Monday, March 13, 2006

There ain't noth'n to fish'n

The Fishers of Men ( hosted their first official bass tournament on February 25th on Shasta Lake. Since I have the reputation of fishing on the Kenai River in Alaska and not catching anything, I rationalized paying for the entry fee as a donation toward a good cause. What I couldn't rationalize was getting up at 4:15a (yes, it's still dark out) just to throw a lure in the water, hoping to snag an exceptionally stupid fish. Sadly (and beyond my comprehension) even if I did snag something, tournament rules prohibited me from keeping the stupid thing! What's up with that? Alas, not wanting my fishing partner, Nick Borgwat, to curse my name for years to come and spread vicious rumors about me at the racquetball club, I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed in time to meet him at the local bait shop (and yes, it's still dark).

Since the local Starbucks was still closed, my decaffeinated brain had little stimulus. I think Nick talked about the strategy of the day and secrets of catching lunkers from his past experience, but mostly I just heard blah, blah, blah as the old Ford pickup motored it's way to the lake... in the dark. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at Packers Bay Marina to find dozens of sleep deprived fishermen moving toward a small light with moth-like instinct. As we gather around, the tournament boss, or master, or whatever they call the guy collecting my donation, we receive our final admonitions and rules of engagement. You know, important stuff like be sure your boat will stop running if you get launched from the helm as you skim across the water at 55mph in log infested waters. As darkness in now changing to shades of black, we launch our boats and practice or prey's habit of schooling until "released".

The moment the morning light betrays our silhouettes as identifiable people, we're off. Captain Nick restrains the horses propelling our boat to about 35mph until a fellow fisherman attempts to pass us toward our favorite fishing spot, at which point you'd think it was Moby Dick about to consume us as we accelerate to a screaming pace across the lake (I wonder what the wind chill factor is of 60mph winds in 40F). Total body frostbite was only held at bay by the 6 inches of layered clothing and an arctic jacket I bought while living in Connecticut. Leaving the monster behind in a spray, we entered our secret cove where fish were rumored to jump in the boat.
And jump they did. What other explanation can I give for limiting-out within a few hours and begin the practice of culling – a term I had no clue to its meaning, let alone its practice. I’m not sure if it was the secret sauce painted on the artificial worms and caused fish to escape the smelly waters or my partner’s supernatural ability to overcome my fishless curse inherited from my father. Either way, the success was undeniable and created fodder for suspicion, ribbing and outright amazement by my wannabe-pro friends.
With the live-well full and time running out, the way back to the weigh station provided just enough time to remember the day’s wildlife encounters and how easily a 60mph wind coming across the bow will grab a glove sitting on the deck, shake it with enthusiasm and drop it in a wave. We witnessed a doe and her two fawns swimming from a newborn island created by the annual rise of the lake as four, blue ribbon streams deposit their collection of water behind the ominous Shasta Dam. Two bald eagles screeched their gratitude as they swooped down and snatched a bass no more than 50 feet from our boat. Awesome.
As the weigh-in ceremony began, it appeared that more than a few were surprised when Nick announced “Hey Erich, go get your fish”. What’s this? Erich caught a fish big enough to weigh? Hardly. Erich caught countless fish that morning but only brought in the tournament limit of four. Snatching the fish out of the live well by their culling tags, I have to admit, a child-like pride was bursting inside. Disbelief spread over the dock as I nonchalantly strutted to the scales with my limit.
“Six point zero three” was the announcement. I had placed second, missing first place by 7 ounces. Surely John Green (the winner) thought culling meant dropping lead weights down his fish’s throats, but the best man won. All in all, a wonderful day fishing with Nick, catching fish, watching friends jaws drop as wide as the stupid fish I caught and going home with $100 in my pocket.

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