Last week, I started to tell you about fishing my first-ever professional tournament. It was held on Grand Lake O' the Cherokees in northeastern Oklahoma. This is also the site of this year’s Bassmaster Classic, which is scheduled to take place next weekend.
I left off talking about how I felt my practice days went well. I had located some good fish and was confident that I could catch them. Then it was time for the partner pairings and pre-tournament meeting.
I had been dreading this meeting all week. Even though my television show had only been on the air a short while, many of these anglers recognized me and called me out by name. I swear that even some of them had a smirk on their face. They had to be thinking, "Here is another one of those hotshot TV guys. We’ll see how he does." Now, maybe they weren’t thinking that, but it’s how I felt.
Before long, I was partnered with my amateur for day one of the contest. As is tradition, the pros and amateurs meet to discuss tactics, meeting times, etc. My partner had fished in dozens of tournaments. When I told him this was my first one, his face dropped.
That night, I didn’t sleep a wink. I watched as the digital display on the alarm clock slowly flipped from one red, menacing digit to the next. My own personal countdown to doom was perched only inches from my head. Meanwhile, my brother slept just fine.
Early the next morning I melted out of bed. I didn’t feel so well. Aaron, my brother, just laughed. He snapped a picture of me dressed and ready to launch the boat. I was pale like a sheet of paper. My stomach roared with anxiety; so much so that a couple of Imodium were in order. Yeah, it was that bad.
I met my amateur partner at the dock in total darkness. The only illumination came from the various shades of white and red from the headlights and taillights of almost 150 trucks and trailers. He stepped onto my boat deck and piped right up, “Am I glad to be fishing with you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You’re the only pro here with one rod on your deck.”
I looked down. He was right I just had one lonesome crankbait rod strapped down with a little white Strike King 4S lure tied to it. I looked around in the water at the mass of fiberglass floating around me.
Every other boat had dozens of rods with a myriad of lures attached. I felt like a complete loser.
My partner obviously noticed my demeanor. He proceed to tell me that when he sees an angler with only one rod on the boat deck that means they’re on something and know what to do and where to go. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I started to feel a little better.
As the sun came up, boat after boat roared to life and raced down the glass surface to their first honeyhole. As I slammed the throttle down, the heavy beast beneath me sat up like a soldier at attention and effortlessly screamed across the water.
Finally I neared the first cove I was going to fish for the day. I pointed the boat towards the dock I wanted to fish and pulled it off pad several hundred yards away. I dipped the trolling motor into the water and quietly crept toward the northwest corner of the dock. I still felt sick.
I picked up my lonely crankbait rod and pitched the lure down the length of the floating dock. When that little 4S reached the corner and green flash darted, I felt my rod load. In just a few seconds I boated a solid keeper, and my livewell would not hit the weigh-in stand empty. A gush of relief rippled through me.
My partner smiled from the back deck, “I told you that you knew what you were doing.”
The rest of the tournament saw us catch fish, lose fish and break-off fish. After day two, the final day of the event, I ended up 36th out of nearly 150 anglers. I didn’t cash a check but I was thankful that I made a decent showing. The end result was that The Outdoor Channel asked me to fish all the events the next year.
As the Bassmasters Classic unfolds on Grand Lake ‘O the Cherokees, I wonder if some other angler will find that little dock I fished so many years ago. If so, I hope that there is a big, aggressive largemouth waiting to inhale his lure.