Tournament Time

Greetings all, this page was just too much fun to pass up. I simply had to report on my tournament experience with my significant other, (a.k.a. Sweetheart), because it was truly a blast. Unfortunately I got wrapped up in work and didn't get this on-line, like I should have and now said story is almost a year old. It is however still, just as hilarious, and honest folks there's no fish tale about this, it was in fact everything I report here and then some! Just ask her ~~~> Brenda's Tournament Fun.

The Heart of Sakakawea Tournament, held on Van Hook Arm presents many challenges every year, however the 2002 year was exceptional. The first amongst those challenges that particular year came when my partner scheduled himself for classes at work, the week of the Tournament. My former partner suggested he'd do the tournament with me, and then found that was the week his folks planned on coming up from Ohio to visit, so he was shot down too. This was of course, all learned in the 2 days time leading up to the entry deadline.

My Sweetheart was getting a wee bit testy along about then since she fancies herself a fisherman too, and I hadn't asked her yet, so I finally decided that if she truly wanted to do it, we'd give it a whirl. Not to mention things were getting just a wee bit intense around the house, and short of a full scale military assault, it appeared the only way to keep peace in the household. We signed up for the tournament, and sure enough got in with no trouble.

The problems all started back up a week or so before tournament time when I realized just exactly how much shit I had to get ready, (all by myself), when I normally have a partner to help with a few of those chores, (if nothing more than reminding me I need to do them). It had been a busy year, and I hadn't had an opportunity to even get on the water, the boat hadn't been out of storage or anything.

Three days before the tournament I went into high gear, and did manage to get everything ready to go however. New tires on the trailer, bearings packed, lower unit lube changed, batteries charged, bottom bouncers poured, snells tied, reels cleaned, lines changed, tackle box organized, etc., etc., etc. The evening before we were supposed to take off, I backed the boat in the lake and cranked it up just to see if it would run, never even taking the tie-down strap off the back. I had borrowed a motor home, and had already made reservations at the campground, so we were set.

As usual I got tied up at work, and didn't get away to pick up the motor home until late Tuesday afternoon. This was in fact it's maiden voyage for the season as well, so the water system had to be flushed, water lines hooked back up, and a few dozen other goodies before we were ready to leave.

Ten miles from the campground, I finally figured out the motor home had an add-on air conditioning system in it, after only 85 miles of 85 degree temps blowing in the window, and 225 degree temps blowing in around the dog house on my right ankle! Which I had slowed somewhat by sliding the floor mat up over the joint where the rubber gasket was obviously missing.

But... we did manage, and arrived in New Town with plenty of time to set up camp and get everything situated for the week's adventure. After getting the camper all set up, and perfectly level on the first try, I discovered the power cord was exactly 4 inches too short!! You know that's happened to me before too. I never have figured out why they don't make those damned cords on campers at least a foot longer, so a guy's got a little cord to play with. Although set-up was again had in short order, amidst much muttering of profanity, perfectly level was never to be found again.



Fishing was to be quite interesting, day one we awoke to 20 mph winds out of the west. Which for those of you that have never fished the Van Hook Arm, 20 mph winds from anywhere are ugly there. None the less 06:00 hrs. I was getting everything loaded and ready to go; I stepped back in the camper to see how my Sweetie was doing, and found her putting on makeup, and curling her hair. I advised her that this was not necessary preparation for the journey upon which we were about to embark, that the fish truly didn't care if she were beautiful or not; to grab her cap, and lets get going, but she insisted on getting gorgeous for me, and the fish.

We stopped for breakfast before hitting the lake hoping the winds would let up a little once the storm blew through, but of course they didn't. I heard some comment on how it was good she had fixed her hair, but I'm sure all both of them folks in the cafe could've give a shit less, as their heads looked like they needed a little fixing too.

We hit the lake and unloaded, planning to stay reasonably close to the boat ramp day one, since the boat had all of about 2 minutes run time on it for the year, (on the trailer). And, therefore, I headed west into the wind so if I did have problems we would have the winds at our back to assist the trolling motor in getting us home. Since I wasn't altogether sure about the batteries either. This simply seemed a logical course of action. (Does it not?)

We ran a mile or so across the lake, in the course of which, the whole time I was watching the 2 - 3 foot waves coming at us, trying to find the smoothest path through them all, watching the depth finder, and looking out for sandbars which abound up there with low lake levels, since I'd just had both props I'd wrecked the previous year rebuilt. Upon finally arriving at our planned destination, I slowed and started into a search pattern. I casually looked over at my partner to inquire how she had enjoyed the boat ride and the beginning to her Official First Time Tournament Experience, and she commenced to cussing like a sailor. At which, I of course, lost it and about fell out of the boat laughing!

All her perfectly applied makeup was no longer up around her eyes where it started the morning out, it was now instead all sliding down her cheeks on a plane about level with the tip of her nose, but then sorta smeared out toward her ears in streaks where she had wiped her glasses a time or two. Oh yeah, and all them gorgeous foo foos she'd worked so diligently to put in her hair that morning, were now likewise hanging limp, and quite wet I might add, as every hair protruding from beneath her cap was dripping water. To dare cite comparison in this matter can only be stated in that, it sorta looked like you'd turned her upside down and dunked her head in the lake, then set her back right side up on that boat seat next to me! Needless to say she was not real impressed with this shit, right off the bat folks!!

We worked our way around Horse Head Island and found a few fish on a little flat to the north. I baited her line up and dropped it in the water, then commenced to bait mine up. Before I could get mine baited however, the wind caught the bow and blew us back over her line, which it of course found its way into the prop. After she got over the initial excitement of thinking she had set the hook on Moby Dick, and I got the motor out of gear, and shut down. I spent several minutes leaned way too far out over the motor of my wildly pitching boat for comfort, digging her line out of the prop to get her going again. Whilst the wind pushed us way off the mark where I'd found fish, and far back into the weeds. Alas, I did get us back out and going, and shortly thereafter we repeated this scenario all over again, with my line!

Soon she began to tell me that she had to go to shore. I'm sure you all know how that goes! This was about the time that I finally got everything working like it was supposed too, had just got into a rhythm and all, and she wants me to leave all of a sudden. I inquired as to the nature of her need to visit dry land, and she in a very lady-like manner, politely stated, "I've got to pee!"  I explained there was an empty minnow pail right behind me in the boat, to use that. This of course, was not very well received.

I explained however, that come tournament time there was no going ashore, period. For nothing! You spend eight hours in the boat unless you fill all your tags early. You go ashore, and you're done for the day. She finally conceded to utilize the pail, once I promised to get her farther away from the other boats. "At least out of eyesight range!" I think is how that was addressed. Binocular range did not occur to her until after she had boldly dropped her pants and was seated upon the five gallon pail, and I mentioned something to that effect for the sake of levity. (She saw no humor in the matter at all, let me tell you, especially not when I told her to look in the rod locker beside her if she doubted it, and she found my binoculars nestled there. Which I explained they were there to see what other boats were landing!!! Not what she was insinuating, that only Stan used them for that purpose in my boat.) Some time later..... when we were far out of range of the other boats...... she finally crawled off the bucket. Which the lovely circular imprint on her backside elicited considerable more laughter at that point.

The remainder of the day was pretty much an uneventful bouncing over waves all day long. We were on fish the whole time, we just couldn't make them bite. Not a walleye was to be had on our day one boat ride, in fact we didn't land a fish at all.

The winds had been ever increasing throughout the day however, and time to go home they were crowding 40 mph, and still out of the west. Which... that might have been okay had I had another seasoned boats-man on board, or at least one who could back the trailer, (I hadn't found time to teach her either trick!), or had I been afforded the option of a sea wall behind which to tie up whilst I backed the trailer in and loaded the boat, as is typical most places on the lake. But, it takes a special breed to fish the Hook on a windy day, if you land at the public ramp. And thus, unfortunately, I were afforded none of those options.

Our prospects did not look good upon heading in either! There was already one boat swamped at the other ramp, and several  folks were assisting in trying to get that one off the beach and on the trailer, against the persistent forces of wind and water. There were 5 - 7 foot waves crashing shore at the ramps, and nowhere else to go with the boat, in having a partner that had never been to Van Hook before. (Alternate ramps were a far piece away, even had she known where to go folks, and not a ride I'd have wanted to make across the lake regardless!)

We were the last remaining vehicle at the temporary ramp, and there were but a handful at the other permanent ramp, assisting the boater in trouble there. I pulled up to the dock to assess the situation, which didn't take but about two seconds! One second, I was stretched over the side about as far as I could lean out of the boat, trying to hold on to the dock below me. The next second the skeg on my outboard was bottoming out! I knew it was not good, that fast!!

Attempting to pull us back out the dock manually was not in question what so ever, I was having a helluva time simply trying to hold us in place. Thus, it was a matter of timing the jump from port to starboard, kicking it gear, and backing out whilst in the middle of one of the swells that was crashing over the back of the boat, in order to catch the rise of the wave right, and avoid ripping the lower unit off backing out whilst aground betwixt waves. All... while not getting washed ashore and swamped in the process. Due entirely to years of tournament experience, I made the move with the deft precision of a brain surgeon, only taking about 4 waves over the transom, and thoroughly soaking our asses, before getting the boat swung around and pointed into the wind.

My partner (a.k.a. Sweetheart) expressed a wee bit of concern about this point. I believe her precise words were, "Holy ~#^*, how are we going to get this thing loaded?" I explained casually whilst we bobbed up and down, 50 yards off shore, that I was thinking!

I then handed her the truck keys, and casually told her, "I want you to jump out, swim to shore, and take the truck over to that other ramp, and see if you can talk one of those guys into backing it in for us." As you can all well imagine this was greeted with a great deal of understanding on her part. "You want me to do what?!"

So I repeated myself, except a little louder this time so she could hear me above the roar of the wind, the crashing of waves, and my gunning the motor trying to stay in place so she didn't have to swim too far. I believe her precise words in response to this suggestion the second time were, "Have you lost your ~#^*ing mind?" I asked nonchalantly if she had a better plan, (then ducked so as not to get smacked with the oar!), before telling her I'd at least be kind enough to take her to the dock. Then in all seriousness explained it was going to be ugly getting off the boat, and she was going to have to do that in a hurry so I could get backed out before I sank.

While all of this was going on a few spectators at the other ramp took notice of our predicament, and came to assist. You know it's ugly folks, when without a moment's hesitation, you put total trust, in a total stranger, someone you've never even seen before, with out of state license plates on their vehicle, and throw them the keys to your $25,000 pickup with boat trailer attached. While your ass is stuck in a boat bouncing around off shore.

But, that we in fact did, hoping the guy could catch as the tossing seas, made tossing the keys, not quite as simple as it should have been! As luck would have it he certainly could catch, why I'd have even accused him of playing for the Twins since he had Minnesota plates on his vehicle, except they don't have anyone that damned talented on the team. He not only caught the low throw, on wet a slick dock, without busting his keester, or going over board. But, did so while hopping over the crest of a six footer that broke over the dock about the time the keys got to him, all the while shouting he'd run the pick-up over to the other ramp where we were afforded at least a little protection by the sea wall, and never spilling a drop of the beer he was carrying. I was truly impressed at this guys talent, hey!

In the course of our hasty exit from the ramp and the waves crashing over the stern, we however, never once thought to tell him about the intrusion alarm on the pick up. Which... needless to say he learned all about it moments later, upon opening the door with the key rather than that little yellow button on the key ring pad, except for the part on how to shut it off!!! That one he had no clue on!

We were already in route to the other ramp and couldn't hear it. Thus, he arrived at the other ramp a few minutes later, with bells, and whistles, and sirens screaming full bore, shaking his head and laughing. Said he didn't know what he did, "it just lit up like a pinball machine and wouldn't turn off." After bouncing around the trailer once or twice before shooting the wave just right and launching us on, so we could get out of there, I apologized for forgetting to mention that minor detail. We shared a beer, and laughed a bit, and many thanks were offered for their assistance.

Upon arrival at the bar that night we learned that there were fish to be caught, and in fact many had done quite well, doing the same thing we were doing that day.



Day two greeted us with much more pleasant weather. We arose to calm winds and clear blue skies. It also greeted us with 3 dozen jumbo leeches having forced the firmly seated lid on the styro-foam minnow pail they were in open, and escaping to run about the floor of the boat. About a dozen were recovered immediately, the remainder played hide and seek for the rest of the week. In fact, we still find what are believed to be remnants from that escape occasionally in the boat, to this day. (No... they are no longer lively folks!) It had to be a collaborative effort as well folks; all three dozen of them little critters up there heaving and hoeing at once, because I had put the lid on rather snuggly and placed a rather large bulky object on top of it, to keep it from blowing off over night.

The morning went much better, winds were calm and the boat had performed well the previous day so we headed south, way south, like 7 - 8  miles south! Didn't find any fish there either. Well... I should say we found fish... in fact we found lots of fish, we just couldn't convince them to bite, again! We did catch a few rough fish day two, but again no walleyes.

Knew they were there, knew they were walleye, we just couldn't get them to bite period, it simply was not to be. I'm sure you get the picture. I was almost beginning to believe those old stories about women aboard predominantly male ocean going vessels, in fact had we not fished in the boat together before and actually caught fish, I probably would have been tempted to throw her overboard along the way, in sacrifice to the Gods of the Lake.

Heading back up the lake to check and see if the fish we'd found the day before were maybe more cooperative, we fouled a plug on the motor. Which as we all know, Two Cycle repairs mid-lake are always so much fun to deal with! The bugs were absolutely miserable day two, not the biting kind mind you, just them little critters that fly into your mouth, eyes, and ears. Land and crawl all over you, land all over your sandwich while you're trying to eat, and in your beer (or pop). And, it was really toasty too, so we were all sweaty which only makes it worse, 'cause then them bugs want to swim on your skin and really annoy you.

The day ended again without a walleye! We did however call it quits early, I wanted to try and beat all the other boats at the ramp, try and make it early for registration, get a good meal, and then plenty of rest. Not to mention my partner had forgot her sun-block and refused to wear her cap for fear of messing up her foo foos that day, and by the end of day two her face was beet red, and glowing.

Loading day two was pretty much uneventful compared to the day before! We did however run across one gentleman unloading his boat, that had been at the ramp unloading his boat that morning when we did. He stated that he and his 74 year old dad had limited out in an hour and a half that morning. Right down in the same neck of the woods we were. Doing the same thing we were doing the day before, but had quit doing because it wasn't working for us.

And, we did in fact arrive early for registration, so much early in fact that most of the Tournament Staff wasn't there. A handful of volunteers were just starting to unload everything, set up tables and such, and they stated the computers wouldn't even be there for registration for another half hour to forty-five minutes.

We headed for camp, via the grocery store and got everything in order for supper. I cleaned up the boat, herded up a few more leaches that had decided to come out and run laps around the deck, in search of something to drink, now that it was parked in the shade and about 30 degrees cooler. Then we ran back to town for registration, about the time the camper cooled down to the point it was tolerable. Which the trip in took longer than the registration process, and as we were only staying two miles out of town that ain't saying much! Needless to say the AC in the pickup never had much of a chance to cool it off, either direction, so we toasted a bit more trying to get registered.

The evening was as always, spent peacefully lying around in the Air Conditioned camper, having eaten way too much supper, wondering why in the hell did I ever spend another tournament entry fee, let alone two of them, this time! Sleep beset me early that night; it was only disturbed briefly by inquiry of what time we needed to wake up in the morning.



I was awakened by shrieks from the bathroom day three! My significant other had turned on the light to gaze at herself in the mirror, put on makeup, and install foo foos, and had found her badly sunburned face swollen and red liken the hide of a well ripened tomato! It wasn't purty folks let me tell you! I was sorely tempted to bow out, take the day off, let her sit in the AC all day, and head back the next morning. Little did I know, that would have probably been a good plan! But she insisted we were going for it.

Day three was again pretty much uneventful, we managed to catch a few rough fish, and one walleye that was 2 inches too short for weigh-in. My partner spent the whole day hiding her face beneath her cap and numerous layers of sun-block , foo foos be damned.

We managed to get loaded without too much trouble after finding officials to back the trailer in for us. And, pretty much called it a day! Supper wasn't even really considered at camp, we said the hell with it and went to the local air conditioned tavern where they serve up the best cheeseburger in the world, for a price that can't be beat anywhere, (should you happen to contemplate the Jumbo burger at the Riverside Steakhouse & Lounge however, be sure you're reeeeal hungry or that you have help eatin' it), and we spent the evening laughing with the bartender, about the hard luck we were having.

Upon returning to the camper to shower, and kick back for the afternoon, we found the water tank empty! So we headed to town, to dump the holding tanks, and refill the water tank. But, the battery was dead! So... I jumped the camper off, and we headed in, returning a short time later to set up the camper again in 90+ temps! It still didn't get level folks.

Whipped is an understatement. The only question was, who was more whipped, I or my partner? In three days we had put close to 30 hours on the water, in some ugly weather the first two as well. I was pretty beat, and I'd known what to expect, my partner had not a clue going into this experience. At least day three had gone pretty well, we had finally seen a walleye in the boat, even if it was too small, there had been no catastrophes, and day four would always be better yet!



I was awakened 2:00 a.m. by the sound of thunder. I rolled over and started to close my eyes again when it dawned on me that both battery chargers were sitting out in the floor of the boat uncovered, since I'd crashed before getting around to the task of covering them the evening before, so I got up, got dressed, and went out to cover them. Four hours later when we woke up, 45 minutes after the alarm was supposed to have gone off, but didn't because we both fell asleep listening to the weather before setting it, it still hadn't rained. We got dressed in a hurry, I went out to load everything in the boat and get ready to go, and then it decided to rain! (I could have just as well slept in the middle of the night and got up on time.)

We decided to forego breakfast, since we were going to be hard pressed to make our flight on time anyhow. We stopped for bait, I blew off putting on fuel since we hadn't traveled far from the ramp the day before, to save time, and since my highly technical fuel gauge, (a 1/4" dowel with rings cut around it), had disappeared! I was confident in the area we'd fished, the third place team day one of the tournament was only fishing 60 feet from us, and I knew we had more than enough fuel to get us there and back again.

I started for the ramp, in a hurry. Which my hurry gear, is slightly higher than most folks hurry gear. I looked over and my partner had her athletic shoes on, which I had advised she wear my water shoes, so that if it rained her feet weren't wet all day long. I looked at my watch to see if we had time to go back for them, and found I had no watch on, which was really going to make it difficult to determine what time we were supposed to come in at the end of the day, since she doesn't wear one. (Not that it mattered much the way we were fishing anyhow, but....) I turned around and headed back to the camper to get water shoes, watch, Leatherman, belt, and a few more goodies that one should not be without, like sun-block when you have a face that looks like a tomato, and we headed back for the boat ramp, really in a hurry this time!

Seeing how this morning was going so far however, I decided to put on fuel anyhow just to be on the safe side. Old Murphy had inverted his laws on me in this one however! At about 4 gallons into the 18 gallon tank, (meaning we had about 10 gallons to spare since I was heading back to the same spot, and fishing for the same length of time), gas proceeded to squirt out the overflow, and all down my right leg and foot, beginning at about knee level.

Upon arriving at the ramp, anticipating being really late, we found not a boat in the water! In fact there weren't many sitting on land, they'd sent them all home. The storm to the north of us was loaded with lightning and high winds, and the officials weren't letting us out. We sat back and waited, getting about half high on the gas fumes in the cab of the truck, until they finally decided to put the boats in an hour later. "Boy breakfast sure would have been better than that Mountain Dew and that Twinkie this morning," was the only thought that kept running through my mind.

We were first flight out, and not many headed the direction we had. We arrived on the spot I wanted to start, all alone. My partner commented right off, that all she wanted to do was catch one weighable fish, just to get on the Board. I was impressed, only three days on the Tournament Scene, and already she had this shit figured out!

First pass, not five minutes into fishing, I picked up a little walleye about an inch and a half shy of the 15 inch tournament requirement. We were both elated, thinking this is going to be the day! An hour later, we were still looking for our second bite! The island we were on was getting crowded by that time as it had been a fair bite the day before, so we moved off to another one nearby, that had paid dearly in tournaments past.

Sure enough we marked fish right where I expected to find them, holding in about 18 feet of water off the NW point. I circled the boat up wind, and tied on jigs, for our presentation was to be a bit different here the way the fish were lying.

My sweetheart stated. "I want the pink one! It's kinda pretty." I thought to myself, yeah right; Okay dear. But, having seen what pink tackle catches in the past, I put it on for her all the while hoping for the best. While I tied up my jigs, she dug a dead minnow out of the pail, (which most of them were dead, since we had forgot to put them in the water upon arriving and unloading, while we waited 45 minutes or so before they turned us loose, on top of the hour they sat in the pail while we waited in the parking lot, to put the boat in the water.) And.... she proceeded to impale that poor dead minnow, upside down through the intestines, and then asked if I thought that was suitable.

I seem to recall muttering a few comments about Stan, my former tournament partner, as she pitched it over the side in about 30 feet of water. Two minutes later I was screaming at her to not try and lift that SOB out of the water like that, whilst trying to get the net from the bow, and get back there to the stern to land the 5 1/2 pound walleye she had just reeled up. With a half tied jig stuck through the sleeve of my $100 rain jacket, whipping my prized rod all round the boat. An hour and a half later, we gave up on that spot, and likewise upside down, gut hooked, dead minnows, on pink jigs too!

I moved off to the flats where we had started the week out and found fish again. While trolling spinners and peeling off clothes, as the sun had broke through and graced us with a very muggy morning, comments over the size of her fish elicited an on board weigh-in. I dug the critter out, and turned for my Normark scale, stepping dead in the middle of the livewell, falling flat on my ass, and dropping the fish..... in the bow of the boat fortunately, (it was a bad weekend, but it wasn't that bad! I know what you were thinking...), and broke the pipe in the livewell off!

As the day wore on, and the steadily rising temperatures baked us, once again the bugs began getting a wee bit intense. Having tolerated all of that I could stand, in slow presentations two days before, and having tried everything else to no avail, I threw on a couple of crankbaits and told my partner we were going to troll cranks. Explaining that at least if we didn't catch fish, we'd be more comfortable, and the bugs wouldn't be so bad. We did in fact catch a few trolling cranks, all of hers were weighable, all of mine were not!

When asked at weigh-in if she'd do it again, she first stated, "No way in hell!" Then she smiled and said, maybe in a year she'd change her mind though. She laughed aloud and said, "You know I never used to believe all those stories the guys came home with from these damned tournaments, but from this point forward I certainly will."

It was a memorable experience for the both of us, let me tell you! And, I think we beat 19 other teams out of the 165 team field!




Index Page  |  Homepage  |  Dakota SEO & Design  |  Recipe Book  |  Links