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Pete Weighs In

By Pete Robbins

Friends of Coal

August 12, 2008

I screwed up a few weeks back when I speculated that West Virginia was one of the states that had not produced a BASS Top 100/Top 150/Elite Series pro.  I had forgotten about Jeremy Starks, who won at Wheeler this year.

Who'll Stop the Rain?

August 8, 2008

*Pete is currently blogging "live" from the final Elite Series event, Champion's Choice, in Syracuse, NY.

When I first started fishing, I asked one of the most experienced bass anglers in my club what my next major purchase should be. Without hesitation he answered, “A good rainsuit.”

Best advice I ever got.

I’ve worked my way through two sets of Cabela’s Guidewear over the past decade and a half and it has been money well-spent. As I looked around at the Elite Series pros this morning, virtually all of them were wearing either that suit or the BPS 100mph get up, which is quite similar.

I don’t know if Denny Brauer’s amateur partner yesterday got the same advice that I did about buying a good rainsuit, but if he did, his mentor forgot the critical corollary: Don’t forget to bring it. He forgot his rainsuit yesterday and had to endure not only heavy rains, but also two hailstorms. Not much fun, I’m sure. As soon as they weighed in, Denny told him to get in the truck and turn the heater on as high as he could until he regained some sort of feeling.

I bet he won’t make that mistake again.

A few years ago, there was an Army Ranger in my bass club who looked like he chewed up nails for breakfast and might pop you in the head for looking at him crosswise. He told me about some of the training he’d been through and as you might expect, he’d been through some rough stuff. For a tournament on the Potomac, he showed up with no rainsuit and it started to pour as we blasted off. He said that he would have no problem dealing with it, and refused to go in at first, but when he turned purple around 11 a.m., his boater started to fear for him and brought him back to the marina to warm up.

The message, once again, is that good rain gear is a must.

Even Louie got the message. Steve Kennedy’s Jack Russell Terrier came to the weigh in this morning in a yellow rain slicker and matching hat. In Texas, he wore a sombrero. I need to stop Steve’s wife Julia this afternoon and find out how many costumes they have in that bus they drive around the country and whether Louie has ever had a wardrobe malfunction.

Hurt Feelings

August 7, 2008

I don’t know why it hit me this morning, but it did: this isn’t fun and games for everyone. For some of these guys, the Elite Series is not just their chance at the big time, it’s their one shot to make it in their chosen profession, and for those who are struggling, anything less than success may be a hard pill to swallow.

I’m in Syracuse, at Lake Oneida, covering the final BASS Elite Series tournament of the year. I’ve often drawn the short straw on assignments before. Typically an editor will say something like, “I’ll take the winner. You go interview the guy who blanked or the guy who broke down with the winning limit in his livewell and didn’t get to weigh in.” I’ve done that story a number of times, and it sucks to have to talk to someone whose dream is gone, or at least deferred. Some of them handle it better than others, but it’s never easy.

It hit me while I talked to Charlie Hartley, who is in 101st place in the AOY standings, in definite danger of not requalifying for the tour. I haven’t done the math, but I’m guessing that even with a top finish he might not sneak back inside the 84th place line of demarcation. Charlie is one of if not the nicest guy on tour. Always smiling, always happy to talk, always thankful to those of us who take the time to talk to him. It’s obvious that he loves being out here, loves the sport, loves being an Elite Series angler. He’s able to smell the roses better than most.

Financially, this isn’t the burden on Charlie that it is on some of the other pros. He has a successful business back home in Ohio and if he never makes another cast he’ll probably be financially comfortable for the rest of his life. But he’s so emotionally invested in this that I really started to feel bad for him when I realized his plight. Charlie would probably be the first one to tell me not to feel sorry for him, but I do. I know how important fishing is to me, as an avocation and (as a writer) as a semi-vocation. When I do poorly even in little club tournaments, or on a random weekend day, I take it hard. I take it personally. It’s what I do, what I am, and I want to be good at it and to enjoy every minute of it.

How does it feel when you choose to do something professionally, approach the summit, and then stall out? Charlie knows that he’ll never be KVD, no one will, but he’s had enough of a taste to know that he can compete at the next rung down, with the rest of the Elite Pros. He’s on the verge of losing that opportunity.

I don’t know why I feel for him, and for the other Elite Series pros in danger of not requalifying. Some of them are good people, others may not be, but for some reason it hits home for me harder than the football player who is cut from an NFL training camp or the baseball player who toils in the minor leagues without ever getting a taste of the show. They might not be any more privileged, but it’s just different. Except for the Brett Favres of the world, the ones who just can’t give it up once they get the taste, I don’t think many pro athletes have it in their blood the way some of the fishermen, guys like Charlie, have it. Is that why I care? I don’t know.  But I do, and while it’s easy to write the stories – the ones about letdowns and mathematical chances, that’s someone’s life I’m talking about.  After the story prints we go our separate ways and they have to live with the facts.

We talked for a few minutes and when I thanked him for the interview Charlie thanked me back. He was still smiling, I’m not sure how. He’s one of the good guys. But being a good guy doesn’t get you anything in this game except my respect and my sympathy when things don’t go your way.


And Certainly Not Ice to an Eskimo

August 7, 2008

Reading  the  boat  classifieds  online  is  one  of  my  many  sedentary  hobbies.    I’m  not  currently  looking  to  sell  my  present  ride  or  buy  a  new  one  –  that  probably  won’t  happen  until  the  end  of  next  season  –  but  nevertheless  I  like  to  see  what’s  out  there  and  where  the  market  is  going.    It’s  an  odd  sort  of  nautical  voyeurism,  but  except  for  the  use  of  bandwidth  it’s  pretty  much  harmless,  so  let  me  have  my  fun.

Over  time,  I’ve  come  to  realize  that  there  are  certain  things  that  prevent  otherwise  marketable  boats  from  being  sold.    The  first  is  pricing  it  too  high.    Everyone  wants  to  get  top  dollar  for  their  tub.    They’re  convinced  that  it’s  a  diamond  and  want  to  recover  as  much  of  their  investment  as  possible.    But  if  you  don’t  price  it  competitively,  it  won’t  sell.    The  same  overpriced  boats  sit  there  week  after  week  after  week  after  week.    When  your  year/model  is  readily  available  for  $35k,  it  makes  no  sense  to  try  to  get  $42k  for  it.    You  look  like  you’re  trying  to  gouge  people  and  even  if  you  reduce  the  price  over  time,  prospective  buyers  can’t  help  but  wonder  what’s  wrong  with  a  boat  that  has  been  on  the  market  for  months  while  others  sold  much  more  quickly.

Which  brings  me  to  my  favorite  classified  line:  “Originally,  retailed  for….”  (fill  in  the  blank  --  $50k,  $45k,  whatever).    Why  the  hell  do  I  care  what  you  bought  it  for  at  some  point  in  the  past,  before  it  had  any  hours  or  scratches  on  it  at  all?   

The  next  best  line  is  “Won’t  last  long  at  this  price!”    How  can  you  say  that  with  a  straight  face  if  the  boat  has  been  on  the  market  at  this  price  or  somewhere  in  the  same  ballpark  for  weeks  or  months?

There’s  always  the  classic,  “This  price  only  good  for  one  week!”    So  if  you  can’t  sell  it  for  X  this  week,  you’re  going  to  raise  the  price  next  week?    I  never  even  took  economics  and  I  know  that  doesn’t  make  much  sense.    Some  mention  that  if  it’s  not  sold  they’ll  trade  it  to  the  dealer  –  but  when  it’s  in  the  classifieds  again  weeks  or  months  later,  you  once  again  look  like  a  liar.

Finally,  don’t  write,  “all  the  standard  options  plus  a  few  more”  or  “too  many  options  to  list.”    Is  it  really  that  hard  to  tell  me  exactly  what’s  on  the  boat?    If  it  has  a  gray  bottom  and  I  only  want  white,  or  if  it  has  a  Yamaha  and  I  want  a  Mercury,  it  wastes  your  time  and  mine  if  we  have  to  do  the  email  dance  to  get  the  information  settled.

But  it’s  not  just  the  sellers  who  act  like  idiots.    An  ad  that  mentions  a  boat  is  white  and  red,  single  console  with  a  Merc  is  sure  to  generate  inquiries  about  what  color  it  is,  whether  it’s  a  dual  console  and  does  it  have  an  Evinrude  on  the  back.    Why  is  this  so  tough?   

Ten Questions

August 6, 2008

Ten questions I’m pondering after realizing I have three people named “Terry B.” on speed-dial:

  1. I assume ESPN wants to maximize the value of BASS.  They have a magazine called (not surprisingly) “ESPN The Magazine.”  Why don’t they devote a page per issue to competitive fishing?

  2. Whatever happened to Tony Christian?

  3. What would a tungsten boat anchor cost?

  4. Why don’t I have the patience to fish a shakey head?

  5. Are hotfoots (hotfeet?) magnetized?  By the time I tow the boat home from the lake, every discarded plastic bait is gathered around it.

  6. Green pumpkin or watermelon?

  7. Would KVD have a nervous breakdown if forced to fish as a co-angler?

  8. Now that Falcon is on the radar, what is the next previously-unheralded “best lake in the country?”

  9. Does anyone else believe that fishing will be bad when sticks are floating straight up and down in the water?

  10. What would you be willing to pay for a durable, reliable trolling motor that was powerful, light on batteries and weedless?


Random Thoughts

July 29, 2008

 

Now For the Bad News

July 24, 2008

Most of the magazines and websites I write for have at least an unofficial policy of promoting only the good things about fishing. It has not yet gone so far that they’ve asked me to help “grow the sport” – if it comes to that, I may take up a new job – but it’s not far off.

As a result of their editorial choices, I don’t get many opportunities to write about the things I don’t like. As a result, you my dear readers get first crack at some of the favorites I’ve been saving:

Riding the Suck Truck

July 17, 2008

Is there anything worse than having to make a long drive home after fishing terribly in a tournament?

If you live anywhere near the Washington, DC metropolitan area, you know that the answer is ‘yes.’ Driving home after fishing terribly and encountering miserable traffic sucks even more.

And I suppose there’s a third level of Dante’s Hell for Fishermen – driving home through miserable traffic after a terrible tournament with a broken boat.

So on that sliding scale, I’m not doing all that poorly today – I just reached level one with an abysmal showing yesterday in a small club tournament on the Pocomoke River. I finished 9th out of 10 competitors and I was lucky to land the one fish that got me there. (But my boat is still running and we didn’t encounter any traffic).

I figure I’ve fished somewhere in the range of 150 tournaments in my life, everything from 10 participant club events like this recent one up to FLW Tour and BASS Elite Series tournaments, but even with the knowledge that there’s always another one around the corner, bad performances still frustrate the hell out of me.

What makes it even more maddening is that I thought it was going to be tough on everybody. After a day of pre-practice the week before the event and another day on the water the day immediately prior, I thought that my one fish might even have been good enough to put me in the middle of the pack, but when I came to weigh-in there were a number of limits and four fish catches. One lucky jamoke even managed to corral a four and a half pounder. The sad thing is that I still don’t know what I’d do if I had to go out there again tomorrow. I don’t feel like I know anything more about the river than I did before I laid eyes on it.

Fortunately, I don’t have to go out there again tomorrow. I caught three keepers on my pre-practice day, two on my “official” practice day and one on tournament day, so I’m guessing that if I were to flail at the water for eight or nine hours tomorrow I might come to the scales with a goose egg.

This one event is a microcosm of my 2008 season. Normally, I beat the draw partner fishing out of my boat nine out of ten times. That’s not bragging, it’s just that at the basic club level I do pretty well year in, year out. But this year, in six club tournaments, my partner has outfished me three times. In a fourth event, my partner weighed in a limit and I only had three, but mine weighed more, so I beat him. I still consider that effort a bit of a failure because I just got lucky, there was no calculated big fish plan on my part.

Even in a victory, our first tournament of the year, I felt like a failure. As I chronicled in this blog back in March, I had an outstanding first day and a piss poor second day, catching just enough to “back into victory.”

My finishes, listed chronologically, tell the story: 1st, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 10th. Things are going in the wrong direction. Normally I do ok in the spring events and very well during the summer, but this year has reversed that pattern. Not good.

I’ve always considered myself to be mediocre at finding fish but pretty good at harvesting the few that I find. This year has been the opposite – I’ve been around them consistently, but just can’t get the little green bastards to strike.

Despite all of this bitching and moaning, I’m in first place in my club through seven events (I missed one to go to Falcon in March), with 194 out of a possible 210 points. We count our top 6 finishes out of 10 events, so a lot could still change, but right now it looks like AOY is going to be a three man race. I have 194, my friend Duncan Maccubbin has 193 and the sneaky SOB Chad Hallett is lurking close by with 191 – and our next tournament is at a site he’s won two years in a row. Everyone else has a lot of ground to make up if they want to even have a shot. If you were to combine all of my draw partners’ finishes over the year (10th, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 4th and 4th), they’d be tied with Chad.

While I may be in first right now, the way that the math works means that everything’s still up in the air. It’s not just a matter of how many points you have, but what finishes you have left to cull. (Don’t ask me to explain it – I’m just an attorney and fishing writer, not a mathematician).

It’s hard to call a season when I’m still in competition for AOY an off year or to call my performance a slump (a word that encompasses a wide range of performances), but I’m just thoroughly unhappy with the way I’m fishing. There’s no magic potion to take, no course of therapy I can pursue to make it better. I just have to keep fishing and keep working to make things right. When things are going well in this sport, it seems to snowball for the better. You make an oddball move and it pays off with bigger and better fish. But when things go wrong, the same is true, just with the opposite results. I’m stuck in some sort of fishing purgatory now, not doing poorly enough to really have something to gripe about (although I’ve spent 800 words to this point doing just that), but fully aware that I have to make a change.

Now I’ve gotta take the advice I’ve often given to friends when they’ve had tough tournaments – put it behind you and look forward to the next derby.

Incommunicado

July 10, 2008

Someone or something on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (that’s the part of the state east of the Chesapeake Bay for those of you not from around here) doesn’t want me yapping on a cell phone.

Last year, my club fished a small tournament on the Nanticoke River, near Sharptown, which we’ve done now for several years running. We’re headed back there in about a month. The river is loaded with fish, not too many good ones, but enough mean spirited tidal water brawlers to keep you interested and to make our tournaments tightly contested events.

Last year, we had a 3pm weigh-in and at 2:30 I had a decent limit in the boat, but probably not enough to win the derby and the de minimis prize money that went along with it. It was dead low tide and as I left the small tidal gut I had jammed the boat up into, I headed for a dock in front of a big pad – I knew that under low tide conditions the only cover there with enough water to hide a fish’s back were the last two pilings. I’d caught a number of good fish there under similar circumstances and it was just a few hundred yards away.

I put the boat on plane, ran over there and…..ground to a stop.

I had failed to remember that there had been a strong north wind that had blown all the water out of the river. As a result of the pleasure boat traffic, the distinction between the river and the ½ inch of water covering the mud flat was impossible to discern with my eyes.

My partner looked on in horror as I gunned the outboard trying to push us off, succeeding only in shooting a rooster tail of mud about 50 yards behind us. We were jammed in place. Like just about anyone who’s fished tidal water for a while, I had been stuck before, and had occasionally succeeded in getting unstuck by hopping out of the boat, grabbing on to the handrails and pulling the boat free, so I hopped in the mud and quickly sunk up to my waist in it. Not only was I not going to pull the boat anywhere, but I was going to be lucky to retrieve either of my sandals.

When I freed myself (and my sandals), I got on my belly and paddled myself out across the top of the mud. My partner later said that I looked like a turtle, and that nickname has stuck among some club members, but I will note that the effort was successful. I got out to where there was about a foot of water, at which point I could paddle around more like a duck than a turtle. My partner tied a rope to the eye bolt, threw the other end to me, and I tried to find someone to pull us off.

An older (60s? 70s? who knows, they had gray hair) couple came by in an ancient runabout and even thought I must’ve looked like the swamp thing, they slowed down and idled towards us. They stopped when they got into four feet of water, but I didn’t have enough rope to reach them. Luckily, they had a length of rope, which they tied to their eye bolt, threw the other end to me, and I concocted some knot that miraculously held as they pulled us free. We untied the ropes, bid them adieu, and hauled ass down to the ramp.  Made it back with five minutes to spare, too.

The story would be so much better if I had come in first instead of second.

Of course, my meager winnings didn’t even begin to cover replacing the now useless cell phone that I had forgotten to take out of my pocket when I went in. I was able to salvage most of what was in my wallet, although the cashier at the convenience store on the way home didn’t look too thrilled to accept my wet and muddied bills.

Even worse, I think I had singlehandedly de-silted the Nanticoke – there was about 500 pounds of mud in my boat. I worked hard with a garden hose and a brush for what seemed like hours when I got home. No guts, no glory, no victory, no more mud.

Lesson learned….or so I thought.

Last Thursday I ventured over to the Eastern Shore’s Pocomoke River in anticipation of a club tournament a few weeks from now. To the best of my knowledge, none of our club members have been there before, and I need every advantage I can get to do well with this group, so I made time for a little pre-practice.

It was a tough day. Despite the fact that we had what I thought would be a good tide, and despite the fact that just about every inch of the river looks like it should hold a bass or three (maybe that’s the problem), my friend Kevin and I really struggled to squeak out just a few small keepers over the course of the day.

I read somewhere that the Pocomoke is one of the northernmost cypress swamps in the region. That’s fine with me – I’ve enjoyed fishing cypress trees on rivers like the James and Chickahominy in the past and figured that would give me a point of reference. What I didn’t count on is the fact that the cypress knees on the Poke seem to run out for dozens of yards from the trees themselves. In fact, I saw some knees in areas where I didn’t see the trees (sounds Seussian).

In the afternoon, I was fishing down a bank rather quickly when I saw a prime target about 50 yards away. Since I had to be off the water soon, I put the trolling motor on high bypass to get over there. Just as I got up to speed I nailed a cypress knee out in the middle of nowhere. I think Kevin was looking backward, so he didn’t see the full effect of my Triple Lindy, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve thought it comical if it happened to someone else. Luckily, I didn’t impale myself on the knee, but I think I did hit it pretty hard – when I woke up Friday the entire right side of my body was sore.

Kevin, good friend that he is, salvaged my Loomis rod and Shimano Chronarch. The water was only about four feet deep, so after the initial shock, I was able to climb up on the stump and hop back in the boat (if this should happen to you and no such platform presents itself, I’m told one option is to step on the motor’s cavitation plate and trim yourself into the boat). Luckily, it was 90 degrees, not 40, and except for being a little shocked that it had happened, I was none the worse for wear. I can’t say the same for my wallet (drenched) or cell phone (immediately stopped working).

Thus, my outgoing voicemail message: “This is Pete’s cell phone. I took an unexpected dip in the Pocomoke and I’m not working, but I can still check messages, so leave one and I’ll get back to you.”

For years experienced fishermen have told me that at some point every bass boater will fall out of the boat and at some point he’ll leave the drain plug out. Well, I’ve gone out of the boat, both voluntarily and involuntarily. For years I thought it couldn’t happen to me, now I know better.

Haven’t done the drain plug trick yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

I now keep a list of Verizon shops on the Eastern Shore in my wallet.

Bill Murray, Prophet

July 7, 2008

Yesterday I was supposed to be out on the river flipping mats for green fish with my lovely wife, but due to circumstances not worth repeating, we ended up in a shopping mall instead. That may sound like the worst trade since the Red Sox gave up Babe Ruth, but it’s a forgivable circumstance because she ended up accompanying me to the river today, where I dredged up a six plus in the rain, with no complaints from her about the 4:30 am alarm or the inclement weather. To my credit, I did let her wear my Guidewear and I wore the lighter rainsuit.

The mall is only a few miles from our house and is actually one half of a two mall set, one across the street from each other.  I don’t know how we ended up with such a glut of consumerism and not a decent tackle store for miles, but that’s life in suburbia. The mall we visited is a little bit more upscale than the other, with stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tommy Bahama and various other wallet-drainers I didn’t recognize.

I chose to go to the frou-frou mall because I was hungry and it has better restaurants than its sister, including the Cheesecake Factory, one of my favorite places to dine, even though I think their cheesecake, while tasty, is far from the most notable item on their menu. In fact, I don’t even think it’s their best dessert offering, although the seasonal pumpkin and pumpkin-pecan cheesecakes are pretty damn good. Piece of advice: it doesn’t sound too sexy, but try the meatloaf. Vietnamese shrimp summer rolls are great, too.

After lunch, we ended up in a store called “Coach,” which has nothing to do with sporting goods. Instead, it is to purses what hand-carved swimbaits are to crankbaits. A freaking keychain is at least fifty bucks and the prices go up from there. I suppose the bags are fine, and many of them seem like they’d hold a reasonable amount of the junk that my wife carries elsewhere, but the vast majority of them cost more than I’ve ever paid for a flipping stick. I don’t see the value in it, but they seem to make her happy so I don’t question. I’ve joked in the past that you could write “Coach” on a turd and she’d think it was a pretty good gift – she didn’t think it was funny any of the first three times I said it so I’ve given up on using that line (except for on you, semi-loyal reader).

Supposedly there’s a recession going on right now, but you wouldn’t know it from the way people were spending money yesterday. Five hundred dollar handbags were being grabbed and wrapped (why do you wrap a handbag? Isn’t it a container for other things, not the thing to be contained?) and flying out of the store. Actually, I noticed the recession-apathy before we walked in the mall, when the parking lot full of SUVs (ours included, although ours was the only one with a hitch ball in place) was interrupted only by the occasional Benz, Beemer or exotic.

If you earn your money, however you do it, I’ve got no problem with you spending it on whatever makes you happy. Hearses don’t have saddlebags, right? I certainly drop my share of cash on all sorts of crap (just received a $30 plug knocker in the mail today – gotta save a lot of crankbaits before it pays for itself, but I had to have it). So the conspicuous consumption didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary.

The thing that floored me is when I looked at the assemblage of women there, some of them easy on the eyes (tried not to be obvious about that since the wife was there, although she was beer goggling some blinged-out overpriced shades and wouldn’t have noticed) and others who apparently had hit every branch of the ugly tree on the way down, is the amount of camo in their outfits. These were society matrons, prom queens and the like – I don’t think a single one of them had ever spent time in a deer stand or a duck blind. My wife was wearing a camo skirt that she’d bought at Bass Pro Shops and she fit right in. At least she fishes.

It all made me think of the Bill Murray movie “Stripes.”  If you can wrench your brain back almost 30 years, you’ll remember that when Murray’s character John Winger joins the Army and is issued his fatigues, he makes the remark “Chicks in New York are paying top dollar for this garbage.” We laughed at the time, but now it’s true. Not one of these Coach chicks hit the surplus store, Wal-Mart, Cabelas or Bass Pro for their duds. Outdoors clothing has infiltrated the high dollar retailers and rip-off artists.  If this keeps up, I’m going to put all of my old stuff on Ebay and retire early.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think BASS lets the Elite Series anglers wear camo unless it’s necessary/appropriate to promote their sponsors (for example, if they’re sponsored by Mossy Oak). So a bunch of bubbas in bass boats can’t wear camo and the latte sipping, Coach holding, BMW driving ladies who lunch have made it de rigeur. It’s time to duck and cover, the apocalypse is upon us.