Road kill

April 11, 2011
Road kill

During the holidays, my wife's brothers come in town with their families. The three of them reside in New York City. I have been there for fun, but I would never live there. Rachel's brothers are unbelievably funny. Mike is a writer and a filmmaker; Jon is a videographer and film editor; Sammy is an artist. None of my wife's family are the outdoorsy type — well, maybe Sam. The closest the others come to nature is the Outdoor Channel.

Wine, beer and gut-splitting laughter has become somewhat of a holiday tradition for us. It never fails but as the night progresses they want to hear some of my crazy animal stories. I grew up with a fishing rod in one hand and a shotgun in the other. I also liked to catch animals. I caught everything from spiders to mammals and have eaten everything from chipmunks to elk. Yes, I said chipmunks. My dad always said, "If you're going to shoot it, you're going to eat it." So, the day he saw me shooting robins and chippers in the back yard, I learned exactly what he meant.

But that's not this story.

The brothers-in-law wanted to hear a story, and for them it better be a funny one. With so much stupidity in my youth, I'm never short of anecdotes.

One day not so long ago, in a place not so far from here is where our story begins. I was on my way to my parents' house, no doubt to do some form of repair or manual labor. So, as usual, I was in no kind of hurry. When I found myself driving behind an older woman, who was obviously in no rush to go anywhere either, I was unbelievably OK with it. After all, I was going to do work under my father's disciplined eye, which meant I could easily be there forever.

While driving at a snail's pace, and resisting every temptation to override my self-imposed governor, I began to daydream of a nice squirrel or rabbit dinner. Then, just like manna from heaven, the woman in front of me hubcapped a squirrel that was running across the road. My meal went tumbling through the air and bounced off the curb and into the road. Without missing a beat, I eased my vehicle over to the squirrel, opened my door, reached down, grabbed the furry little animal and tossed him to the passenger side floorboard.

It was too perfect! The squirrel didn't have a mark on him! This could be just the distraction I needed to postpone my work sentence! My father would probably tell me similar stories of his youth. Everything was working out great until I glanced down at my meal and saw him sitting up and staring at me! We probably saw each other at the same moment because we had one of those awkward silences.

That's when all hell broke loose. He was on my dash, on me, on the ceiling, on me, on the floor, on me. I was swerving from curb to curb while trying to avoid those claws that can climb anything, or his teeth that can open nuts with the ease of a hammer. He made for my head rest as I gracefully dodged to my left, slamming my face against the window.

Then the squirrel ran down my leg and under my brake pedal. I couldn't hit the brake, and I surely couldn't speed up. Of course, by this time I was wondering when the squirrel was going to make the dash up my leg and go for what squirrels naturally eat.

As I was approaching my father's driveway, I nudged the animal with my foot and it took off under my seat. Turning fast while slamming on the brakes I went fishtailing into my father's drive. I had no time to be proud of my driving skills, however. I had other issues to think about.

The garage door was up, so, hopping out of the car and leaving my door open, I strolled into the garage. I knew exactly what I was looking for — leather gloves and a piece of 2x4. Finding both, I was ready to extract the squirrel from my car.

This was going to be easy, I thought. I looked under the driver's seat ... no animal. I looked under the passenger seat ... no animal. I looked on and under the back seats ... no animal.

Maybe he ran out when I was in the garage.

Perplexed, I plopped down in the driver's seat to take a moment, when I heard him. He was still under the seat! But where?

I put half my head under the seat, not liking my vulnerability in that position. That's when I spotted some fur way up under the seat. As I grabbed for the fur, the squirrel started burrowing farther into my seat.

It was a tug of war — man versus beast — and the score was tied at zero. I pulled and it tugged back. Then the squirrel tried to reposition itself and that's when I got him by the back legs. I knew that if I didn't get him behind the neck, he'd spin around and drive his teeth into my forearm. This was not my first rodeo. So, as I pulled the squirrel out as fast as I could and, with one fluid motion, I grabbed it behind the neck with my free hand.

Bingo I had him! Then I grabbed the 2x4 and was ready to dinnerize my squirrel when he threw me a curve ball. He had a secret weapon — big black eyes.

I repositioned myself for the deadly strike when I saw those big black eyes just looking at me, as if to say, "After all of our history together ... this?

I put down the 2x4, petted the squirrel for a few seconds and let him go. He didn't run like I thought, instead he looked back and hopped onto a stump, barked, fluffed his tail and trotted off. I felt OK with calling it a draw. Then I heard a voice from the garage.

"Wuss! Let's go! I've got work for you to do."

"Yes, Dad."

I miss you, Dad!

April 1, 2011
Lake Norman is over

The Lake Norman tournament is over. If I have learned one thing over the last 11 years, it's that you can't dwell on the past. When you put up bad results in a tournament, the only thing to do is learn from your mistakes and move on. It's over and it's now time to work on the next event. If you become obsessed with a poor event, this obsession will prevent you from moving forward. More importantly, it can rob your self-confidence.

I am a firm believer in self-confidence, not self-destruction. I have had bad tournaments and good tournaments. The one element that holds true for both is that when they are over the only thing that matters is the next event.

Table Rock Lake is the site of the next Central Open. I am now getting ready for the Rock. Little did I know that while I was away from home last week my "to do" list grew like Jack and the Beanstalk. Seems like every time one of my children get an idea, they convince Rachel it would be great if we could all participate — which means me!

So, I finished refurbishing a desk for my son Josh, when I find out that I am now apparently the proud owner of a vegetable garden. Where is said garden, I asked my wife and daughter. In unison they replied, we want it right "there."

Tomorrow, I will till the garden, take out all the roots and prepare a compost patch. This should be plenty to get them started. I figure that while I'm preparing for Table Rock, they can plant seeds. I really get a kick out of my kids. They're always doing something or planning the next project.

After I chop down some of my beanstalk, I'm going to see Todd at Hydromotive Engineering to run some prop tests with my new Legend. Todd came up with a new four-blade design, and, hopefully, we can run the prototype as well.

I actually love driving boats. Todd is a speed junkie and has been racing boats with his father since birth, so when Todd and I start prop testing, it becomes like a science project. It will go something like this. Todd will say "Good hole shot. Nice mid-range. I think we can do better top end."

Next prop — "Excellent hole shot. Crazy mid-range. Good top end. Let's run it some more."

I say OK. Todd says, "You drive it and tell me what you think."

As I'm driving, Todd yells to ask what I can get out of a turn. I throttle through the turn and the boat holds tight. Very impressive. Todd says, "Let me run her."

The next thing you know, daylight is waning, and we're now doing a make believe slalom course. The problem is we're both performance junkies. He likes sick speed, and I like crazy handling. Between the two of us, we find the best of both worlds and have fun doing it.

Oh well, the prop test will have to wait. I have a garden to dig.

Until next time, good fishing.

March 30, 2011
Everything that can go wrong ...

This is the story about one tournament pro just trying to leave town to go and do his job. Sometimes stuff happens.

I sold my Nitro Z9 a short time ago to a super guy (Steve) in Richmond Virginia. After seeing all his trophy buck mounts and talking hunting, I headed for home. Well, not home exactly. I stopped home very briefly before I was supposed to go and pick up a new Legend Boat. Then I was to be off to the Texas open.

Instead, I found myself at the doctor's office for what I thought was going to be a routine visit, only to find I had to go through a battery of tests, a few frightening moments and finally a surgery. Now, I minimized this chain of events (which lasted over three weeks) only because I don't want to get too graphic or too personal. The bad news is I missed the Central Open. The good news is I will live, and I am healthy!

Now, finally, I can go get my Legend. I'm off to Arkansas! As most of you know, I ran Legend Bass boats for about 4 seasons, then switched to a Z9. So, the big question is why run a Z9 then go back to Legend? Let me start by saying the Z9 was a pleasant surprise! The boat is built solid and very well. I was impressed with the room and fishability. I fished out of it with all three of my boys and we never got in each other's way. The boat is also priced right for all the amenities you get. So why did I go back to Legend? The main reason I went back was because I truly love the boat. It fits my style of driving and lends itself better to my style of fishing. What can I say? I know what I want.

I'm going to backtrack to just before I left for Arkansas. Where I live we get a lot of cold and snow. When the snow accumulates on the roof, the heat escaping from the house as well as the insulating factor of deep snow slowly melts the snow closest to the roof. This melt runs into the gutters and freezes at night. This constant melt and freeze forms icicles.

Well, our house is around 118 years old, so we have more heat escape than a newer home would have. As time goes on, our pretty little icicles grow into enormous 10ft stalactites! Then we get what is known as an ice dam, which basically is a four foot thick ten foot long root system for the icicles.

Well, the day before I left for Arkansas we had some warm weather and our icicles and roof snow were melting at an Indy car pace. That night the crash was so loud my daughter Rose dropped her water and screamed in terror. The 10-foot ice dam came crashing down from the second story roof onto the first floor roof above the TV room so hard that some of the paint and plaster chipped off the ceiling. All I could say was, "Holy #!&%."

Later that night everything froze again, and we began getting more snow. I told Rachel we'll look at the damage when the snow melts off the roof, but I'll take pictures of the broken iceberg on our roof as well as the gutters that came down before I leave for Legend.

The drive down to Legend was uneventful. The weather was good until I arrived at a small town called West Plains, which is where I stay when I don't do the drive in one day. Then the mother of all thunderstorms hit — hail and all. By morning, it was gone.

I had some time to kill before I needed to be at the factory, so I went into the West Plain's McDonalds for coffee. It just so happened I was looking for a discontinued Smithwick Rogue, and since I was in Rogue country, I thought I might go lure hunting.

Not familiar with the town, I asked two older guys if they knew where a tackle shop was. They just started laughing at me! I calmly stated that I was from up north so I might sound funny to them. That is not why they were amused.

Seems they own a tackle business. They asked me to follow them to the shop. Ron and Roy are two retired men who spend their days fishing and selling lures online. They turned out to be a blast, and we killed a lot of time telling stories. They reminded me of Eddy Stags, and his crowd from Texas.

I was delayed one day at Legend because my OSI boat wrap wasn't finished. I called home that afternoon to tell Rachel I would be an extra day. I asked her to look at the forecast for the next two days so I could see what I would be driving into. She told me there would be rain and a lot of it. Rain is better than snow when towing.

I checked into a hotel in Mountain Home, Ark., for the night. My cell phone rang at 6 a.m. It was Rachel. She told me that rain was coming through the ceiling as if we had no roof!

I called my friend Brian (the guy I work construction for when I'm not fishing) and asked him to go over to the house and tarp the roof where the water was coming in. That solved the problem until I could get home.

I stopped at West Plains on my way back from Legend to show Roy and Ron the boat. They thought it was great that I stopped by on my way through. Home here I come!

I drove straight through and arrived home at about 1:30 in the morning. I didn't even look into the TV room. I just went to bed. In the morning, I assessed the damage and made the insurance claim. Then I got on my computer and started transferring all of my Lowrance GPS data into Humminbird GPS data since I'm now running Humminbirds. Everything was going fine until I got a pop-up that said someone was hacking into my computer; if I acted fast I could prevent this by purchasing XP Security protection.

I figured this was BS, so I closed the box and continued working. Up it pops again saying they have now hacked my computer. The XP Security gave me a choice to view the coverage before buying, so I clicked it. Then I closed the box and went back to the job at hand. Two minutes later my computer locked up. I did all the usual stuff to get it back but to no avail. Then the XP thing came up again, so I filled it out and paid for the protection and my computer came back. I finished my GPS stuff and called the computer guy to come out and see if everything was OK.

He informed me that by opening that security scam I not only launched the virus into my system, but they now have my banking information. Great!

The next day, I have the computer guy and the insurance adjuster over at the same time so they can finish at the same time, and I can go to the bank and close all my accounts and open new ones. Only one more errand and I can go to Lake Norman!

I still had a trip to the infamous title bureau. I approached this with extreme caution, I had all the information they wanted last time and more. I had to wait for three people in front of me which took only 15 minutes. Some of the ladies that work there recognized me and said hello. My number was called, so I went to the counter.

The first problem came when the guy behind the window thought "AR" was short for Arizona. He told me I would need an inspection of the boat before he could title it. I informed him the boat was purchased in Arkansas. We then proceeded with the boat title. Yes, he told me, there will be taxes due because I did not pay the tax on the boat. Thirty minutes later I still have no title for the boat or the motor.

He wants an original bill of sale from Mercury, not the one they emailed me. Once again I had to bother Mercury to fax the bill of sale to this place. I told the guy behind the window that since we were waiting for the fax, why don't we title the boat and speed things up. He didn't like the idea. Mercury's fax came, and I had to wait an additional 20 minutes for the man to get it. We begin with the boat. I pay the taxes and fees for that. He starts with the motor, which should be title fees only since I already paid tax on it. He tells me if I want a title for the motor I must pay the tax to Ohio and get the tax back from Mercury that I already paid!

I told him he was crazy and asked why — after all the boats and motors I've purchased — there is this new problem. His answer was too long to write down. I called Mercury Credit and the man at the title place told them the way they do their taxes was wrong, and if I was to get this title they would have to send their tax records to the title agency for review.

Enough! Give me my boat title and I'll take the motor title to your superior. I called his boss and had my title 10 minutes later. I had to shorten the title bureau part because I was in there for over four hours!

Finally, I can leave for Lake Norman. I was leaving a little early so I could break in the motor and work out some of the kinks, if there are any. The morning I was going to leave, we received two feet of snow, so I postponed my trip for a day. I rented a small house on the lake that is very convenient. The first day, I only fished for an hour; I spent the rest of the time learning my Humminbirds and breaking in the motor. In spite of the 45-degree rain all day it was fun to see what the side imaging was capable of. I can start to fish tomorrow.

At about 10 p.m., my friend Troy called me. He's fishing the tournament, too, and we planned to fish together in practice. When the phone rang, I thought it was my alarm clock. Then, realizing it's my cell, I answer it, saying hello at the same time that I pass out. I hear, "Hello ... hello ... Frank!" I stagger to my feet and then run to the bathroom with full-blown food poisoning!

I spent the night on the bathroom floor and half of the next day in bed.

I can't wait to fish!

Jan. 25, 2011
A second guess and an early check out

Florida in January has never been a strong suit for me. Well, not so much Florida as Lake Toho and the Harris Chain, to be exact.

Let me back up to my practice time. It was my first day of practice on Toho, and the cold front has not shown its frigid face yet. As usual, the weather would take a turn for the worse the very next day.

Knowing that, I chose to go to Lake Hatchineha — my confidence lake. After my first day in Hatch, I felt confident I could flip up a limit. Now I would spend time in Toho since I was positive that is where the tournament would be won.

The morning was a balmy 28 degrees. Nonetheless, I had a job to do. Sucking down my last hot cup of joe, I launched my boat. My Merc started right up, so I lost an excuse to go back to my room and stay warm.

This practice day was very confusing for me. The first stop I made yielded a nice bass. Awesome! I figured I was on my way. The next two hours of trying to duplicate this was empty.

I ran to another area and began new techniques. Within a few minutes, bam! — another nice fish. Now I was on it!

Again, trying to duplicate that success resulted in a big zero. Extremely frustrated, I just knew they were still offshore.

A game plan for the next day had developed. Another cold morning in Florida was annoying me. The day came and went, and I never came close to the shoreline. I also never came close to a bass.

OK. Game plan for the next day: Never leave the bank. I managed to catch a lot of bass, but they resembled brook trout in size, and my confidence was shrinking as fast as the bass. Frustrated, I went back to Cypress and Hatch, but I couldn't make anything happen. I was scratching my head.

My plan for the first day of the tournament was to visit Hatch and flip. It was a bad move, and I knew it almost right away.

Day Two of competition was going to be easy. I would stay in Toho until I figured it out. You see, after second-guessing myself on Day One, I had no choice. I had to figure something out if for no other reason than to gain a better understanding of the fishery.

Did I mention that I hate not catching fish? I get somewhat aggravated at myself and may not be good company when I cannot figure out the patterns.

On Day Two, I ran to the first place where I got a bite in practice — a small bay with a nice ditch in the middle of it and a beautiful spawning flat in the back. Hydrilla, bulrushes, cane and Kissimmee grass. My weapons of choice would be simple — a 5-inch Yum Dinger and a Devil's Horse.

Well, the short story is I caught them. I finally figured out what I was looking for. I ran to the second place where I got one bite in practice and there were 17 boats in the place.

Wow, did I underestimate the potential of that place! Scroggins was in there, so I didn't fish my waypoints in the trough. Instead, I went to the back where no boats were and fished a secondary ditch.

Yes, I caught them there, too! So far, I was fishing pretty well, except for the fact I lost two for around 10 or 11 pounds. I thought I could go any place I knew was right and catch them now. So I did. My co-angler and I caught them. I knew there was no way to make the 12 cut with the two nice ones I lost, but if I could cull a few more pounds, I could make a check.

Long and short of it is, I caught fish up to the last second but could not cull my way to a check. I was bummed that it took me until then to figure out the lake, but, in some twisted kind of way, I felt OK.

Now I know exactly what to look for on that lake in January.

The deal in January on Toho is never to fish anywhere more than two casts away from the spawning grounds — no matter how cold it gets. If you fish behind them, you will never find them.

Jan. 13, 2011
Title madness

I was getting ready for the Bassmaster Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain, and my stress level was through the roof. Here is how it works for me and my obsessive behavior: Usually I make all my hotel reservations the day the tournament schedules come out, and I am packed and ready to go four or five days ahead of time.

You see I have a problem.

So it begins. Due to the holidays, my sponsor check was late, so I couldn't get some things finished when I wanted to, which bothers me to no end. I needed to title and register my boat before I left for Florida — this means the day before. That doesn't sit very well with me, but how long can it take at the title bureau, right?

This is where the insanity begins.

At 9 a.m., I left for the title bureau. By 9:30, I was walking in the door and, much to my pleasure, only one other customer was there. This meant I would be in and out. Yes!

My number was called. I presented the lady with the invoices and MSOs for both my boat and motor. I paid the tax on the motor, but not the boat, so I knew there would be some type of money owed. The boat title was easy; however, the woman said I owed more tax on the motor.

I said, "I already paid the taxes on the motor."

She said, "There is an adjustment and you owe more."

I figured she must be right. After all, the only job they have is to do title work. So, I paid them and off I went to get my registration and Ohio numbers. I couldn't help but think how easy and painless that was. An hour later, I arrived at the Rod Maker Shop to register the boat. It was there that my heart sunk. I was reading my motor title while Frank was getting the registration forms.

The woman at the title bureau charged me $8,000 dollars more than I paid for the motor! I was taxed on her mistake! I was over-taxed $599.00 dollars!

So, back to the title bureau I sped. I stopped home first and picked up the cashed check and duplicate paperwork from Mercury. I figured this correction would be no problem, since I had duplicate paperwork and the title bureau had the originals. Plus, I was there earlier that morning.

When I went to the bureau, the woman I had worked with was not there. I had dealt with the woman who was there before, so this would be easy, right?

She said, "What's the problem, Frank?"

I explained everything to her and she said, "I will get your paperwork, and we will fix this."

I was feeling pretty lucky, because, as you all know, you never get in and out of the title bureau with any speed. Just then, another woman had to get involved. I liken her to Cruella DeVille, the mean witch in "101 Dalmatians." Any woman that would scare the hell out of children and small dogs is not someone I want to work with.

So, I had to explain everything all over again. She did not give me a chance to hand her my duplicate paperwork, she sucked them out of my hand!

Then the original lady that did the work for me in the morning came in. So, I get to explain it one more time. In the meantime, the nice, attractive woman who was taking care of my work a second ago could no longer endure Cruella DeVille and the other woman arguing over their mistake. She just got up and left!

This should be simple. Here is what I paid for the motor (invoice and cancelled check with invoice number on it), and this is what you said I paid. There's an $8,000 difference, see?

Just refund my $599!

Just then, with a snide, evil look Cruella DeVille said "Aha! What is this?"

I said, "That has nothing to do with what we are doing. That is an invoice for the trolling motor."

Her reply was, "So why aren't you titling this?"

"Because I don't have to. It is not a title-able item," I said and asked to get the invoice back.

She actually said, "No! I'm going to look into this evidence."

Evidence!? What is she talking about? I explained what an electric motor was. She didn't care. I told her it would be like buying a stereo for your car ... or a cell phone. You don't title those things.

She just said, "We will see about this."

She actually called MotorGuide! Then she called Mercury and had them fax over another invoice that said paid in full in writing with a signature. Meanwhile I'm still explaining and trying to work this through with the lady from this morning. She said they cannot go forward until they hear from Mercury. I figured I would be at the title bureau for a week. I really didn't know what to do.

To my surprise, Mercury Credit called back and gave them what they wanted. It took Merc about 10 minutes to respond. Thank you, Mercury!

Three hours later, I was driving home. I was supposed to spend a nice afternoon with my wife, Rachel. That is what we usually do before I leave for an event. Unfortunately, I didn't get home until 5 p.m.

The moral of this story is ... I honestly have no idea.

I hope everyone had a good holiday season, and again thanks for reading these columns.