We're Number One
May 19, 2008
I don't claim to know many important things, but I'm a virtual savant when it comes to certain things about fishing. The Yamamoto color chart, for instance. Name a number and I can probably tell you what color pattern it represents. When in doubt, order 297 and 021 and you'll cover your bases. I think I could pretty much get by with those two for just about everything I do, although 051, 208, 213 and 215 all get a pretty good workout in my boat and I wouldn't want to have to exist without 913.
But that's a pretty specialized piece of gray matter usage, and truth be told it's something that is wasting space so long as the GYCB website remains in place. And it's concrete, with a definite answer. As in baseball, where Mantle vs. Mays will continue to confound the pundits (at least until there's no one left who remembers them), I love the great arguments, the ones with no real answers.
One such argument that intrigues me is which type of fishing requires the greatest skill or the greatest variety of skills. In other words, are bass fishermen more talented than trout anglers or those who chase bonefish, redfish and snook on the flats? And what about the offshore guys who chase pelagic species miles offshore over hundreds of feet of water. Actually, it's not really an argument because I don't know that anyone's discussing it, but it interests me and this is my space. Depending on the number of emails I get in response to this posting, I'll know if any of you are similarly inclined.
It may seem like apples and oranges to some of you, but it’s the type of inquiry that really gets me going. And besides, as Chuck Klosterman has shown, apples and oranges really aren't all that different. ("Apples and oranges aren't that different, really. I mean, they're both fruit. Their weight is extremely similar. They both contain acidic elements. They're both roughly spherical. They serve the same social purpose. With the possible exception of a tangerine, I can't think of anything more similar to an orange than an apple. If I was having lunch with a man who was eating an apple and - while I was looking away - he replaced that apple with an orange, I doubt I'd even notice.")
But I know that I'm biased. I want to make the argument that bass fishermen, at least those at the highest level, are somehow superior to their brethren. Hell, we get crapped on so much by the trout fishermen who think of us as potbellied redneck slobs and the saltwater guys who laugh at our two and three pound fish, I want to find some aspect in which we have the upper hand.
For the sake of this argument (my column, I'll define the terms), let's assume we're comparing the best of the best (KVD, Denny Brauer, Mark Davis) to the comparable top dogs in their arena.
So here are my arguments:
We have to be able to catch fish from six inches deep down to 50 or 60 feet;
Casting skills – flipping, pitching, skipping, pinpoint accuracy with silent landings;
Dozens of categories of lures;
Need to understand seasonal migrations and patterns;
Tackle ranges from six pound fluorocarbon to 85 pound braid;
Tidal waters, natural lakes, impoundments;
Rough water boat driving;
Arrive at a new body of water, locate fish quickly;
Map study and navigation;
Expected to continue to fish in all weather short of a tornado
I don't know enough about the average trout guy's time on the water to say whether he deals with comparable issues. And my experience offshore has typically been with a charter captain who provided the tackle and chose the areas we'd fish. What am I missing?
May 15, 2008
In Bull Durham, when minor league lifer Crash Davis learns that phenom Nuke LaLoosh is about to be called up to the major leagues, he imparts his young charge with some critical advice. It's not the names of the best restaurants in major league cities, nor the tendencies of certain umpires, nor how to deal with groupies. Instead, he counsels him on how to handle the media.
Crash: It's time you started working on your interviews.
Nuke: What do I gotta do?
Crash: Learn your clichés. Study them. Know them. They're your friends. (Hands him pen and paper). Write this down. "We gotta play 'em one day at a time."
Crash: Of course. That's the point. (pauses) "I'm just happy to be here and hope I can help the ball club."
Crash: Write. "I just want to give it my best shot and Good Lord willing things'll work out."
Like minor league baseball players, fishermen are picking up on the clichés earlier and earlier these days. Here are a few choice examples. Feel free to send me your own.
- I'm catching them coming and going (i.e., pre-spawners and post-spawners).
- It's a pattern within a pattern.
- I've got a milk run.
- I'm fishing slow, quickly.
- I was in the same area as the winners.
- They're replenishing.
- I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could win.
- I think my bite is going to get stronger as the tournament goes on.
- The bite didn't hold up the way I expected it to.
- There's a key window during the day when they bite.
- Florida fish are more finicky than anywhere else.
- That's why you come to Texas.
- I'm looking at them; I'm not looking at them.
- I may only get five bites, but they'll be the right five bites.
- I'm culling up ounces at a time.
- You can't reel it too fast for these fish.
- When you think your retrieve is slow enough, you need to slow it down some more.
- Big fish like a big bait.
- You wouldn't think big fish would eat such a little bait, but they do.
Stacked like cordwood, anyone?
Clothes Make the Man
May 12, 2008
As we flew to the 2006 Bassmaster Classic outside Orlando, my wife observed that everything I wore that day was either free fishing stuff or from Wal-Mart. The following analysis proves her to have been wrong:
Jacket: came with the boat
Shirt: tackle company
But the shoes were from Payless.
Your immediate conclusion is probably that I'm a cheap SOB, and you would be at least partially right. The other part is that like most fishermen, I love free stuff. I suppose that enjoyment is related to my "thriftiness" (which, surprisingly, doesn't apply to high end crankbaits, fishing rods and fluorocarbon line), but somehow not exactly on point. Whether it's a distinction without a difference is anybody's guess.
But the bottom line is that I have two drawers full of t-shirts from various tackle companies and tournament organizations. Anyone who has been around the game for even a few years can probably say the same. I'm also pretty sure that I haven't paid for a new hat in at least three years, yet somehow have 10 in the back seat of the truck and another 10 on my dresser (having thrown away the unluckiest and rattiest members of the club last year). If I'm dressed even semi-casually, then there's likely a fishing-related item somewhere in my ensemble.
Unfortunately, I have to wear a suit to my day job, and have not yet found a way to integrate industry attire into that outfit. When is Yamamoto going to come out with boxer shorts or a necktie? Or is there something obscene about the concept of a GYCB tie, kind of like my confusion over the Jerry Garcia-designed ties. You wouldn't buy a jockstrap from a bikini model, would you, so why would you buy a tie from someone who never wore one? (Dead fans, if indeed there's something about Jerry I don't know, and he did indeed wear a tie semi-regularly, there's no need to stop your Volkswagen vans long enough to write me nasty emails.)
What makes my clothing accumulation so incredible (to me, at least) is that I have no sponsorships with any company. I bought my boat retail, which was good because it enabled me to get the "promotional" items that came with such a purchase – hats, shirts, jacket and two rods. When the rods arrived unexpectedly, my wife asked why they sent them and how much they were worth. I told her they came with the boat and retailed for about $150 each. She then asked why they couldn't have just taken $300 off the price of the boat. That so misses the point.
I suppose I have some form of informal association with Yamamoto, but it's a matter of them giving me space to write and me more than filling it. I do have a lot of GYCB clothing and I wear it proudly and frequently, but I don't think my tournament catches provide a measurable boost to GYCB's sales.
Which brings me to the Patch Pirate question: The holy grail of low-level fishing is not improving one's fishing skills or winning more tournaments. Instead, everyone cares only about "sponsorship" (lower case "s" means that it could be anything from discounted product to a small monthly stipend, so long as it comes with some sartorial evidence of one's corporate affiliation). I just don’t get the excitement – guys would rather give up time on the water to look like pros than actually become better fishermen.
I'd rather fish in a non-descript t-shirt and surprise everyone by doing well than come in wearing the full-on clown suit and be noticed for doing poorly. I may be talking out of turn because I own a full closet of these shirts – the fruits of buying certain products, making teams, qualifying for events, etc. – but I'm greatly uncomfortable whenever I do wear one. At some point, those of you who know me will probably see me in one, and this column will seem like a load of crap, but you have to believe me, it's greatly embarrassing for a hack like me to fly the colors. Apparently others are not so bogged down by such feelings.
I see them all the time at Federation level and fruit jar tournaments. Guys with patches all over (The "Woo Daves Starter Set," I call it), stickers on their truck, etc. At the last regional Federation tournament I fished (under 50 boats, under $1,000 top prize), there was an angler with a full-on tournament shirt with a mix-and-match collection of logos from all across the fishing industry spectrum. One was GYCB. I checked the guy's name and didn't recognize it, which seemed odd, because I'm on this site just about every day and I thought I had met or emailed most of the staffers in my region…so I checked the site when I got home and couldn't find a connection. Maybe he has some sort of deal through a distributor or a tackle shop, but I think he was just happy to look like a big shot.
The whole sponsorship thing is a mystery to me. As noted above, I'm very much in favor of free stuff, but the idea of hauling boats to shows in exchange for a few packs of worms seems like someone skipped economics class a bit too often. I also don't like the idea of being forced to use certain products simply because I've affiliated with the company. I have plenty of friends in the tackle business and I'm happy to accept their largesse, but there are certainly no expectations either way – they don't have to give me anything to maintain the friendship and I'll never write positively about their products simply because I know them.
But in case they're wondering, I wear an XL t-shirt and prefer dark hats.
…Just kidding guys.
Bumper Sticker Tourism
May 8, 2008
It's something you see in many small towns that make a disproportionate share of their revenues from recreational fishing – places like Apalachicola, Florida and Livingston, Montana – a bumper sticker that says the place in question is a "Drinking Town With a Fishing Problem."
You're not likely to see such stickers in reference to Lake Fork. Most of the area around the lake is "dry" (although you can buy a "membership" at various restaurants which allows you to purchase beer). But if ever there was an area where fishing was the centerpiece of everyone's existence, it's around Fork.
When you arrive at a body of water at the same time as an Elite Series or FLW Tour event, it's not unusual to see lots of wrapped boats around and you get used to seeing lots of bass boats in general. But I get the feeling that at Fork that's an everyday occurrence. At the recent Toyota Texas Bass Classic I felt like an outsider as I drove from the motel to the weigh-in site because I wasn't towing anything. It seems that every restaurant, every hotel and every other business manages to work a word like "Lunker" or "Trophy" or, at the very least, "Bass," into its name. Even the gas stations contain top-notch tackle selections.
I never wet a line while I was there, but I got the sense that it's the type of place I could get used to.
2008 Is The new 1978
April 29, 2008
Here's what I like about the way the year started on the BASS Elite Series.
Mike McClelland wins in Florida on a Texas-rigged worm. Didn’t they outlaw that on the pro tours about ten or twelve years ago?
Paul Elias wins at Falcon with a discontinued color of an old Mann's diving plug and a 12-inch Jelly Worm. Yes, the worm that we all used to buy in blister packs of four or five when we were in grade school. No word yet on whether it was Scuppernong colored or smelled like grape.
That's so cool I can hardly stand it. No secret baits. Nothing space-aged. They each earned a hundred grand with stuff that most of us keep in a box in the back of the garage.
A friend of mine used to fish in a club where once or twice a year they'd fish tournaments in a format they called "single lure." They'd choose a category of lures (crankbaits, jigs, topwater) and that's all you could use all day. I don't know how specific they got – for example, was it topwaters generally or did they narrow it down to chuggers or prop baits? Either way, I thought it was a pretty dumb idea – one of the things I like about tournament fishing is having different tools at my disposal and finding creative ways to use them.
I think if I fished that format, whenever they decided it was a jigging spoon tournament I'd just stay home and watch the grass grow.
But upon further thought, whenever I do well in a tournament it's usually on one or two general types of baits. It's rare that I catch five fish on five lures. (Some might say that it's rare that I catch five on any number of lures, but that's another story). If you see me at blastoff with two or three rods strapped to the deck, I probably have some clue as to what's going on. If I have six or more at the ready, chances are I'll have a light bag in the afternoon.
Maybe my distaste for the "single lure" format is just that I'm generally pretty anti-authority. I don't like to be told what to do. If I want to throw a Carolina Rig into two feet of matted hydrilla, then that's what I'm gonna do, though truth be told I don't particularly care to throw the cannonball anywhere unless I have to.
But on rare occasions, it is intriguing to see tournaments with different rules and requirements. I very much enjoyed the strategy sessions of the recent Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Fork. I know that Ray Scott has been jazzed up for a long time about the concept of light line tournaments.
So here's my idea:
(save your applause)
Lures can't be used unless that particular brand and model was available before a set date (I'm still trying to decide whether it should be 1980, 1985 or 1990 – that'll take some time with the old Bass Pro Shops catalogs to determine).
Jelly Worms, Hellbenders, Arkie Jigs – all good to go.
No Lucky Craft Pointer, no Fat Free Shad, no Chatterbait and (sorry Gary) no Senkos.
No tungsten weights or chemically sharpened hooks.
Extra points if you use an old Lew's Speed Stick or Mitchell 308.
Lowrance Little Green Box on the deck is a nice touch.
I'm not sure if we should require the competitors to wear polyester jumpsuits or patch vests, but I wouldn't be against it.
And I'd make damn sure that Mr. Elias grew his beard back to full Smith Bros. (or for the younger fans among us, ZZ Top) lengths – just long enough so that it tickles the water when he kneels and reels.