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Diary of a Bassmaster Virgin: Part II

This is the second installment in a two part series about Don Barone's adventures as a co-angler. To read Part I, click here.

Practice????

KS: "Here put this life vest on…if you hit the water and get yourself knocked out, this part down here will sense the water and automatically inflate the vest."

It was about here I started to feel this was going to be different. Normally when I get in a fishing boat this is what I hear, "Did you bring the cooler?"

Then KS looks at me and smiles. Picture the same smile of every teacher you have ever had as they handed you that invite to go down and meet the Assistant Principal. It was at this point I knew that I had never been here or done this.

I was right.

Oh dear God! (Now I've been told by the editors not to use the word God for fear I might offend you, but I have to tell you as a fair and reasonable truth telling journalist, that at this point I was in fact PRAYING mighty hard. And that whomever it is that YOU may pray to, you'd be using his/her name right about now had it been your butt in that bass boat and not mine. And most of my prayers at that specific time involved precisely just that; some miracle by which I would end up back at the Holiday Inn and YOU, here, shotgun next to KS)

Bam!

Want to know what it feels like to hit a 3-foot wave at about 50 miles per hour? Put your coffee down, open up your back door, run full blast (or as close to that as possible at your age) screaming and spitting all the way through your back yard, and straight into that last tree over there by the garage.

If the tree didn't shake, you didn't do it hard enough. If your dog ain't licking the bottom of your feet, buddy, you only made it up to about half as fast as you need to run.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

I'm going to cut through all the crap you have to do to make writing readable and just flat out tell you what I was thinking at about this point in time:

1. I have several pounds of titanium in my ass and if my butt replacement doc (hit the archive button over there on the right hand side and dial up the story on Atlantic Salmon fishing to meet him, when you're done reading this of course) reads this story, it's going to be a lot harder to get refills of those pink little pain pills I'm going to need if I ever get back to shore.

2. It's true. You ever seen those folks in a hurricane, who for some unknown reason OPEN THEIR MOUTH and they're cheeks get all puffy like. My cheeks were all wiggling like I was trying to bite a tornado, and it felt kind of goofy and neat. Now I know why dogs stick their heads out the window.

3. My life did flash past my Gargoyles, except for 1969 to 1974, on account of things that had nothing to do with fishing.

4. Just how damn fast do bass swim in the first place?

I think we headed east. I would know for sure had not all the tear stuff in my eyes got smushed out and stuck behind my sunglasses. We head straight for some rocks, slow down for 90 seconds so KS doesn't create a wake and upset someone other than me, then rocket off across the lake to VERMONT because supposedly the largemouth in Vermont are bigger than the largemouth in New York, which by the way, is not the case when it comes to the HUMANS in those two states.

Slam! We stop. KS turns and smiles at me, which he can do since he just made the trip BEHIND a windshield, holding on to a steering wheel. Me, all I had in front of me was surf.

KS is up and moving around the boat, pulling poles out from everywhere. I'm pulling my boxers from out of my armpits. The next 6- to 8-hours we spend trolling up and down the lake. It's a short day for KS. The last two, he spent 14 hours each day looking for bass (as did the other pros).

Being license-less I sat back and got a clinic on bass fishing — pro-style.

I've seen plenty of athletes with amazing eye and hand control. KS had every bit as much as any other athlete. Except these pro fishing guys have amazing eye, hand AND foot control. Standing up at the bow, one foot on the trolling pedal, it was effortless as he steered the boat amongst the weeds.

You can tell how good an angler is by watching his eyes. As soon as the bait hit the water, KS was scanning for another spot to cast.

"I got more bites at 5- to 6-feet. The big bass are hiding in the weeds. Everything lives in the grass; the fish, what the fish eat. The grass provides food, shelter, and a place to hide."

He's a man looking to find the unseen.

About 1 p.m., it started to pour rain. At least that's what I thought.

"This isn't rain Barone. It's RAINING when you can't see the front of the boat from where you're sitting." Which at that moment was in the MIDDLE of the boat.

KS, of course, keeps on practicing.

By 3 p.m., I can't see the front of the boat since the "drizzle" is now coming down sideways and slamming into my eyes. I do know we have a bow, however, because KS is still standing on it.

"Barone?"

At this point I've given up. I just answer, "Yeah."

"Yesterday I was out here practicing and the lightning storms were so close that when I made a cast, the line just sort of hung out there. I had to pull it down. And the rod, it started humming, I could feel it vibrate in my hands."

"Great! You ever hear of Ben Franklin, dude?"

And I guess he did because he put the rods down, stored the tackle, and headed straight into the building swell and back to the boat launch, at 60 miles per hour.

"Usually in waves like this I try and just skim from wave-top to wave-top, but they're too far apart. I'll just try and shoot through the troughs so…"

I didn't hear much more. Not with the distracting confession in my head.

Tourney time

Walking through "Angler Alley," toward registration, I'm making mental note of how many other PINK bass boats I see.

None, KS. In case you are wondering (If Mrs. KS came up with the color scheme I officially take all this back because she is nice and…).

This is also my first walkthrough of the stuff on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Those with the poles, en masse.

I was ready to be y'alled.

Didn't much happen.

Sure, there were some accents that I pegged from being somewhere between the Mason-Dixon line and Cuba, but it wasn't anything like I expected. And like you can understand anything anyone from Massachusetts says when they're all fired up and yakking about the Red Sox while standing on "Cape Caud."

If you think these guys are all red-necked yahoo's, GET OVER IT.

These guys are you and me. Walking through the crowd I had no idea who were the anglers, and who were the angler watchers. Guys with no stomach, donut-belly guys like me, guys with hair, guys wishing about hair, white, black, Asian, and that ever present sunburned goggle face group.

Guys with large and small dogs and wives, young kids and old mortgages, Toyota, Ford and Chevy. Bottle water and cans of soda, pizza boxes and sandwiches in zip bags.

You ever see an auto plant change shifts? Those people walking out — these guys. You ever take Metro North back to Connecticut from Manhattan? These guys, too.

Except for the fact they catch bass, and I catch PT Cruiser's, I never felt out of place. That is, until I signed in at the reservation table.

I walked in, got welcomed and was handed some rules and regulations and a gold bass hat. Kept the hat.

Showed them my NYS fishing license, which is yet another example of why America is great. I found I could buy one in the same place that also sold donuts.

Then, I was told to sign something that said pretty much that when it comes down to fishing in this tournament, compared to you the co-angler, the bass will be the lucky ones.

I scribble my name, and at the very last loop of the scrawl, the moment I stop, a gospel group starts to sing way up front there on stage. Even the lady who signed me in looked up to me with that look that said, "Sign from God son, sign from God."

I knew I was doomed.

I mingled for a bit in the cement convention hall. Found both KS and KVD, and they both talked bass with me. I mostly nodded. I left when someone came up to KS, face all blown up and finger pointing "discussing" KS's recent column on the evils of co-anglers fishing in the same boats with Pros. Dude, you write something like that, you're on your own. Some of these guys have got big-ass hooks.

I stood around for a mind-numbing lecture on where if you catch fish you might not want to do it. Two cans of soda and one trip to the John later, they were still talking. Some guy in green fatigues and big arms came up and talked about boarding boats, a no-prisoner game warden type.

From what I could tell, there are birds in Vermont thanks to him.

Finally, we met the Pro we would be fishing with, and my guy turned out to be James Niggemeyer.

Story continued on Page 2