It's the start of a new year, and time for all those resolutions everyone seems so keen on after the holidays. Time to cut out salt, sugar and carbs from everything we eat and live on celery and carrots, right? Why is it these resolutions always have to be so healthy, anyway?
I was actually considering cutting back on my Red Bull habit the other day when I suddenly remembered I had already made my New Year's resolution for 2008: I made it during the first week of December, while battling a 30-pound redfish I sight-fished off the bottom of a bayou in Venice, La.
After that giant sea beast did a headstand on my jig, wolfed it down and peeled off 50 yards of line on its first run, I yelled to everyone within a 10-mile radius, "God so help me, I will return to this place at least once a year for as long as I live!"
Of course the only person within 100 miles of marsh who actually heard my resolution was Captain Mike Frenette, the man in Venice. He personally witnessed my redfish overdose that day and the repercussions it caused.
The reason I was there to begin with was to tape a "World's Greatest Fishing Show" with Capt. Mike, the master of the Louisiana Delta marsh.
Frenette lost his entire lodge and prolific 20-year guide business to Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005 — and has spent the last 2 1/2 years picking up the pieces, rebuilding his life and livelihood by hand, one day at a time. He wanted to show the WGFS that Venice was back in business, and that the bull reds are ready to do battle.
Going into the shoot, I did not know what to expect. Sure, I figured we'd catch some redfish, but what happened totally caught me off-guard: After I caught a couple of those Gator-Kong redfish in just a couple of feet of water, my mind was tweaked out of its frame, like I was having some kind of out-of-body religious redfish experience.
Between catching giant redfish each day and the food the Frenettes served each night at the lodge — which, by the way, would make anyone violate their New Year's resolutions on the spot — my head was a complete mess.
Those who know me understand I'm seldom at a loss for words, but by the afternoon of the second day in the Louisiana marsh, I was absolutely speechless about what I had experienced. My mind was so busy trying to process the sheer reckless abandon of those bull reds that I could not even render a comprehensible sentence.
So how can a yearly fishing trip be considered a New Year's resolution? Let me try to explain.
Anyone who enjoys fishing can recall, usually in vivid detail, the first fish they ever caught.
Catching my first fish as a kid, I can see everything that happened on that day: the weather, what the water looked like, watching that bass eat my old three-hooked purple worm, proudly showing off my fish to everyone in the neighborhood. The whole day was magical.
I believe that as anglers we are always seeking to relive those magical moments. Every fishing trip we take is an opportunity to tap into that dreamlike state of wonder and awe. Anglers of all types go on multi-day expeditions with rod and reel in hopes of recapturing that feeling for just a few brief minutes.
At Venice, I was like a kid in a casting candy store for 48 hours straight — and I've honestly never experienced that feeling for so long.
To stare down the barrel of a 20- to 30-pound bronze brute blasting your lure is truly a surreal fishing experience.
Just knowing that a fishing fantasyland like Venice exists in this country is the type of medicine that brings me great comfort. (I might be here in Michigan, shoveling 18 inches of snow out of my driveway right now, but at least I know Venice is still there.)
And when I'm trapped in an airport for six hours, about to come unglued because I can't get home, I know it's still there.
When the demands of everyday life have worn me down to a nub, I know it's still there.
And at least once a year, I'm going to go down to make sure it's still there.
Episodes of the "World's Greatest Fishing Show" air Saturdays at 8:30 a.m., January through March on ESPN 2. For more information, visit the show's Web site.