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Pete Weighs In

By Pete Robbins

ABC, 1-2-3, AARP

October 15, 2008

Happy 55th birthday to Toriano Adaryll “Tito” Jackson.

Hope you enjoy that senior citizen discount at the movies.


Writer's High

October 10, 2008

Last week I wrote about trying to find my voice as a writer and I mentioned that I’d like my “voice” to be comparable to that of Morgan Freeman or John Facenda (known to NFL fans far and wide at “The Voice of God”). I can’t believe I forgot to include James Earl Jones on that list . . . and a touch of Barry White wouldn’t hurt either, baby.

But now onto our regularly scheduled topic, the “writer’s high” that gives this column its title. To be honest, writing is occasionally a grind. I work a full time job, try to fish as much as I can and be a good husband – but I also produce a bare minimum of three articles a week for BassZone.com, one or two for Wired2Fish.com, along with this blog and other pieces for Inside Line, Bassmaster, FLW and other publications. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t do the groundwork or nuts and bolts portions of one or more articles. Despite my usual protests to the contrary, it DOES sometimes feel like work.

Fishing (and writing about fishing) shouldn’t feel like work, unless of course they’re paying you gobs of money, which no one is in my case, so I do on occasion plop myself down in a wading pool of self-pity and wonder why I pursue this endeavor, half-vocation, half-avocation.

And then something happens like what just happened to me 15 minutes ago.

I interviewed Missouri pro Randy Blaukat for an article. I won’t give away the topic yet, but I’ll be sure to pimp it out here when it goes live. I’ve worked with Randy a few times, but not enough to know him well. This was one of those interviews where he opened up and that made me remember that I do have something to offer to the sport. It’s a topic that I don’t think has been covered elsewhere, and some of what was said will have to stay off the record, but he really showed a candor that few of my interview topics ever demonstrate.

There are only so many times I can write about how to fish a spinnerbait in the spring, or how a tournament was won or new trends in rods before it’s nothing more than an exercise in literary masturbation. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything Randy said, and we covered a lot of different topics, but the interview made me think critically. It made me question my previous assumptions and prejudices. It made me excited to write again, and gave me hope that it’s not just about spinnerbaits and worms.


The Week That Could Have Been, The Week That Shouldn't Have Been, The Week That Was

October 1, 2008

Around noon on Sunday, I was going to call this column “Ich bin ein Snowden,” in reference to the early-season nightmare suffered by Missouri pro Brian Snowden earlier this year at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida. He entered the final day of the BASS Elite Series tournament leading by a ridiculous margin, one that seemed utterly insurmountable, then blanked on the last day and saw Mike McClelland take home the trophy (and the $100,000 check) that most assumed would be in Snowden’s possession at the end of the day.

It’s a good thing I didn’t commit that title to paper – first of all, I was in the midst of fishing a tournament on Sunday, and just as you can’t count your chickens (or bass fry) before they hatch, you shouldn’t submit to your assumed disastrous results before the scales are closed. I still had three hours remaining to fish, so even though my livewells were empty and I hadn’t come even close to lipping a keeper fish, I was getting ahead of myself.

So let me back up . . .

The last time I wrote in this column, my motor had just suffered a meltdown. Not being mechanical in the least, I had no idea what the cause was, but there were two things working in my favor. First, the sucker was under warranty. Second, my marine technician, Chip Harbin, is a master of these things. He gets the job done in a timely fashion and he gets it right. He communicates well, too, so I wasn’t surprised when he called Monday morning to say that my air compressor that had gone belly up. I asked when he could get one and he said it would probably be Thursday or Friday. I told him that I’d be willing to pay to have the parts overnighted, which he agreed to, but said he’d have to call our friends at Mercury to arrange that, since otherwise the compressor, pulley and other associated widgets might ship from different distribution centers.

Ten minutes later, Chip’s on the line again. Bad news – between his morning call to Fond du Lac and his most recent one, they sold the last two air compressors. I’ve heard of runs on Cabbage Patch Dolls, Playstations and the like, but I never knew that air compressors could lead mad soccer moms to stampeed the distribution center. So I was left to sit and stew. My draw partner had a boat, but it didn’t have some of the equipment I felt would be essential for this tournament, like a good grass trolling motor prop and a GPS. Besides, I was in contention for club Angler of the Year. That may be small potatoes to a lot of you, but it means a lot to me and I wanted to control my own eventual destiny – win, lose or draw.

Once I get set on something, I don’t give up too easily. I had an idea that two friends might be able to bail me out so I sent them exploratory emails Monday afternoon and they said they’d see what they could do about finding me an air compressor. It was on its way to Harbin by Tuesday at lunchtime. I don’t want to get them in trouble, but let’s just say they didn’t do anything illegal or immoral to get it. Gentlemen, if you’re reading this, you know who you are but you don’t know how much I appreciate your efforts on my behalf. I hope I can pay you back at some point.

Chip called at lunchtime on Wednesday, boat is ready to go. I make plans to get there before closing time at 6 on Thursday to pick it up and run it to make sure everything’s OK. Of course, it pours rain on Thursday, and if you’ve ever been in the DC area you know that even a cloud boogers up all of the roads, so I left work early, made it to their shop at 5:10, just in time to see Chip’s father getting ready to shut down the operation for the day. I thank him, breathe a sigh of relief, hook up the boat and head home. It’s just too damn nasty to dump it in – weather more fit for an ark than a bass boat. I’ll take my chances on Friday morning.

Friday morning comes and even though the sky is spitting and the wind is howling, I’m pumped to have the boat back. All I can think of is “topwater weather!” Mike’s not singing a similar tune when we meet up. He’s concerned about the nasty weather and suggests that we don’t have to go out. Dude, I’m headed out, come hell or high water (literally), so get in the damn truck and let’s get going. But when we arrive at the ramp, the surge (not the McCain type – the weather-induced type) has the water up over the docks.

When we pulled out in the early afternoon, a little after low tide, it hadn’t gone out much at all. In fact, it was still higher than a normal high tide. But we had found some fish – specifically in two fifty yard sections of a grassbed that is a mile plus long. Glad I had my boat – with no GPS in Mike’s we’d be able to find them, but we wouldn’t be able to zero in on them as quickly. The fish weren’t record-setters, but they’d give me a puncher’s chance in this derby. I head home, get my tackle ready, go out for Mexican food with the wife (not the best choice on a pre-tournament night – don’t want to get the green apple quickstep in the boat – but fortunately it didn’t come back to haunt me) and go to bed.

Saturday morning it’s dead calm, overcast and I’m roaring to get out of the chute. It takes 14 minutes at full throttle to get to my spot. I stop around 80 yards short of my waypoint and start working toward it. Mike and I each catch a keeper and several shorts and then I hear, “Hey, we’re trying to hunt here. Can’t you see our spread?” Sure enough, 100 yards in front of us is a duck blind and a big bunch of decoys. In my focus to whack on some green fish, I hadn’t even noticed. Legally, we have to remain a certain distance from them, and even if we didn’t you don’t want to piss off some dudes with shotguns who’ve been waiting all week to pick off some birds only to have 19 feet of metalflake glide into their lives unexpectedly, so I trolling motor a few hundred yards out, to the edge of the grass. I mutter some choice words about bad luck under my breath. We might as well be fishing in a parking lot mud puddle. We catch nothing out there. But soon enough we’re at our other waypoint and gradually the fishing gets better. By 9 o’clock I have a limit. It takes Mike until 11. They’re not big’uns, but they’ll do. Gradually, we cull, a few ounces at a time, nearly 20 keepers and an equal number of sub-legal fish between us, along with the occasional whiff. Mike’s are all on a Rico. I catch 10 on a Sugoi Splash, 1 on a toad and 1 flipping a mat with a Flappin’ Hog. I also get some explosive strikes on the toad that fail to connect.

We head in and I’m not near the top of the overall standings (70 or so anglers), but I’m top dog in my club for a day, which puts me in position to claim the AOY crown. With overcast predicted for Sunday (and hunting illegal), I feel pretty good about my chances. I take my time with my tackle, swapping out some line and making sure every hook is sharp, especially on my popper, which needs new trebles and feathers. Tonight we go out for burgers and fries, a rare indulgence that we both crave, and I’m in bed by nine.

Unfortunately, I get an unexpected wake-up at midnight, when Hanna shakes me awake and asks “Why does Riley (our Australian Shepherd) keep waking us up?” That’s odd, I think in my non-coherent state, YOU are the only one who has woken me up, not Riley. But being a dutiful husband and dogfather I take Riley out and she does her business, as advertised. Back to bed until 4:30.

As expected, conditions are prime Sunday morning, but these fish haven’t read the same book I have. Once again, 14 minutes to our grassbed, we have it to ourselves. First pass produces a short fish and nothing else. Then the bites just stop coming altogether. No hunters and the tide is actually going out today, which should help greatly, but it doesn’t. We each lose a keeper on a popper. Then Mike misses one on a frog and I miss one on a toad. At 10 am, we head to some docks to flip. An hour of that with no bites and we’re back to the grass. I get an explosion on the toad – a regular old cannonball from the fifth floor, supersonic commode flush, but no hookup.

At noon, we head upriver and as described above I’m pretty much convinced that I’m going to end the day at 3pm with the same empty livewells that I began with. Not a good attitude, but that’s how I felt, and there’s nothing worse than putting up a goose egg. It sucks. Blanking sucks anywhere, any time, but especially on your home river, a river known for being relatively generous, the day after you caught them almost at will. We head into Chickamuxen Creek, where I’d been on some fish a few weeks back, but it doesn’t feel right and we don’t stay long.

Mike has an area where he and a partner did well back in June, and while normally I shudder at the idea of fishing for memories, at this point there’s nothing to lose. We fly over and head down the grassline and at 1:15 it happens – my chatterbait veers off to the side under the weight of a fish. I don’t know who is more surprised, me or the dumb little green bastard. Two pounds – not quite an Iaconelli “never give up moment,” but enough to get the skunk out. Not happy, but not as pissed at the world as I was earlier.

The sun is out at this point when we hear a low rumbling in the distance. Before we can get our rainsuits on, it’s pouring out under a sunny sky. Could this day get any more screwed up? I’m committed to this area until weigh-in. We go up and down the grassbed for a while, with no strikes, when suddenly I become aware that if we can plow through 50 or so yards of the nastiest stuff around there’s a clear area, so I start using my trolling motor like a machete and we get back there. No strikes at first, but then at 2:25 something crushes my Sugoi Splash and this one is slightly bigger than the last. Now I’ve got two in the well with 20 minutes left to fish. Ten minutes later, a third, slightly bigger still, commits hari-kari on my topwater and now I’ve got three. On the one hand, I’m elated. On the other, I can’t help but wonder why things fell apart so badly that this paltry catch makes me so happy.

I weigh in 6.78, hardly the stuff dreams are made of, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is enough. It’s not horrible, but frankly my emotions hadn’t allowed me to get at all excited yet. I still feel, in some respects, like I blanked.

The guy in our club who was right behind me Saturday has a good limit, so I know he’ll pass me. The only question mark is his partner, who has a small limit. If I finish third in the club in this event, I tie for AOY; second and I get the title to myself. I’m doing the calculations in my head which is probably causing smoke to come out of my ears – I went to law school because I suck at math – and I realize Scott needs about 8 ½ pounds to tie me. When I hear his weight called out at 8.20, I know I’ve wrapped it up. Relief, exasperation, and still a hint of frustration.

As I’ve written before in this column, it doesn’t feel great to back into a victory or achievement, but it’s better than not getting the “W” at all. I’m proud of myself, but I can’t look back at any particular moment this year and say to myself that was the time that I earned a title. No turning point, just a lot of little pieces and some miscues by others that allowed me to benefit.

I do feel bad for my friend Chad, who finished second to me in the AOY race. He had a better year than me, including a couple of really good tournaments, but I just managed to stay steady, never had a bad one, caught a few key fish at the right time. He’s the Snowden here – did everything right and doesn’t get the hardware for it. But his time will come – I give him credit for raising his game greatly in the past few years.

I’m ready to put this week and this year behind me. It has been mentally exhausting. Up and down, up and down. I don’t think I need to step away from the boat for a while, but I need to get out and fish for fun, try some new things, and think about how to get better. I need to practice more. I need to be prepared for duck hunters and tidal surges and dogs that don’t want to sleep.

The Voices, They Speak to Me

September 26, 2008

A few days ago, I did a radio interview with Terry Brown of Wired2Fish, one of the other websites that I write for. Terry wanted me to speak about developing a voice as an outdoor writer. While I suppose that I’d always been cognizant of the fact that I’ve tried to distinguish myself through my writing, I’m not sure that I had previously given great thought to the shape that my personal writing identity was taking.

Once Terry put it in those terms (just before he accused me of using too many big words), I started to ponder what my voice may be to those who don’t know me and how I’ve consciously and unconsciously molded it.

I hope my voice is more Morgan Freeman or Jon Facenda than Gilbert Gottfried.

While I don’t claim to be on the same plane as any of the following writers, here’s a list of a few that have impressed me or influenced me:

Ocho Cinco

September 24, 2008

Sometimes the stars line up right and sometimes you’re star-crossed.

I thought it was going to be a very productive weekend, fishing-wise. My wife Hanna was in Orlando from Tuesday through Friday for some sort of work event. To the extent I understood the itinerary, she was learning to use some sort of business software and her boss was there to soak up the free booze.

Her friend Cindy met her there on Thursday night and on Friday they drove down to Cindy’s house in south Florida. Of all of my wife’s friends, Cindy is one of my favorites. Not only is she a nice person and a dog lover, but she can curse like a sailor and looks like she might have once auditioned for a Russ Meyer movie. Depending on how you’re counting, that’s two or three good characteristics right there.

With a tournament coming up next week on the Potomac, I figured I’d be able to spend two full days on the water. In the years that we’ve been together, Hanna has taken an increasing interest in fishing and tries to accompany me whenever she can. I’m proud of the fact that she has learned to use a baitcaster, understands some of the basics and occasionally catches a fish or two. But she doesn’t really care for marathon days. If she’s in the boat, I pretty much expect to be off the water by noon or one. Often I prefer to fish until 4 or 5 or later, and I was hoping that I’d get to do that this weekend.

Unfortunately, my outboard had other plans.

My friend Duncan and I launched the boat and headed across the river at 6:30. Everything was fine until we entered a major tributary, at which point I could feel the motor slow down, as if it had something wrapped around the prop. I slowed down to an idle and the motor died. I managed to get it started again but it was surging and cutting out. We made it to our first area and stopped to fish for a while. After we caught a few (nothing special), I tried to start the outboard again around 9:30 and it wouldn’t stay on. I’d turn the key and it would rev up higher than I felt comfortable getting it into gear. We started making our way toward a marina, a little over a mile away, on the trolling motor. I considered trying to idle back to the marina where we launched, but it was several miles across big water and I couldn’t get the motor up over 2,000 RPMs, when I could get it going at all.

As we pulled into the marina, a fire department boat was launching. I asked if they’d be willing to take me across the river. No problem, but first they had to run downriver to pick up three bushels of crabs for a company picnic. OK, I guess that’s better than nothing. I hopped in.

As we headed out to the main river, I asked where their crabber friend was. “Nanjemoy,” they responded. That’s a 40 minute run in a fast boat and calm seas, of which we had neither. I must’ve given him a quizzical look because he quickly added that we were going to meet him halfway. I was hoping he’d offer to take me on a quick run across the river first, but he didn’t, and I was in no position to haggle.

We were about 10 minutes downriver when the driver cut the engine and said to his friend, “Shoot. I forgot to bring the check.” The conferred and called the crabber, who said they could bring it by tomorrow. Another bullet averted. The crabber told them he was “below Quantico,” and that turned out to be true but a bit of an understatement. We were at least five miles below Quantico when we found him.

They transferred the crustaceans and we were headed away when the crabber asked them if they wanted a receipt. I was a bit dismayed by this additional delay, but I was a bit surprised as well – how can you get a receipt for something you failed to pay for? But we turned around, went back and got it and with minimal delay we were headed back north. By this time it was around 11:00, and at 11:20 we were at the dock. I offered them gas money, or at least enough for a six pack, but they declined.

Just then I got the sinking feeling that I had left my truck keys in the boat. Fortunately, I had them with me. Another crisis averted. At this point, I was only five miles from the boat as the crow flies, but due to the location of the bridges over the river, it was a 45 mile drive. I got in the truck, pulling an empty trailer. I was sure that some park ranger would stop me, assuming that I was stealing someone’s rig, but no one even batted an eyelash, so I turned on the XM radio, popped open a diet pepsi (despite remembering the keys, I had left my sandwich in the cooler) and hit the road. An hour later I was at the dock and Duncan was ready to go – although he did rub it in by saying that he’d flipped up a bass next to the marina while I took a tour of the river and the local interstate highway system.

We loaded the boat by trolling motor, tied everything down, and prepared to make the reverse trip. Normally I would have been aggravated but not hurried, but I knew that my marine technician closes at 3pm on Saturdays. It was only 1 o’clock, but in the DC area, you never know what traffic is going to do, especially if you have to deal with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Fortunately, we made it back with plenty of time (no traffic at all), unpacked some tackle from the boat and left it with my mechanic.

So now it’s Saturday night, and my plans to fish on Sunday have gone belly up. I’m disappointed, but it’s not that bad. A little Chinese food, some tackle prep, write an article about Denny Brauer for Wired2Fish.com – then finish the night off with American Gangster (good flick; Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington).

By seven o’clock Sunday morning, I was wide awake, not of my own volition but because the dogs decided that it was time to go. Riley, our Australian Shepherd, sleeps under the bed and will normally let me sleep as long as I want. Cookie, the pug, is supposed to sleep at the foot of the bed, but occasionally you’ll wake up to find her snoring comfortably on the pillow next to you – depending on how awake you are, it’s either a flashback to a morning after a night of college debauchery or you’re convinced that the Crypt Keeper has bedded down with you (or both, depending on where you went to college and how much you drank).  Once you stir in the slightest, you’re fair game for Cookie and there’s pretty much nothing you can do to get her to go back to sleep.

The upside of getting up was that I could go to 7-11, get some breakfast (ain’t bachelor life grand?), grab the newspaper, come back and work a little. I completed an article, returned some emails, played with my Wii (that sounds terrible) went to Home Depot for some supplies (no time for Bed Bath and Beyond). Got calls from Bernie Schultz and Clark Reehm – and I was done with everything I had to do and showered up a little after noon.

So I headed to the local sports bar to watch the Giants and the Bengals (not on local TV, needed their satellite). I don’t remember the last time I had a Sunday afternoon free to watch football. The bar was packed, so I asked the host if they could seat me – they could, but it would have to be with another “single” so they put me at a table with a very nice middle aged woman who was there to watch the Redskins and the Cardinals on a different screen. We co-existed fine, although it did lead to this awkward exchange when the wife called:

Wife: What are you doing?
Me: I’m having wings and watching football with a woman I just met.
Wife: Excuse me?

The advantage of eating with someone you don’t know while watching a game is that it gives you time to ponder things like whether you’d name your first-born Plaxico or Edgerrin. At halftime, I paid my tab, left and now I’m home again, boatless, time to burn.

Not so bad.

A Supposedly Good Book That I Never Bothered to Read

September 19, 2008

Editor's note: The editorial staff at Inside Line strongly advises against the consumption of richly seasoned or spicy foods in the hours immediately preceding your daily sleep period. Failure in this regard has been known to lead to sleepless nights and deep, introspective thought concerning obscure subject matter, NOIBN*, or other minutiae that may be unintelligible to mortal man and fisherman alike.

* not otherwise identified by name

David Foster Wallace committed suicide last week. Dead at 46. For those of you who assume that a three-word name indicates that he was a serial killer, you’re wrong. He was a writer. Apparently a very talented and influential novelist and essayist.

I wouldn’t know about his talents, except by reputation, because despite numerous recommendations from trusted sources that I read his books and articles, I never bothered to do so. That makes him one of many members of the pantheon of writers I wanted to read but didn’t.

That distinguishes him from a group of writers whose work I wanted very much to like and chose to read, but ended up not enjoying. Jack Kerouac, for example…On the Road sounded like a great concept, but I couldn’t muddle through it. Faulkner, too. Those convoluted sentences about Yoknapatawpha County lost me almost immediately. Even Ernest Hemingway. I wanted to like The Old Man and the Sea so desperately – It was about fishing, after all – but Santiago just bored me to tears. Maybe I’m a cretin, but to quote a more accessible fictional character, “I am what I am.”

My failure to read a number of writers whose work I want to like may be sheer laziness, but it may also be a matter of self-preservation. Until you go on the blind date, the girl is still flawless in your mind, laughs at all your jokes and the relationship has infinite potential. But once you’re there at the restaurant, chewing with your mouth open, noticing that she eats her peas funny, it all falls apart. The perfect game is over.

Wallace (or is it Foster Wallace?) also won a MacArthur grant, the so-called “Genius Award.” But that wasn’t enough to convince me. I had a college history professor who won one of those awards, with its $500,000 no-strings-attached prize, and hers was one of the dullest classes I ever took. Instead of lecturing extemporaneously or using a general outline, she read from freaking note cards. That bothered me, genius or not.

But upon hearing that Wallace died, I decided to read some of his work, not his novel Infinite Jest, which looks far too long for my minimal attention span to embrace. Any book for which you can also buy a reader’s guide is probably way too involved for me at this point in my life. When I was in college, we were required to read many of the classics of western literature (Homer, Plato, Aristotle, etc.). One of the kids down the hall from me couldn’t be bothered to read the books, but he became so enamored of the Cliffs Notes that he bought some for books we weren’t assigned to read over summer break.

The next option was an essay that he wrote about a trip on a cruise ship, “A Supposedly Fun Thing That I’ll Never Do Again.” Great title, right up there with John Feinstein’s golf book “A Good Walk Spoiled” (and it’s soon to be released fishing counterpart, “A Good Marriage Ruined”). But first I came across an essay he wrote for Gourmet magazine, of all places, called “Consider the Lobster.”

You can read the article here (http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/08/consider_the_lobster).

His poor editors at Gourmet, they got far more than they bargained for. They sent him to the Maine Lobster Festival, no doubt expecting that he’d produce an article about the state’s beautiful coastline, it’s rich traditions and the gustatory pleasures of eating lobster and he comes back with nearly 8,000 words (including 20 end notes) dealing with those topics only in passing. Instead, he writes at length about the taxonomy of the species in the most non-appetizing way possible and then wonders about the ethics of boiling the creatures alive just for our dining pleasure.

But the thing is, it’s four years later and I’m not writing about Gourmet’s features from that year on foie gras, arugula or truffles. I’m writing (rather obtusely) about lobster. I’m writing about David Foster Wallace, someone much smarter than me, who died last week, apparently by his own hand.

There’s no point here. He also wrote a lot about tennis, and pornography, and John McCain (but not in the same article, I’m pretty sure). I write about fishing, and nothing else.