Over the years I’ve often been asked why I fish tournaments, and that question is just almost as difficult to answer as the one I tried to answer about why I fish at all. I guess I started fishing tournaments because I fancied myself a pretty damned good fisherman! Once I started fishing tournaments however, I learned I wasn’t a bad fisherman, but I had a lot to learn about fishing if I wanted to win a tournament. So I proceeded to learn more about fishing, and fishing more tournaments, and in the course thereof, I learned that no matter how good you are at fishing that there’s a certain amount of luck involved too, and without both you donate to purses regularly.
The more tournaments I fished, the more I came to recognize a few names that were consistently on the scoreboard. I’ve seen those names on top of the Board on numerous occasions, and I’ve at times seen those names on the bottom of the Board when the dust settled too. More often than not they’re average or above, because they spend lots of time on the water, but they do have their bad days too. Then there are always the local guides; guys who spend a lot of time on the water, make a living on the lake, and fair no better than the average Joe who just wandered in from another county to fish his first tournament.
I’ve been through times of thinking that I’d win lots of money at the game, now however I’ve resigned myself to simply hoping that someday I’ll recover just a little bitty piece of all the entry fees I’ve contributed over the years. Oh I’ve been close to the money a few times, but… more often than not, I’ve found myself to be an average tournament fisherman, placing mid-field to prove it. In that most folks that tournament fish are as a rule just a wee bit more intense about the sport than your average “let’s go have a good time fishermen,” even a mid-field finish is as far as I’m concerned something of an accomplishment, and says a great deal about your ability to adapt to the conditions given at the prescribed moment and catch fish.
As I’ve thought about it over the years I’ve more or less come to the conclusion that the reason I’ve tournament fished for all these years, is that it gives me a chance to see what I’m made of. Those of you that Tournament Fish know exactly what I’m talking about; you can’t have a tournament without wind and rain! Hell, if it weren’t for fishing tournaments, the entire world would resemble the Sahara Dessert.
Now, I’m sure there are those of you that might doubt this speculation on my part, but this little matter is supported by scientific evidence. Really folks, it is! I mean how many lakes do you see in the middle of deserts, that are capable of supporting fishing tournaments. Obviously not enough or there wouldn’t be a desert there, because if there were tournament size lakes there, someone would be having a fishing tournament of some sort, they’d in turn have more rainfall in them parts, since it rains on every tournament, and there wouldn’t be a desert there! I and about 20-gajillion other tournament fishermen can attest to that fact. We’ve all been there and experienced it.
The National Weather Service has invested billions of dollars in meteorological equipment to forecast the weather and try and tell everyone when nasty weather is going to happen, and as we all know they only get that right a little bit of the time, shooting for the next day. (Speaking of which that has to be the world’s greatest job, where else can you be wrong that damned often, and still have a job when you get to the office in the morning!)
On the other hand, I can guarantee you that about 3 – 4 weeks out of the year I can forecast Ugly Weather, to within a matter of 2 days… a year in advance. It’s either gonna be ugly, raining, and windy for 4 days just before a tournament, and turn hot and dead calm, or it’s gonna be dead calm before the tournament and turn to shit the day thereof! It’s that simple folks! The only exception to that rule is ~ it might be uglier than your ex-wife’s attorney the entire week you pre-fish and fish the tournament!
My first Governor’s Cup should’ve been an eye opener; we had clear skies, found a bite, and watched as the winds steadily increased all day long, knowing we were on the wrong side of the lake for this non-sense. By mid-afternoon we were crowding our limit of weighable fish, having thrown back literally 50 – 60 smaller ones.
I told my partner Stan, that we needed to allow a little extra time for the run back, and figured about 2 ˝ times the normal time to make that 7 mile run with my little 60 hp Mariner. When we pulled out from behind Mallard Island, let me tell you it was not purty! What should have been a comfortable 20-minute ride with time left over, took 46 minutes! There was no heading into the waves; when 6˝ footers drop out from under your boat entirely, repeatedly, it hurts. Shit starts flying everywhere too! Tackles boxes come open, Rods crash, assorted goodies bounce around inside the boat. It’s no fun, what so ever. There was no quartering them either, same problem. No... We wound up riding the crest of the waves to a spot nearly 3 miles east of weigh-in, and running the north shore back to arrive with about 3 minutes to spare, having allowed just shy of 50 minutes to cover 7 miles, turned 11.
The next year we tackled foul weather at the New Town Tournament on Van Hook Arm, our first year there. Steadily increasing winds necessitated the use of the outboard and electric to control the boat on the point we were working, but control it we did, and recorded our best finish there, that year. Trying hard as I could there was no control without both; when you broke around the point and the waves caught the bow, you were gone without the bow-mount trolling motor, and without the Outboard in gear and running, the back end swung around wildly. Not to mention the bow-mount didn’t have enough snorts to pull the boat when you crawled out there into those 25 mph winds. They swamped two boats at the ramp that day, one 14 footer ran up on shore and took a wave over the stern soon as he touched the beach filling the boat and soaking everyone. The other a 17 footer, pounded the plug out somewhere mid-lake, and before he could get the trailer backed down to load it, the waves sent it to the bottom on the ramp. Took about 20 of us to pick it up and put it on the trailer.
In each case however, we walked away in one piece, wet, tired, cold, and hungry FOR MORE! Sounds pretty far fetched I know, but there’s something about it that just sorts gets under your skin, and there’s no way to ignore it once it's there.
I’ve been blessed with adversity in tournaments more often than not over the years, doesn’t matter who the partner is either, so it certainly isn’t because we aren’t living right. Stan and I hid behind the islands at Van Hook one year, to escape the wind from storms blowing through, not once but three times in the course of one tournament day. Bryan and I ran the Hook back up one year trying to get around a hailstorm. Believe me folks, such behavior is not cool, nor is it recommended in a single console Lund! Minnow pail over the head was not of great benefit either, them hail storms sting wherever they smack you, and the noise inside that pail was unbearable! It did however appear a much more reasonable alternative than running the opposite direction, away from the truck, like everyone else did!
There was the year when sitting off the island at Shell Creek Village in the Hook, surrounded on three sides by thunderstorms, that I reached for my rod and got a static shock that was not the least bit humorous to me. Along about the second time I commented to Bryan that I thought it was time we head for a shoreline with higher ground. He chuckled, and commented that such simply built character. I resigned myself to putting the rods in the rod holders, and sitting very low in the back of boat!!! (Like that might help when you and the 34 other boats out there are the tallest things for all of about a mile and half in any direction! But…. I figured my odds where better sitting low than them guys next door standing up holding those graphite fishing poles pointed at the sky. I mean that’s sorta like standing there screaming, "Look at me God, I’m a Lightning Rod!!")
It did not take long however… we were fishing away, I was counting boats, calculating how big the boom was going to be when all that fuel ignited, estimating how many thousands of dollars of tackle where going to be on the bottom of the lake, and wondering how they’d sort all the body parts out when I heard a crash behind me. I turned to see what was up, and my partner was gently easing his $250 G-Loomis away from the edge of the boat with the toe of his tenney runner. Although his prized rod had come a gnat’s ass of going in the drink, when he dropped it, he was not touching it. I inquired as to the nature of his problem and he replied, “Didn’t you hear that?” I said, “Hear what?” At which he politely indicated with a great many profane adjectives, that he experienced, as had I, the big ZAP! I laughed and told him, “Awww… Seems I recall someone just telling me, that shit just builds character! A few minutes later, we were next to a shoreline with very tall banks!! And, trees on top of them, too!!
The Governor’s Cup for years offered us the worst it could straight out. The folks at the Fort Stevenson Marina usually prepared breakfast, and more than once I’ve had lake water in my eggs and pancakes walking from the serving line in the baitshop and convenience store, to the tent set up as temporary breakfast shelter. The spray from waves crashing the seawall in Detrobiand Bay, blowing 80 - 100 feet, to douse my breakfast and start the day out right.
There‘s been more than one tournament delay for wind or weather; one of the most memorable however, was the year they elected instead to turn us loose in 30 - 40 mph winds. We had waves of 9 - 10 feet easily, and there were occasionally a few that ripped through there that looked to be upwards of 13 – 14 feet. Having grown older and tournament wiser after getting my ass beat up in everyone else’s wake with my little 60 horse motor, I was sitting back just sort of waiting for them to get crazy, that morning. When the flag finally dropped, there was one gentleman in a tournament series Lund boat, with a very large Mercury motor on the back, that lost touch with reality for a moment or two. He topped one of those 12 – 13 footers at a rather high rate of acceleration; shot straight up that wave as it crested, and kept right on going as it dropped out from under him! Best we could figure he was something in the neighborhood of 15 – 16 in the air, at the stern when forward motion ceased! (The bow on that 18 footer, was crowding 3 stories high folks!) And, the “Oh Shit!” look was clearly evident on their faces at over a hundred yards! They hit the water and tackle, tackle boxes, landing nets, coolers, and rods all flew higher than the sides of the boat. The guys partner partner crawled up off the floor, cussing and swearing, and started gathering goodies up, after shaking off the cobwebs. And, that moment was the closest I’ve ever come to having a Boat wreck!
When those guys pulled that bone headed stunt, everyone watching them, shut their boats down immediately, (except me, ‘cause I’d just come to the realization that those guys with the big motors couldn’t outrun me today, and I had just canned the throttle!) That was however interesting, as when the boat in front of us shut down, the wave in front of him shoved him back, and we were looking to the sides to see who was trying to run over us from those directions too. Had my partner not yelled; it would not have been good! We went from W.A.O. forward, to W.A.O. reverse, in very short order, (That’s Wide Ass Open folks!), coming up but a bit shy of about 3 feet short of driving right up in the back of that boat in front of us. It took a minute or two to get things sorted out, but as soon as the hole presented itself, we went back to W.A.O., shot out around the whole damned mess, blew around all them boats with the big motors, and got ahead of everyone. I looked over at my partner, and apologized! Explaining I felt we needed to get the hell out of that mess before we got swamped. He just sorta grinned and laughed, and said he thought I’d handled it okay. (You know... There’s times you truly got to appreciate having a partner with a sense a humor.)
Son Josh provided a few memorable moments, he was a tournament veteran at age 7, and I don’t mean just along for the ride folks, he was a fierce competitor. He did however express a wee bit of concern over our first foul weather tournament run across the lake. About half way across he looked over my direction, wide eyed, white knuckling the console on his side, and asked, “Dad, are we gonna be okay?” I reassured him, the boat was tough, I didn’t want to swim either, and we were going to be fine. He was okay with that and eased his grip a little. He kicked my ass fishing that day and got us on TV before it was all over, but that story's yet to be written. The next year when the trolling motor battery bounced loose from it’s mount, and crashed all the rods in the rod holder next to it, he looked at me with raised eyebrow and remarked, “Dad, I think you should maybe slow down a bit, before you break something!” I had to at that, because I was laughing too damned hard to keep going. We battened everything down, and took off again, but in a different direction that resulted in a much smoother ride.
Then there was the “Tournament Time” story derived from experiences with my sweetie, which you can read about under separate cover here in Editorials Page also.
I've developed a motto and creed over the years, which sort of justifies being there when the going gets tough; encountering tournament weather during a tournament, or preparation for one, and that is… “You know if it weren’t for weather like this you couldn’t get in one of these tournaments, because everyone would want to fish them!”
It’s an attitude you develop, it's an attitude you’ve got to have, it’s either that or you don’t fish tournaments. I wouldn’t change any of it, even if I could; over the years I’ve come to appreciate those days in fact. There’s not nearly as much competition for the hotspots! It beats the shit out of sitting out there baking in the sun, and there’s no bugs to contend with either. Not to mention it makes for allot of fond memories in thinking back on tournament times, and leaves one with allot of War Stories to tell for years to come.
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