My friend Dave's tournament victory yesterday reminded me that tournament fishing isn't for the faint of heart. Tournament fishing, or a close approach to it, nearly caused me to quit fishing altogether.
Several decades ago I was living in South Carolina working a construction project. One of my fellow workers was a sem-pro fisherman. He entered several tournaments a year, even had a couple of sponsors. I was a casual fisherman, he was a fanatical fisherman. Naturally we talked fishing quite a bit and my buddy started to get me interested in getting "serious" about bass fishing.
I went to bass fishing clinics, bought new and better gear, read up on bass fishing techniques, joined a national organization and got the glossy magazine every month, and fished from the bank - I didn't have a boat. I was really looking into making a major investment in a big fast bass boat, reviewing all the boats, studying which ones were best, checking prices and talking to my bank about a loan.
A tournament was coming up on Santee-Cooper and my buddy was going out a few weeks ahead of time to do some scouting - he asked me if I wanted to go along. Why hell yes! I did want to go. I wanted to see him in action, check out his techniques and what he chose for bait and where he chose to fish. I wanted to check out the boat. So, one Saturday morning he swings by the house at 3am and picks me up.
We got to Santee well before daylight, launched the boat and took off slowly for some distant part of the lake he wanted to hit as the sun came up. Oh, and it's middle of the summer too. He times it perfectly and we approach a cove just as there is enough light to see a little. That, my friends, was the high-light of the day. I was all anticipation and eagerness. It went downhill from there.
That day I found out that I am not a tournament fisherman, and never will be. It takes a certian kind of mono-mania to fish tournaments. An inner drive that has no base in my brain. A need to fish and to win that I can admire, but only from a distance. Up close it's a brutal thing. Up close, you see the rigor of the effort, see the unbending and unyielding effort that drives the experience. Up close you find out that it isn't a sport for the faint of heart or the weekend warrior.
We fished the entire day, from sunup to sundown. No breaks, no leg stretching on the bank, no nothing but casting and retrieving. He stood on the fore-deck guiding the boat with one foot on the trolling motor pedal, holding all his weight on the other leg and his arms were in continuous motion. I was in the back and kind of kept up with him for a couple of hours. He was a machine and after a couple of hours I started to fish from a sitting position, making about one cast to his ten.
By noon I was exhausted, actually ready to go home. Ha! Guess what happened? The machine never paused. The only rest he got was when moving at warp drive to the next location, usually a matter of five minutes tops. By 2pm I was ready to kill him. We had brought sandwhiches and eaten them while in the warp drive mode. I was ready to kill him because he hadn't brought beer and damn sure wasn't going to stop long enough for me to walk up the pier to the marina and buy some, hell no. I was ready to kill him because I was sunburned, dehydrated, hungry, tired and could give a scabby rat's ass if I ever caught another fish as long as I lived.
The machine kept on fishing. Then a rainstorm hit us and I thought "YES!" We're going in now! Right. Hell no, he kept on fishing. It rained so hard that the rain drops drumming into the lake created a zone about a foot high where the water's surface merged into the air, a zone of air/water that I had never witnessed before. The rain lasted about half and hour, and he never quit casting. Then the sun came back out and really started in on beating me to death. And remember this was only a practice run!
Needless to say we didn't leave the lake until it was darker than a bankers heart. I had never been so happy to get out of a boat in my life. It was late that night when he dropped me off. In spite of all my cursing at him earlier, my throwing things at him, and my jumping up and down screaming fits he actually asked me if I wanted to go with him next time. He said "You're one of the better fishermen I've taken with me, you have a lot of patience." I kid you not! I can only wonder if maybe some of the others hadn't attacked him with a filet knife somewhere during the day - I know the thought had occurred to me more than once.
A few months later I started fishing again. I built a little pirough boat out of plywood, propelled by a small trolling motor in the back. I had a reclining seat and rigged up foot pedals to steer by, leaving my hands free for casting. I would take it to small bodies of water and putter along nice and slow, fishing at a relaxed pace - the way nature intended for me to fish. It took time but the mental and emotional scarring finally faded to a point I no longer needed therapy, well okay I still needed it but gave it up anyway.
Tournament fishermen probably make up less than one half of one percent of the total number of fishermen. They're a rare breed. They are made of stern stuff and have a tunnel vision focus that is downright scary. Their intensity can melt iron. My hat's off to Dave for his win, and my hat's off to him because I have an inkling of what it takes to participate in a tournament and win.
I like watching him from over here on the river bank though.