“Grandma needs new teeth.” That’s what he thought when he saw the bass tournament notice. The grand prize would be enough, just enough, to get them. So he knew what he was going to do, pay the entry fee and try to win granny some choppers.
“I might have a chance. I know this lake and fish it a lot. I have my spots where I can catch them pretty regular. Be up against some pros though, and those boys know how to read a lake. They have the fast boats rigged with twenty rods with every kind of bait you can imagine. They get all the newest and best lures to try out. They’ll be tough.”
Jake pondered on for a bit and then decided to just go for it. Hell, worst comes to worst he figured “I’ll spend a day fishing.” He entered the tournament and didn’t give it much more thought until tournament morning. After getting his small aluminum V bottom boat with 30hp motor into the water and the old pickup parked, he lugged his home made live-well from the truck. A large ice chest, fitted with a battery operated aerator; he set it down in the middle of the boat. It got in his way a lot, but Jake didn’t kill many fish, liked to put them back to make more bass.
He had an hour to kill before launch time so he joined a small group of other contestants standing looking at a premier bass rig. A rocket with a huge motor and a large front platform with a foot controlled trolling motor.
“Damn, that trolling motor looks like it has more horse power than my outboard.” He thought to himself.
Jake quickly understood that he was looking at a professional tournament fisherman. The boat was a custom job, yet meant to advertise its maker’s fishing boats. The man in the boat wore a vest and a hat covered with sponsor’s tags. He was a walking advertisement. From his shoes to his sunglasses, every item was sponsored and advertised.
Jake knew about this fellow. He had followed his career in an off-hand kind of way, along with a few others. Often wondering what being a fishing pro was like, he’d admired their independent life style, no clock punching for them. This one had been in the top ranks, nearly making it to the top a couple of times. Two years he was up there, but then the slow fade started. Now he was in the middle of the professional pack.
“This fella is going to be tough. He needs to win to stop the slide, needs to win bad. He’ll be hell on wheels today.”
And he was. At the starting horn he rooster tailed off down the lake, disappearing so fast it was scary to watch. Jake took off at the same time but had hardly gone a hundred yards before losing sight of the pro. Jake knew that granny’s teeth depended not on speed and the ability to cover large areas quickly, but on his pin-point knowledge of fish holding spots.
“Spots, not areas, that’s my strategy. I can’t cover large areas quickly, but I already know where not to fish, something he has to figure out as the day goes on. I know where to fish, exactly where to drop a lure, and just which lure works where. I have to make the most of my time and quit early enough to get back for the weigh in. He’ll flog every inch of promising looking water until the last possible moment then rocket back in. Tortoise and hare, yes sir, that’s what this is.”
At mid-day the pro came near enough that Jake could see him in action. He was casting and retrieving rapid fire, hitting every likely looking spot once, sometimes twice, and then moving to the next spot. His strategy was obviously one of numbers. The more casts made to the more likely looking spots would bring in the most fish. Jake by contrast was carefully casting to his known spots, sometimes as many as a dozen times to the same spot. He was catching fish too; he had a decent catch already, but not tournament decent. Mostly he was catching fish on the small end, with a couple of decent size bass mixed in.
"One really big bass could get granny those teeth. Most likely I’ll end up in the middle somewhere, get my entry fee back is about all. Unless I pick up either several good size bass or one really big one, I’ll have to go with what I got.”
Jake watched as the pro skipped around him and moved on down the bank, rapidly casting and reeling and moving along. The pro hadn’t even seen Jake’s hello wave as he moved across behind him.
“I’m probably invisible in this old can boat. Least he didn’t crowd me. I’ll give him points for that.”
The day wore on and Jake continued to catch fish, keeping the bigger ones in exchange for the smaller ones in his home-made live well. He checked them often for signs of stress. It pained him, but he released one of the bigger bass when it started to look weak.
"Granny needs those teeth, but damnit I can’t see killing that old warrior. He’d of made it to the weigh in alive, sure enough, but by then he wouldn’t have been worth a nickel’s worth of dog meat, would die soon after release. See ya next time old buddy, make some strong babies!”
Jake caught one more glimpse of the pro as he shot across the lake in his shiny rocket, heading for another area to use his shotgun approach on. He knew that it was a successful technique and one that many pros used, but you had to have the boat for it. Even if he had the boat Jake didn’t think he would enjoy that type of fishing, it smacked of work not fun.
The late winter water was cold, almost icy cold. Jake moved his bait in as slowly as he could make himself. Often he would cast just beyond his target spot and then slowly creep the bait right to the spot and then leave it there, just twitching it in place. In this cold water the bass moved slowly so the bait had to also. Jake looked at his watch, it was getting on towards check in time. He had to leave and head back.
“Time for one more cast though.”
Using a black and blue plastic worm Jake cast into one of his favorite cold water fishing spots. It was a creek mouth choked with trees that had washed down. The water was shallow up by the trees, with a black silt bottom. This was the warmest water on the lake right now, and had the added attraction of a deep drop-off just a few yards from the tree tangle. Warm water, cover, and a nearby escape into deep water, it had everything needed for cold water fishing for warm water fish, a natural fish magnet.
He cast the worm a bit too far and it dangled over a protruding limb from the tangled trees. The sun was in his face, the tangle’s shadow leaning out over the shallow water. Jake let it sit there for a moment and then gave a slight lift and pull and the worm dropped into the water with hardly a splash. He let it settle and sit for a long moment, then gave it a tiny twitch. Waited and gave it another tiny twitch. He was sure there was a big one back in that brush looking out at the worm.
“Have to tease the old timer out.”
One more twitch and he saw a swirl of water above his worm. Fighting every instinct he had he waited a full second before raring back and setting the hook.
Wham! He had a big one on for sure. The sudden twist and lunge of the bass stirred silt up from the bottom. Jake had the tip high and was reeling furiously.
“Got to get him away from the snags! Get him out in the open.”
It was a short fight, the cold fish not having the energy to put up a long struggle. Jake reeled him in, lipped him, and knew he had the winning bass.
“Has to be biggest one caught today, ten pounds, if he’s an ounce. Big any time of year but a giant in this cold water.”
Putting the big guy in the live well he double counted to make sure he wasn’t over the limit. He wasn’t, he had it exactly. Putting the motor back down he hit the starter. It chugged but didn’t catch. He tried it again and again and just as he was about to run out of battery it caught, coughed, caught, sputtered, coughed and then roared to life.
“Crap that was too close.”
Giving the motor maximum gas he headed straight for the finish line. He’d plotted his day’s fishing to end as close as he could and hit his good spots, but he was still across the lake. As the dock grew slowly larger he saw the pro tooling in pretty as a picture. Jake had time, but not much. Then the motor started missing, a little at first, but more and more. He checked the fuel but there was plenty. Now it was down to whether or not the motor would push him in. The more it spluttered the slower he went. Time was running out.
Jake got within a hundred yards when it quit. He tried to start it, wouldn’t do a thing. He looked at his watch, twenty minutes to get there.
“Granny needs those teeth damnit!”
Kicking off his shoes he picked up the live well and set it over the side into the lake and carefully let go, keeping his hands close to grab it again.
“It floats! The Styrofoam keeps it up pretty good.”
Jake jumped into the water and his body screamed out in pain. It was COLD! Damn Cold! His lungs almost stopped working and his body began shaking within seconds.
“Granny needs those teeth damnit!”
He grabbed the live well and began paddling with his feet like mad. His life jacket and grip on the floating box kept him well afloat, but the box was far from streamlined and it was like pushing a bale of hay up hill, his legs soon ached and his breath burned. His world quickly shrank to one of pure determination. He forgot why he was doing this, only knowing it was important. He had no idea the whole tournament was watching what they considered to be a mad man swimming in with a beer cooler. He didn’t hear the laughter. He didn’t hear the silence that slowly came over the crowd as they watched what they knew was a heroic effort being made for some kind of passion.
It didn’t dawn on the crowd that he had fish in that box he was pushing, but they knew supreme effort when they saw it. The watched in amazement as he churned through the water without slowing down. They could see his struggle was exhausting in the freezing cold water. Everyone was so caught up in the drama of this mad man’s goal that no one thought to launch a boat to go help until he was too close for it to make a difference. Jake struggled on, bringing his concentration down to a pin-point of awareness.
“Keep pumping those legs, keep pumping…pump, pump, pump…” became the mantra running through his head. He was dimly aware of the dock, but knowing he had to go straight to it and not veer off course. His breath was running raggedly short, taking hot gasps that didn’t seem to supply the oxygen that his lungs demanded. He became aware of a distant roaring sound, thought it was a sign he was passing out. Then he felt a hard bump through the cooler. He’d hit the dock. He stopped moving and but for the life preserver would have sank like a rock right there. The roaring grew louder and louder. Hands pulled him onto the dock, no way in hell he could have pulled himself up. He lay on his back, semi-aware of the faces peering down on him. Distantly he heard a voice say “Man that was something. But why?”
With the extra oxygen now getting to his blood stream and being passed around he thought “Why what?” Slowly he began to remember. Fish. Granny. Teeth. Then it hit him and he bolted up onto noodle like aching legs that barely held him. He grabbed the cooler and began dragging it to the weigh in. It still seemed a long way, too far, but he had to make it. Then someone yelled – he’s trying to make the weigh in! Suddenly his cooler was in the air with many hands carrying it, and then he found himself being lifted off his feet as the crowd carried him quickly across the finish line. He made it by three seconds. He fell down and passed out for a moment.
Ugh! Ouch! The smelling salts brought him around immediately. He found himself sitting in a chair with three blankets wrapped around him. The weigh in had started. He watched with a sinking feeling, these were all good catches, very good. Some were extra good. His hopes faded fast. He waited, knowing the disappointment of having given it his best but that it wouldn’t be good enough. He knew that feeling well. It had happened often in his life. Well, he’d just dust himself off and figure out another way to get granny her teeth. That was something he also knew well, picking himself up and moving on.
Two batches of fish left to weigh, his and the pro’s. They weighed the pro’s and it was the best one yet. His best fish was a large bass, nine pounds and twelve ounces. Jake’s heart would have sunk, but it was already at bottom. Total weight for the pro was eighteen pounds two ounces. Jakes batch came up. They took out the big one first and eyeing it Jake thought it looked bigger than the pro’s big one. Nine pounds…and then there was a long dramatic pause as the crowd held its breath…fourteen ounces! . Jake jumped to his feet and yelled “Granny’s Teeth!” And the crowd roared with delight. Having watched his desperate struggle they were all pulling for him. A minute later the judge shouted with a huge smile “Total weight…eighteen pounds…eight ounces!” And then the crowd went really wild. They grabbed the wet and shaking Jake, blankets and all, put him on their shoulders, marching around in circles chanting “Granny’s Teeth! Granny’s Teeth!” They were thinking that he’d said that as an exclamation of surprise. They’d never heard that expression of triumph before, but loved it because it was original and immediately understandable as a genuine expression of jubilation.
It was two hours after the crowd had settled back down to business, getting their boats out and loaded, when the pro came over to Jake and offered his hand. “Man that was the craziest finish I ever saw. If you hadn’t won I’d have felt bad believe it or not. I mean I wanted this tournament, I really wanted it. That is until I saw you nearly kill yourself getting in and then I thought – there’s a man that truly needs it. By comparison I just wanted it, but damn man, you really needed it.”
Jake was taken aback by the pros friendliness. He’d thought the man was a bit of a snob, but realized now he had just been concentrating on his job, nothing more than that, a man under pressure and concentrating.
Jake smiled back at the pro and said “Granny’s Teeth! My grandma needs new teeth and this money will buy them for her.”
The pro looked at him with surprise, and then slowly began to smile. The smile grew broader and a chuckle came out, then the chuckle turned into full blown laughter. The pro laughed hard for a long moment and had tears running down his face. It was infectious laughter and Jake soon joined in.
“Jake, that’s the best thing I’ve heard in years. You’re grandma’s going to be mighty proud of you, and her new teeth. You’re the real thing Jake, the real thing. Don’t ever change man, the world needs people like you.” He slapped Jake on the shoulder and walked back to his boat.
Jake, amused, watched the pro walk away. Then he thought about granny at home in her rocking chair and ran to his truck for his cell phone.