercraft but rather pay for it in cash. Paying in cash meant that I had to have a nice chunk o' change put away in the kitty. That meant that I had to seriously evaluate my spending habits.
I started the evaluation by creating a skeleton-type budget that would allow me to exist on pretty meager resources. Simply put, my goal was to identify what I absolutely had to have in order to survive and work.
It was an eye-opening exercise and one I hope never to have to repeat.
One of the things I cut out was fishing my bass club's out-of-town tournaments. I vowed to take the money I would have spent and place it in a savings account untouched.
I didn't know how I'd feel about missing the tournaments. I knew I wouldn't have a very good chance at making the final championship, but I didn't know how much I would or would not miss the events themselves.
Turns out that that decision was a good one.
In lieu of the out-of-town tournaments, I went to local lakes and fished against the club members. I also hooked up with a few other guys and we started our own local bragging rights tournaments.
One end result of staying local has been that I'm much more familiar with the area's waters, and I've been more successful as an angler than ever before.
I've believed for years that the bass in a 600-acre reservoir are just as big, just as wily and just as fun to catch as the bass from a large lake. This year has strengthened that belief.
Aside from the obvious money savings, another end result has been that I've had an opportunity to get to know some really great anglers. A couple of them I was familiar with before this year, but I knew they weren't into tournament fishing. Starting the pickup tournaments sort of gave them a better understanding of what the tournament hoopla is all about and why so many bass fishermen are addicted to it.
The same guys who a few months ago swore they hated tournaments are now the ones who call me to schedule the next one.
It looks like the simple decision to buy a boat has already paid off in positive ways. I've made new friends, I know my old friends even better, I actually have money in a savings account, I'm a better angler, and I have an even greater appreciation for the local waters.
I miss fishing with the club at overnight tournaments, and I look forward to fishing as a boater at those tournaments next year. I also believe, however, that I'll keep up with the local bragging rights trips, too.
They have made this year one of the best I can remember.
There is no doubt that I have lived a blessed life. If I were to depart the world tomorrow I would have no cause for complaint or worry. Compared to the lot some folks have drawn, my life has been one of love and comfort.
One of the greatest blessings I enjoy is that both of my parents are still walking this Earth. The older I become, the more I understand what a rarity that is.
Most readers are familiar with my dad. He and his antics have been in several columns. I've only written about my Mom twice. That situation changes now.
In my youth, I would have bristled at the thought of being called a "Momma's Boy" the guys know what I'm saying. But now, I believe I would wear it as a badge of honor.
I will, in fact, go on record to declare myself an Official Momma's Boy and here's why:
For some reason I was born with sharp fingernails, and I didn't want to be bothered. This time, it's the ladies who know what I'm saying. My Mom still loved me.
Right before the recession of the '70s, my Dad's company transferred him to Kentucky. My parents had just bought a house when the recession hit and Dad's company went under. Mom worked two jobs to keep us fed, clothed and taken care of. I never knew the difference.
I don't ever remember a baseball game during high school when Mom wasn't in the stands. The same goes for football, even though I opted for the marching band.
I learned that God loves me while sitting on her lap. I also learned to walk, talk, tie my shoes and swim with Mom at my side.
I've never met another soul who has demonstrated such advocacy and compassion for the mentally and physically challenged than my mother. She doesn't show outward pity, but treats everyone with the respect and integrity they deserve. The pity only becomes evident when she is alone and in prayer.
Mom is the closest thing to a modern day St. Francis of Assisi as anyone will ever find. She understands, loves and protects Nature's innocents, and I have seen them love her back.
I could go on for pages, but that would demean the point of this column. So I will attempt, in a surely inadequate way, to sum up why I am a Momma's Boy:
Without my mother, I would not be. Without her calm hands and comforting hugs, my childhood scars may have been far worse. Without her devotion to family, I would have been hungry. Without her example, I may have been blind to the suffering of others and ignorant of real character. Without her guidance, I may have never learned who I am, what I am and why I am.
Without my Mom's love, I would be a lesser man, and for that I am and always will be, a Momma's Boy.
What a blessed son I am.
Thanks to everyone for the e-mails regarding the last column on my father. He was happily surprised the column received so much feedback. I told him that that's just the class of readers Bassmaster.com has.
I expect he'll be asking about royalties any day now.
Recently a buddy of mine asked if I'd be interested in fishing after work. He said he'd take me to his secret spot if I promised not to tell anyone.
I agreed to the fishing and the secrecy, although I felt compelled to tell him that he had already told me about the spot. Plus, several other anglers claimed the spot as a secret, too.
After being delayed by trains, buses and what passes locally as a traffic jam, I finally met up with my buddy. As I transferred my stuff to the boat, I realized I'd only brought baitcast reels. That's normally not a problem for daylight, but night fishing and baitcasters don't play well together for me.
We still had a few hours of daylight left before the backlashing and squirrel fishing started.
During the ride to the honeyhole I was reminded of what the Elite Series guys had said regarding all the pollen at the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl. The stuff covered almost every inch of the surface. It even painted a bright yellow strip along the shoreline rocks and bushes.
When we finally reached the secret cove, my friend shut the big motor off, and we drifted toward "the spot." I have to say I was amazed at the activity on the graph. It was lit up like a snow globe. I think a good number of the fish were crappie, but where there are baitfish, there are bass.
As we slowly came to a stop, my buddy pointed and said, "The beds are over there."
Beds? I've never fished beds before. Never really wanted to. The opportunity to land a big bass, however, lay before me, so I put my reservations aside. Why not go with the flow?
I threw a stickworm into the area indicated and slowly dragged it. On the slightest tap I set the hook and brought a pig to the boat.
Most folks would be happy to see a fat momma bass on the end of their lines. I would be too, in most instances.
At the beginning of the column I wrote that several anglers had been fishing this spot. By the condition of that bass' mouth, she'd recently been hooked many times before.
I wasn't happy. I was sad to see her in this state. The bloody tail was nature's doing; the ripped lips and festering holes were from anglers.
I'm not preaching for folks not to catch bedding fish. I can only say that, for me, there was a reason I left them alone, and I should have held firm.
The Elite Series came through Smith Mountain Lake last week and I took my dad, Joe, to the show. This was the first Elite level event for both of us.
The trip to the marina started out normally. Dad said he wanted to drive because he wanted more room than my car offered. I translated that into, "I want control of the A/C. Bring a coat."
Earlier in the day I had asked my father to bring a rod if he wanted to fish from the bank while we waited for the pros. When he picked me up he said he'd forgotten his rod. I knew it was going to be an interesting day when he said he'd just use the antenna on his cell phone instead.
After parking, Dad indicated he'd like to walk the quarter-mile to the weigh-in stage. I really thought that was a bad idea in the 90-degree heat so I moseyed as slowly as I could until a BASS golf cart came along to ferry us down the road.
As we closed in on the main area, it was apparent that most of the crowd was made up of families and father and son combos.
The first tent we stopped at was a Fed Nation chapter raffling off a GPS unit. When I looked up after filling out the ticket, I couldn't find my dad. After a few quick steps into the crowd, I finally spotted him at the Evan Williams Bourbon booth.
He sure sniffed that tent out quickly for a non-drinker.
I only lost dad once more over at the food tents. An attractive young lady who was extolling the virtues of her sliced beef sandwiches distracted me. I found him at the Italian sausage hoagie/sugar cake booth.
It was a great thing to have the opportunity to meet Boyd Duckett, Zell Rowland, Denny Brauer and Don Barone. It's always interesting when two paisans meet.
What really made the day for me, however, were two other cool things.
The first was watching Gary Sphar, Matt Sphar's father, and my dad yakking it up under a shade tree. Gary's a good guy who was pretty darn interesting to talk with. He's also proud of his son, and he should be.
By the way, Matt finished a solid 10th, just like 2007.
The second thing was meeting the young Addair family mom, dad and three little boys out in the hot sun to watch the pros idle in to dock. Unfortunately, their little girl couldn't make it, but there's always next August.
I wondered as I took their photograph if the youngest crumb snatchers would remember this day. I thanked them for giving me something to remember.
Dad and I had a great time at the Blue Ridge Brawl. We saw some BASS folks, talked with Gary Sphar and met a wonderful family with at least three future anglers.
I kind of wish we could do this again next month.
I am a hypocrite and a lucky one at that. The Lord watches out for fools and fishermen, and I must lay claim to both.
Every week I ask folks to be safe in the closing sentence, yet I didn't practice what I preach a few days ago. The scars of that foolish act will remain with me for the rest of my life and the lesson will never be forgotten.
I was fishing a bragging rights tournament with my buddy, Garry Volk. As we pulled up to some wind beaten ledges and chunk rock, I threw out a football jig tied to 35-pound braided line off the back of the boat.
As everyone who fishes jigs around rock knows, the bait has a tendency to get hung up. Shortly into the first few casts, the jig found its soul mate rock and cleaved to it like white on rice. Sometimes, though, a few shakes and the bow and arrow technique will free the bait.
Not this time. Unfortunately, that jig was wedged pretty tight and even backing over it didn't free it from its new home.
Out of habit from fishing in cold weather, I wrapped the line around my arm to break off. Normally the coat I would be wearing provides enough protection from the line to allow it to break or pull the jig free.
Again, out of habit, I wrapped the line around my arm and started to pull. This was almost a muscle memory act that I quickly understood to be the absolute wrong move to make.
Just as I realized the insanity of the decision, Garry, who thought I had freed the jig, turns his 80-pound thrust trolling motor on to move us forward against the wind.
As folks can imagine, it doesn't take braid long to transform from fishing line into a razor-edged, amputation machine. I was standing on the back on the boat with the tightening line wrapped around my arm, wrist and hand.
All I could get out was, "Dude, can you ..." before the first crimson lines started appearing on my wrist and fingers. My next words were, "Back the boat up! Fast, man! Seriously, back it up! Back it up!"
I don't know how Garry got that boat to backtrack so quickly, but somehow he did. His actions prevented what could have been a very, very bad day and a complicated future. I offer no drama or exaggeration when I say that he literally saved my hand.
Today, I have a few nice cuts across my wrist and fingers to remind me never to play the fool again, never to be the hypocrite who asks readers to "be safe" yet neglects the same himself.
I called Garry a couple of hours ago to thank him again for acting as quickly as he did and to apologize for yelling like that. He understood because he's a man of faith and he understands that the Lord protects fools and fishermen.
The worst part of having a bad day on the water is that lately I've been doing pretty well in the fishing department. With the exception of a few weather-induced goose eggs, this year has been looking like a great year for quality fish overall.
I have no proof, only anecdotal evidence, but I'm starting to believe that "The Universe" might schedule periodic climactic beat downs to counter too much "success" and to keep us all humble.
When I think about the impact that a few bad weather weekends have had on my fishing, I tend to be even more impressed with how the professional anglers handle such things.
Whereas I'm simply fishing for enjoyment, they're fishing for mortgages, food and medical insurance for their families. And they all know that they must overcome adversity to succeed.
For example, take the weather the Elite Series guys have had to contend with since the beginning of this season. Every week since late February has brought a cold front, high winds and rain. Often, it's been a combination thereof.
Of course, the pros get paid to fish in all sorts of weather conditions, and I sort of like to see how they handle the tough stuff, but it's getting a little spooky to see them have to contend with crazy weather at every tournament.
I've heard several experienced fishing veterans say that bass can adjust to just about any weather condition as long as it's constant for a few days. I can't help but think about that observation whenever I hear the pros talk about their practice days.
It seems that the practice days for the last few tournaments have been mostly for naught. As soon as a pro zeroes in on a good pattern, the weather does a 180-degree turn. Consistency goes out the window along with the patterns, baits, etc.
Seriously, the pros and committed weekend anglers really have my respect. It takes a lot to overcome such things and bring a limit to weigh-in. And, yes, I understand that they have chosen this life with all its ups and downs.
But still, serious family matters considered, these men and women stick it out and leave it all on the water no matter what the conditions.
Come on, Universe! Let them have four days to fish!
What a weekend I just had! I zeroed, assisted and caught my personal best all in two days.
Some friends and I had a pickup tournament scheduled for Saturday. Since I'm still boat-less, a buddy and I were going to rent a boat for the tournament. When I arrived at the boathouse, they wouldn't allow rentals out because of the wind. The other guys had personal boats, so they launched.
My buddy and I decided to wait to see if the wind would die down. We fished from shore for a while, but the wind only blew stronger. Ironically, this lake had been perfect for bank fishing because of the drought. The recent storms, however, had filled the lake to full pool.
By noon, the wind had picked up considerably. Even the guys in boats were coming in. For them it was a successful tournament with the winning weight at 18.2 pounds. My buddy and I caught nothing.
On Sunday the wind was calmer. I decided to try the same lake to make up for the previous day. For some reason, I procrastinated all morning, and by the time I got to the lake every boat was rented.
As I was leaving the parking lot I saw another friend pulling in. We agreed to bank fish for a bit in the hope that a boat may come back early. Oddly, that's exactly what happened. We scrambled back to the boathouse and rented it for the rest of the day.
After about three hours, we came upon a series of ledges and found bass stacked up waiting to spawn. I threw out a football jig and slowly dragged it parallel to shore. As I pulled the jig over a rock, it fell free and "Pow!" The rod almost left my hands on the strike! I'd never had a bass hit a jig so hard before.
When she came to the boat, I was amazed at how fat that pig was. She ended up being 22 inches long. My scales are broken, so I'm not sure what the weight was, but my previous best was only 20-inches and not as fat.
Shortly after that catch, the wind started picking up again, and we barely made it back with the trolling motor.
After returning the boat, I was again leaving the parking lot when yet another friend calls me on the cell phone. He, his wife (who is expecting), son and dog were stranded many coves away from the ramp. Both motors had died and he was exhausted from trying to row. My batteries were dead so I told the guardhouse of the situation.
There were only two guys on duty, so they asked me if I would go with one of them to help. Very cool! In short order everyone was back on dry land, wet but safe.
What a weekend! I'll be trying for a new PB (personal best) soon, but the rest can remain as memories.
Many thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers for Melvin's wife, Christine. You are all Salt of the Earth and greatly appreciated.
Speaking of Salt of the Earth-type folks, the other day I had a chance to speak with Thomas Newcomb, one of my Freemason Brothers.
Thomas had some interesting news about a bass tournament his lodge was sponsoring for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.
"How long have you been holding this tournament?" I asked.
"This is our fourth year," he said. "It's unaffiliated, so anyone can come fish it. It's all about raising money for the Cancer Society. Our first year we only had 35 boats. Last year we had 65! I'd like to get the tournament up to 100 boats."
Thomas knows his way around water and kayaks, but he is a self-admitted non-angler. I had to ask him how he got involved with running a bass tournament for charity.
"Well," he said, "one of Freemasonry's principles is charity, and there are a lot of good charities out there. But my wife has had cancer and she's a chemotherapy nurse, so this one is very close to me. Cancer doesn't discriminate it affects everybody."
"You're right about that," I replied, "but how'd a man who doesn't fish come up with the idea of a bass tournament?"
Thomas then told me about a friend of his at work who is a big bass fisherman. One day Thomas saw a box of lures on his friend's desk. He asked this friend if he thought fishermen would buy a raffle ticket for a box of lures like that. His friend asked him why not just hold a tournament? They put a plan together, and the rest is history.
I certainly can't promote every tournament or worthy cause I come across. But when I come across one that combines my obsession with bass fishing with my hobby of Freemasonry?
Well, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
For me, it's easy to understand why our bassing community has been so supportive of Thomas' efforts, but one of the things he said really summed up why his tournament has been so successful.
"The cool thing," he began, "is when the fishermen say that the prizes and money are nice, but they'd fish the tournament anyway.
"Plus, these guys don't mind that their wives are telling them that they better darn well be prepared to fish this tournament."
Wives are good at setting priorities, huh?
As I said good-bye to my brother and friend, I couldn't help but be a little humbled. Here was a man who took it upon himself to dive into a world he knew nothing about for a cause he knows too much about.
I'm proud he chose our fishing passion for his charity.
Last week I lost a friend, a friend lost her husband and our community lost a hero.
Melvin Crewson, my buddy who owned The Minnow Pond, suffered a heart attack and was unable to beat this one. Melvin had fought the good fight against cancer, heart problems and respiratory issues for many years. He'd always been able to regroup and recover.
I guess I thought Melvin's recuperative powers would carry him through several more years. Regrettably, I wish I'd taken more time just talking with Melvin these last weeks.
As I write this, however, I can't help but smile at the memory of a "verbal exchange" between Melvin and Christine, his wonderful wife and best friend.
Melvin, Christine and a few folks were playing cards around a table behind the cash register. Christine said something to Melvin to which he replied, "Keep it up, woman, and I'll come at you like a pit bull!"
Christine looked right back at him and said, "Yah, right. Who's gonna be afraid of a toothless, bald, old mutt? Get'em, Spike!"
The whole table erupted in laughter, including Melvin. That day gave rise to a lot of toothless, bald mutt jokes at Melvin's expense, but he didn't mind. In fact, I don't ever remember him getting the least bit cross at being the butt of a good joke.
Melvin was confident enough in who he was to know that all that stuff was people showing how much they loved him.
I also remember a story Melvin told many times about leaving his boat to retrieve a lure stuck up in a tree on private property on Smith Mountain Lake. He stepped onto shore while his friend trolled off the bank until Melvin was ready.
When he got to the tree, he saw that it was full of crankbaits. He thought he'd hit the jackpot and started climbing wondering why none of the other anglers had bothered to get their lures back.
Melvin said he was halfway up the tree when he heard a "Woof!" behind him. He looked back expecting to see a collie. What he saw was an enormous St. Bernard making a beeline for his tree! He had to make a quick choice to climb or try to make it back to the boat.
He decided to escape to the boat and started yelling, "Hey! Come back! Come back! Come back! Come back!" all the while hearing the beast getting closer and closer.
Melvin jumped onto the boat in time to feel the dog's breath on the back of his leg.
He said he knew where that tree was to this day and it's got even more lures stuck in it.
Christine, God bless her, is going to keep the store open for as long as she can. Truth be told, Christine has been the major part of Melvin's strength for years. This fine lady can use everyone's thoughts and prayers.
Melvin, tight lines, my friend. You are sorely missed.
I recently competed in my first bass tournament of 2009.
Waiting for the tournament day I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. As I've written before, I love all kinds of bass fishing whether there's competition involved or not. But there's just something different about tournaments.
Maybe it's the competition factor I thrive on it! I've always loved competitive sports, both individual and team. I was never a good wrestler, but I competed. I really enjoyed football but never gained the height or quickness to take it much past my freshman year. The same with baseball and basketball ... especially basketball.
Soccer never entered the picture back in the '80s.
Actually, the height/quickness thing is a cop-out. I think I may have done pretty well in baseball or football if I had stuck with it. Once I saw how many girls were in the marching band, however, I made a teenage male's decision to "dedicate myself to music." It sure seemed a lot better to have 50 possible dates after a game than to be stuck in a locker room.
I took a lot of ribbing from my buddies who continued to play sports, but I can't say I ever regretted the decision. My father even asked me if I'd thought that decision through. After the first band uniform fundraiser, though, I think he saw where I was coming from and never asked me why I wasn't playing football again.
But in my line of thought, competitive bass fishing for the common fisher folk is different than most competitive sports. There really aren't any game films of our competition to watch. Physical condition aside, everyone is on a level playing field at every event if you place boaters and non-boaters in separate categories.
And, if we remove the human competition, we're really competing against the bass, aren't we? In essence, our tournaments are based on how many bass we can fool into temporarily relocating to a livewell and then comparing that number with the other tournament anglers.
It's not the other guys we're playing against, it's the fish. The game is over, the battle fought, the whistle blown by the time we carry that bag to weigh-in. All that remains is the comparison of who played the best game against a wily opponent on his home field.
Maybe that's a fine line I'm describing. It may even be one most folks have already acknowledged and believe to be obvious. But it's a concept that I have to beat into my head at just about every tournament.
Yes, I love bass tournaments, but not so much because I get to compete against ol' Sparky Hawgcatcher. I love them because I get to compete against a tougher opponent than any human and try to convince him to bite a little piece of metal, wood or plastic.
Of course, if I just happen to do that better than Sparky, then so much the better.
9:30 p.m. Sigh.
10:21 p.m. Mumble.... Go to sleep, man, ya gotta go to sleep.
Toss. Toss. Turn.
11:05 p.m. Argh! Come on, already.
Toss. Turn. Sigh. Peek.
1:53 a.m. Ah, crimony! What's the use? I might as well get up. No way ... I'll give it another hour.
Wait a minute. Did I pack the green pumpkin jigs? I don't remember packing them... I'm sure I did.
And what about the water bottles? Does that ramp have a drink machine? I can't remember. I think it did last year. I wonder when that store opens? They've got good chocolate fried pies.
Oh, man! Should I respool the Citica?
I don't remember where I put the freakin' jigs!
I hope the fish are still off that point. What if they're not? They gotta be, but maybe not. I bet Sparky's heading straight for that point at blastoff. That's just like him. Freakin' Sparky. I wonder if we should just go to the ledges instead? No, Sparky's probably heading there first, too.
Ha-ha ... two Sparkys.
Toss. Grumble. Toss.
2:32 a.m. Doh! Oh, come on! A couple hours sleep at least.
What if the red-flake's not working? Should I throw in some blue-flake? I know I put the jigs in with the trailers. Didn't I?
Toss. Toss. Toss.
Oh, yeah, that's right the water's in the back seat.
3:53 a.m. Aw, you're kidding me! Mumble.
Huh? What the...? Is that rain? It sounds like rain! Why is it raining? Man, ain't that just great. Wait ... that's not rain, it's just the cat. Freakin' cat. I wonder how he'd handle a boat ride? Better not try it.
Toss. Turn. Turn. Mumble.
Aw, c'mon, cat! Gimme a break, buddy! Leave me alone, will ya? Aw, all right. Okay, c'mere, little buddy.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Yeah, you're a good boy, now go to sleep or something, dude.
Sigh. Toss. Toss. Turn.
If the wind's up, I'm gonna throw that spinnerbait first. Ah, maybe not. I might try the crankbait. Let it sniff around the rocks some. I wish it was warmer water. I can't wait for the topwater bite. I bet Sparky's gonna throw that spinnerbait.
We have to get to that point before Sparky does. I bet they're on the ledges still, too. Freakin' Sparky.
4:30 a.m. Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
Finally! Oh, yeah! First tournament of the year! It's on!
Sometimes we are blessed with moments of clarity, moments when a certain action or event helps put things into perspective. That's happened to me twice since I've been writing this column.
Last weekend I had an opportunity to check in with some friends of mine who own a tackle shop. You all may remember the August 26, 2008 column about Melvin, Christine and Carolyn who own the Minnow Pond II in Roanoke, Va. You may also remember that the store caught fire several months back. Melvin and family lost everything inside, but the building was still stable.
Without going into boring detail, Melvin's journey to bring the store back has been difficult and, literally, heartbreaking. Melvin suffered a heart attack shortly after the fire. I can't imagine the stress those fine folks were under trying to get their baby back up and running again.
The pivotal moment started as I walked through the door and was met immediately by the same smiles and greetings as last year.
Melvin has a brand new coffee maker and shiner tanks. The old smell, however, is gone, replaced by the lingering odor of new paint and drywall. The mounted fish and deer heads don't grace the walls anymore. Nor are there dozens of spools of line hung up next to the line cutters and below the minnow buckets. The floors aren't scuffed, the counters aren't nicked and the new cash register has too many lights and buttons.
But the smiles are there, the shelves are slowly getting re-stocked, and the pegboard is filling up with baits and terminal tackle again. Melvin is determined to keep stocking quality items that work and not replace them with cheap stuff just to fill the shelves.
Neither Melvin nor his bride Christine ever complained once about the "fairness" of the whole situation, and they had plenty of opportunity and cause. I never heard a single complaint during the entire renovation about the work and money they've had to put into the shop, and both have been tremendous.
When I walked through those doors and got the same greeting as always, I didn't see or smell a new store, really. I saw a successful family who made a solemn promise to their customers (family and friends, according to Melvin) to open back up. I was witness to what hard work, integrity and character look like.
Sappy as that sounds, it gave me more hope for humanity and for our nation.
We're going through our own renovation right now. With determination and inner strength, our country will prevail. We just have to remember to keep what made us successful in the first place and not replace it with something "cheaper".
When Melvin was closed, I had to buy most fishing supplies at the big box stores. But the Minnow Pond is open again and so is our country.
Come what may, we will survive. We have to for our families and friends.
When I was 13 years old, my father's job transferred him to Virginia. I fought the idea like a spoiled adolescent claiming that all my friends were in Kentucky and that I'd never have friends that good again.
My parents looked at me and said the words I'll never forget:
"You'll make new friends, but a man is fortunate to be able to count the number of his good friends on one hand."
At the time I considered that some kind of bad Jedi mind trick. It made absolutely no sense.
Today, I reflect on those words and understand how true they are. I can especially attest to the wisdom because of two fishing related things that happened this weekend.
I was supposed to practice for an upcoming tournament with a fishing partner last Saturday, but the cold weather forecast caused the fellow to reconsider on Friday. He's a wounded veteran and weather affects those brave souls a lot more than us short, fat guys. He's earned the right to a little comfort, in my opinion.
On Saturday morning, I got a call from a friend, Dennis Casavant. He wanted to know how the practice was going. I told him the story and he immediately said, "Well, I'm going out. You want to come with me?"
I don't know if Dennis was really going out or not, but he certainly didn't have to invite me along. He even waited for me to get my stuff together so I could meet him on the way. We spent a few hours on the water graphing fish and checking out what changes had occurred over the winter.
Dennis isn't going to be able to fish that tournament, but he didn't hesitate to help out a friend who is.
That's one finger.
Then, shortly after Skeet Reese had won the Classic, I was writing the column for this week. Quite honestly, it was going nowhere. The topic was the Classic, and I knew that many other writers were tackling the same subject. I was having a hard time finding a new angle.
My cell phone rang with a Texas area code on the screen. It was Jake Chambers, a fellow writer I've come to regard highly over this past year. The rascal had just wrapped up his Classic experience and was sitting in the parking lot waiting for his chance to mosey back to his side of the Sabine River.
We talked awhile about some of the folks he'd met at the Classic and some of the things he saw. It was pretty cool to get a first-hand account from a friend.
The thing that struck me, however, was that Jake could have called just about any of his friends, but he didn't. He thought about his buddy back East crouched over a computer pining for the day when he, too, can attend a Classic.
I really appreciated that call and long distance cell calls aren't cheap.
Thank you, Dennis and Jake. Sort of funny how bass fishing brings out the best in friends, isn't it?
I just got back from my bass club's awards banquet. It's great to see the guys together again after a couple months of offseason meetings. The banquet is also a good time for the spouses to see each other and share stories about their husbands' obsession with bass fishing.
The banquet seems to be an unofficial kick-off for the tournament year. Most of the members get each other up to speed on new tackle, baits and whatnot.
They also talk about any and all boat injuries, repairs, and upgrades that have taken place in the offseason.
As I sat there tonight listening to the boat talk, I made a final decision that this would be the year that I purchase my first boat. I've been wavering back and forth about it for a few months because of the economy, but one of the wives said something that seriously rang true, "Get a boat now while you're young enough to really enjoy it."
I can appreciate good advice when I hear it.
Now I must decide what kind of boat to buy. New or used? Large or small? Propeller or jet boat?
There are logical reasons for each choice. It's kind of maddening, really.
If I consider a used boat, I can probably get a great deal on one right now. There are a lot of "new-to-me" boats on the market that aren't in bad shape and come complete with all kinds of gadgets and doo-dads already attached.
On the other hand, would I just be buying someone else's problem?
A new boat would come with a warranty and that sense of minty fresh ownership. But it may cost a lot more. Buying a new boat, however, would be a positive contribution to a hurting industry.
Do I look at a 16-footer? 21-footer? Something in the middle? Considering that the club fishes some big water, a larger boat makes sense. But big water tournaments are only a small percentage of where I fish, so a smaller boat would be better for most of the local lakes and rivers.
Maybe I should get a nice johnboat for recreational fishing and remain a non-boater for tournaments.
Since we have some excellent rivers near here, I am also considering a jet boat. I could use it on big water, too. I understand, however, that they are maintenance intensive and much louder than prop boats. I don't know this for a fact, so I better do some more research.
It sure would be nice to have the discretionary income and absolute job security to get an 18-foot prop for tournaments, another 18-foot jet for river fishing and a nice johnboat for everything else.
Of course, if I did that, I'd have to buy more land to store them all.
It looks like I have some real work cut out wading through all the choices and possibilities. Whatever the final decision is, though, I believe that boat will know true appreciation and care.
Have you ever seen something happening and it just doesn't make sense? That happened to me this weekend and my stomach and soul still hurt.
The last time I remember feeling this way was on 9/11. I'm not comparing what I saw to that horrible day. I'm just saying that the "feeling" is similar, but on a much smaller, less significant scale.
This winter a friend of mine has put hours and hours of labor into constructing woodpiles along the shores of a local lake. He is a true conservationist and felt that he would take the opportunity to create some quality wood cover for when the water level rises.
I've helped him a few times, but the vast majority of the work has been his alone.
To be honest, I think he was almost a little obsessed with these woodpiles. Each one was almost a work of art. He gathered driftwood from shore and supplemented that by dragging whole fallen trees, limb by limb, from the surrounding forest.
In order that the structure wouldn't simply float away at full pond, my friend had anchored each pile with large stones. Some piles even had stakes driven into the rocky shore.
I wish I'd had the forethought to take a few photographs of this fellow's work. I honestly believe most folks would have recognized it as the effort of a man who knew what he was doing and was willing to devote a part of his life for the betterment of a fishery he truly loves.
Last weekend I went out to this same lake to tune some crankbaits for an upcoming tournament. As I stood at the edge of a point casting and retrieving, I kept hearing splashes coming from across the next cove over.
Unfortunately, the wind had picked up so much that it made casting difficult, so I decided to see what sort of mischief was afoot with the splashing.
When I got within sight of the next cove, I saw a group of kids and an adult with a dog. The dog was straining at the leash as if it really didn't want to be right there, right then.
The kids were dismantling my friend's woodpiles and throwing them into the lake. The "adult" was watching them.
That was the moment when I couldn't believe what I was seeing, when my stomach and soul hit the ground. I tried to yell and ask them to stop, but the wind was so bad they couldn't hear me.
Eventually, events occurred that persuaded them to desist, and I'll stop there. But, they had destroyed all the piles except one actually tore them down to the ground.
I can understand the kids not knowing what they were doing, but the adult?
Several months of anonymous dedication gone on a whim of useless destruction.
I think the dog was the smartest of the lot.
Brady Cooper, the service manager of the company I work for, and I had lunch with my dad last week. His company and mine do some business together and every so often we take some lunch to network and share leads.
Dad's sort of a sales legend in the business community, so Brady took the opportunity to ask him a few questions, one of which was, "Who's your biggest competition?"
Dad looked at him with a completely serious expression and said, "We are, and there's no excuse for it.
"Competitors don't usually beat us by luck," he said, "they win when we take ourselves out of the contest."
I've heard him express that sentiment before, so dad started explaining to Brady what he meant. Every weakness his company has, every weak link, missed opportunity, misunderstood product, miscommunicated idea, every failure to plan, misread situation, or whatever, is worse than the strongest competition another company can hit them with.
All the sales folks reading this know that that's deep, relevant stuff.
As dad was explaining his answer to Brady, it occurred to me that the same concept could be applied to fishing, especially bass tournaments. (That's how bad my addiction is I'm out on a business lunch daydreaming about bass.)
Consistent tournament winners don't beat their competition by luck. They win by being prepared and taking ownership of their own actions, knowledge, skills and behaviors.
If tournament anglers were honest, most of us would admit that ol' Sparky Hawgcatcher doesn't consistently win club tournaments because he's lucky. That is, of course, unless we're willing to concede that consistent luck is simply opportunity met with preparation.
Sparky may be our competition on paper, but he's no threat compared to the havoc each of us can wreak on ourselves. Many of us start fishing against ourselves the minute that boat hits plane and we second-guess our game plans. Possibly even before that if we didn't take the time to prepare our gear the night before.
I'm going to take my father's sage words to heart this year and take ownership of tournament performances. I'm going to try to identify and overcome my weaknesses by not second-guessing myself as much and by practicing with new techniques and lures. I'm going to seriously study lake maps and scour local Web sites for reports. I'm going to trust intuition, but not to the point of stubbornness. I'm going to be more disciplined in keeping my fishing journal up to date and my equipment ready to do battle.
And I'm going to really pay attention to what the pros are saying and doing.
All this armchair philosophizing has got me pretty stoked about the upcoming tournament season. It seems awfully easy to write today, but I plan on beating my "worst" competition this year and kicking Sparky's "lucky" butt as much as possible.
Several months ago, some friends and I were sitting around before a club meeting swapping yarns about tournaments and trips from the past. I think we all realized that after a few years most of the good stories have been told so many times we could repeat them from memory.
Inevitably, the conversation began to lag.
One of the guys then said he had a question. "What if," he began, "you could only use one rod, one line and one bait for the rest of your life? What would you choose?"
A couple of fellows started getting technical with specific makes and manufacturers until the guy who posed the question replied, "Don't worry about all that. What I'm looking for is: baitcaster, spinning or spincast? Mono, braid or fluoro? Get it?"
There were some interesting answers from the group. Even today I think about that question. In my opinion, the answer says a lot about our philosophy behind our own style of fishing and what set-ups we have the most confidence/experience with.
For the record, I chose a medium-heavy spinning rod, 8-pound green mono and a green pumpkin with red flake stickworm.
I chose a spinning rod because it's more forgiving to my style of fishing. I like to skip docks, cast into wind and throw lighter baits than a baitcaster can sometimes handle. In "real life" I use a baitcaster as much as a spinning rod, but since I had to choose only one, it was the spinning rod. It can be used in a lot of the same situations as a baitcaster and it allows me more freedom to skip under docks, low hanging limbs, etc. The M/H has enough backbone and give for most situations.
I picked 8-pound mono because it's abrasion-resistant and pretty strong. I've used 8-pound line in every water color, temperature and environment except heavy weeds and pads. I've even used it in nasty cover like wood and boulders without much problem. I'm not saying that it's my first choice for all situations, but it's color, strength and toughness allow me to fish in many situations with confidence.
The hardest part of that question to answer was the bait. I like so many types and each one has its purpose.
Ultimately, I chose a stickbait like a Yamamoto Senko or Yum Dinger because it's versatile. A stickbait can be Texas rigged, wacky rigged, wacky jigged, nose hooked or fished weightless. It can be deadsticked, hopped, jerked, popped, skipped, dragged and swam. Luckily, I've gotten strikes on them from the darkest corners under docks to open water.
Those are my choices, although I'm not set in stone on any part of the answer. I may even change them as time moves on. Right now, I think the combination would be pretty hard to beat as far as adaptability, versatility and forage on my local bass waters.
The question now is what would you chose?
I enjoy reading the Open Letters we see in the local papers. The format is becoming rare, but I thought I'd give it a shot.
Dear Politicians, Spouses and Bass Fishing Industry Manufacturers,
Please consider the following:
Politicians, you have been voted into office by The People, although not everyone voted for you. This means you are not free to disregard the views of the folks who voted for your opponent.
All the people you serve local, state or federal deserve your honest representation. Do not fail them or the honor of your office by compromising your integrity. Do not cheaply sell the welfare and liberties of your constituents for the sake of personal gain. Do not worship at the altar of political correctness for a few minutes of plastic glory.
When the opportunity arises for you to strengthen the rights of fishermen, take it. Protect our rights to access and properly care for our public waters. We aren't asking for "fair." We're asking for "just." In the end, however, if certain landowners continue to decide that we should take our boats away from "their land," perhaps it would be just as proper for them to get their docks off of "our lakes."
Spouses, spring is just around the corner for a good part of the country. It may not seem that way in the Polar Regions above the Ohio River, but it's true. You all may notice that your spouses are getting fidgety and have memorized every fishing catalog that has arrived in the mail. Perhaps your mates have cleaned every tacklebox, tuned every reel and sharpened every hook in their possession. Perhaps these poor creatures have spent a little more on baits and line then you would have preferred.
Why not join them in their passion this year? Maybe just try it. You may get hooked yourself.
If, however, bass fishing just isn't your thing, please consider this: It is your spouse's thing. Seems like there are far worse things our loved ones could be caught up in than respecting nature, challenging their minds, strengthening their spirits and enjoying the fellowship of like-minded anglers.
Far worse things, indeed.
Fishing Industry Manufacturers, please note that even in troubling economic times, your customers are loyal. We may not have the amount of disposable income we had, but we're still buying what we can, when we can. As the economy improves, so will our purchasing power.
We all know that you must make a profit on your products. No one wants to see a single one of the manufacturers go under. We also know that it takes money to develop and market new products. Therefore, we continue to buy your goods.
That being understood, when the economy does improve, please keep the current loyalty of your customers in mind. Do everything you can to promote the sport, sponsor anglers and provide quality products at a reasonable price.
Thank you all for your kind attention.
For the past seven months I have had the distinct privilege of writing this blog. The original intent was to provide a look-see into the angling life of an everyday fisherman. I sincerely hope that it's been successful.
What I didn't know at the beginning of this column's life was that I would also have the privilege of corresponding with some incredible people. That is, I had hoped for a few e-mails and comments, but the quantity and quality of the feedback has been very, very humbling.
I sincerely thank everyone for their thoughts and words!
In appreciation for the readers of "The Reel World," I'd like to share a few of the more notable photographs and stories I've received it would just be a shame if the rest of our wonderful bass fishing family missed out on some of this stuff!
One of the first e-mails I received was from a fellow named Foin near Grand Lake in Okla. Foin saw fit to tell me how he and his son recently started bass fishing. The e-mail was full of the excitement and enthusiasm a new angler wraps himself with especially when he gets to bring his son along on the journey. Shortly thereafter, Foin e-mailed me again with the results of his first tournament five keepers and a photo of a bass his son caught!
In my opinion, the look on that youngster's face says more about what fishing's all about than all the how-to magazines and books ever printed. Thank you, Foin, for sharing a little bit of that very cool journey you and your son are on! Good luck with the tournaments and good luck with gaining knowledge. Like most young fishermen, your son's going to be gaining on you real soon, and that's pretty cool.
The next few photos are from a fellow in Colorado named Bill. Bill has a talent for having a camera ready at the best times. He sent the iced up bow photo after a winter fishing column. That's a dedicated angler to be fishing in that kind of weather.
Regarding the fish in the bass' mouth photo, it always amazes me that a bass with an obviously full gullet will strike a lure. Instinct is pretty strong in our watery, finned friends, isn't it?
The last photo goes all the way back to my July 1, 2008 column. The fellow who took the photo of Kelly's fish with a cell phone was finally able to download it to me.
That's an almost 6-pound largemouth with a 2-pound bass in its mouth! What a sight that was.
As before and as always, many thanks to the folks who make this column successful the readers! I appreciate every comment and e-mail and I hope to have more columns like this one in the future.
Last week I stopped by the guardhouse at Carvins Cove Natural Reserve in Botetourt County, Va. The Western Virginia Water Authority has a reservoir there that I fish every so often, and I wanted to wish the folks there a happy New Year.
Plus, I thought I'd drop a line in the water just to see how hungry the bass were.
As I walked the bank I noticed some strange rock formations. It seemed that the aliens who created the crop circles in Britain had decided to try their hand at making complicated designs out of rocks along the shores of The Cove.
After a few hours trying to entice more than one scrawny bass to bite, I grew tired of ice on the rod eyes and wandered back to the guardhouse to say goodbye.
Shortly after going back inside, one of the guys pulled a folded sheet of paper off a cabinet and proudly asked me if I'd read about them in the Water Authority's newsletter.
"We're in there twice," he said. "We rule."
One article detailed the success the guys at The Cove had collecting toys for a Christmas toy drive. That was pretty cool.
The other article explained the rock formations.
Seems a few days prior a group of first-graders had traveled to the reservoir to do a little hiking and shell collecting. One of the security officers, Allan White, suggested that the kids might enjoy building fish habitats as well. According to Allan, the teachers and students liked the idea better than hiking.
The "fish houses," as the first-graders called them, were what I saw on the shore and they were perfect examples of imagination. They included circles and rectangles of rocks and twigs, driveways, lookout towers, spirals and a few pyramids worthy of Egypt. It was obvious the kids had a great time.
The teachers said this was the children's first environmental project and they thanked Allan for a fun, hands-on educational experience.
When I finished the article I asked Allan what prompted him to suggest building habitats.
"When I grew up," he said, "all the kids wanted to hunt and fish especially the boys. Now there's a lot who don't. If we can get them interested in fishing at an early age then maybe it'll stick. If everyone just got one kid interested, it'll keep the spirit alive."
It's good to learn something new about a friend, especially if that something new makes you proud. Allan White and the guys at Carvins have been friends of mine for years. Those newsletter articles certainly demonstrate that these are good people to know.
Allan, I hope that when the water comes up again those fish houses last forever and that each little first-grader becomes a lifelong angler. Your simple suggestion may have improved someone's life and contributed to the health of our sport.
Thank you, Officer White and Happy New Year!
The Reel World 2008
Click here for Jaison's blog entries from 2008.