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Pete Weighs In - A Blog

By Pete Robbins

More On Carter

September 23, 2009

In response to my last blog entry, I received the following from my friend Alan Clemons:

“W. Horace Carter lived in Cross Creek, a tiny community southeast of Gainesville known as the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings ... author of the famed book, "The Yearling."

Rawlings lived a quiet, outgoing life as a person of literary fame as well as the outdoors, taking care of fishing, hunting and what I'd call "yard farming" of fruits and such. Some folks would say she was eccentric.

Her home site, or near it, is now a state park: www.floridastateparks.org/marjoriekinnanrawlings/

Cross Creek is situated on a canal linking Orange Lake and Lochloosa Lake. Orange is larger. One of them has a sinkhole that sometimes will start draining the lake and officials don't know where the water goes. They have done dye tests with no success (that I know of). They also attempted to plug the hole once with old school buses, cars and such. Didn't work.

W. Horace Carter lived at the end of a small road simply given the designation "180th Place," which is similar to 'street' or 'road.' The comfortable house has an upstairs overlooking the living room, which joins the kitchen and breakfast nook. The rear of the house faces a smaller canal joining the larger one, and has a two-boat shed. Four bedrooms and a nice office ... which later became the office and home of the Tim Tucker family.

Years ago, Carter wanted to move back to North Carolina and sold Tucker the home at a very good price, which Tim said he never could have afforded otherwise. Tim originally was from North Carolina and their friendship was strengthened through the Tar Heel state, SEOPA and outdoor writing, along with, no doubt, Carter's sage advice to Tucker.

When Tim died, they were about to move out so the construction workers could come in and shore up the house foundation that was cracked b/c of soil settling. So on top of the accident and ensuing legal stuff, Darlene and the kids had to endure their house being torn apart during a renovation. They got everything taken care of and now it's nice as pie.

I only visited a few times but loved it. Quiet, peaceful, surrounded by orange trees ... I never failed to bring home a box of oranges and grapefruits. In 2006 when we went for summer baseball camp I went frog gigging one night on the lake.”

Gone But Not Forgotten

September 21, 2009

While reading the New York Times this morning, I came across the obituary of W. Horace Carter, noted for being a newspaper publisher in North Carolina who challenged the Ku Klux Klan, at great risk to himself and his family.  For those efforts, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953.  The obituary can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/21/us/21carter.html?scp=1&sq=horace%20carter&st=cse

Normally I might give such an obituary a quick scan.  On a slow news day or a quiet day at the office, I might pay a little more attention. This time, something about the name struck me.  It must’ve been the “W” in front that made it distinct.  Sure enough, this sentence was in the second to last paragraph: “Mr. Carter left newspapering in the 1970s, moving to Cross Creek, Fla., where he fished and wrote books and articles about the outdoors.” That was my “Ah-ha!” moment.  I must’ve remembered him from old issues of Bassmaster or Field & Stream that I read as a kid. 

A quick Google search showed him to be exceptionally prolific, including work with Doug Hannon, “The Bass Professor.” The first book I ever read about the sport was their co-authored “Hannon’s Field Guide for Bass Fishing,” when I was about 11 or 12 years old.  Never knew about his “other” career. Pretty amazing stuff.

Are You Ready For Some Football?

September 15, 2009

[Alternately titled: There’s No “I” In “Team” But There Are Two In “Spinnerbait.”]

You wouldn’t know it from the persistent 80 and 90 degree temperatures, but football season is here. The kids are back in school, the leaves are contemplating changing colors at some point in the not too distant future and most importantly for addicts like me, the shad are going to start moving up the tributaries. But for now we’ll have to be satisfied with the crashing of shoulder pads, the roar of the crowd and the occasional taunting penalty (insert tawdry marriage analogy here).

The collision of fishing and football has become apparent in my life through the addition of a relatively new friend, Scott Secules, who I met as the result of a writing assignment for Wired2Fish.com. Scott was a first-team Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback in 1987 and subsequently played six seasons in the NFL with the Cowboys, Dolphins and Patriots. He’s also pretty damn good with a rod and reel, and he’s absolutely fanatical about this sport. In fact, during the time we spent in the boat together, had I not previously known of his quarterbacking past (and continued involvement in collegiate athletics) it might not have revealed itself. He wanted to talk about frog modifications and punch skirts.

[I can never get enough of talking about the minutiae of fishing and its accoutrements, but there are still some questions about football that I want to get answered. Not so much about the intricacies of a Cover Two defense or the Wildcat offense, but more off the wall stuff like the following conundrum: Many NFL players tend to be highly particular about their material possessions. They drive Bentleys, they wear expensive jewelry and they no doubt have Louis Vuitton luggage. So why is it that every time a player is cut, or cleans out his locker at the end of the year, he ends up hauling all of his crap away in a Hefty bag instead of something more stylish?]

I’ve fished with accomplished individualsin the past, including former professional athletes, but Scott adds a new wrinkle to my list of friends. Now there’s someone on the roster who has been given a nickname by ESPN’s Chris Berman (for the record, it’s Scott “Won’t You Let Me Take You On A” Secules).

I could’ve used Scott’s help during a Federation event this past weekend. I had located a wad of fish in one of the Potomac’s tributaries. The area is not a secret, but I had one key stretch (perhaps 50 yards long by 50 yards wide) in a large bay that seemed to produce the most bites. That’s where I started and while there were other boats within a mile of me, none was within a few hundred yards. But then I started catching fish and immediately the Potomac River “bent pole” pattern came into effect. The boats were on me like white on rice. To be honest, it’s not something that happens to me often, so it’s more than just mildly disconcerting when it does. Each time my partner or I called for the net, landed a fish or started working the culling process, there were a few boats that crept a little bit closer. As I said, the area’s no secret, and it never got close to becoming an incident but it was still weighing on me.

One of the anglers in the closest boat sported a Lawrence Taylor #56 jersey.

I suppose I should’ve heeded the old adage that “the best defense is a good offense” and forgotten about them, but it was tough. I’m not good at fishing in a crowd, even if that crowd is just two or three boats. LT kept looking to sack me, it seemed. In a day when it was rare for my partner and I to go more than 15 minutes without a keeper bite, after filling out our limits by 8:30 and culling a few times, the bite slowed for us. Neither of us caught a legal bass for about an hour.

Then again, as my college friend Rich would say, “the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” Maybe it was time to stop focusing on LT and start just fishing. The fish weren’t situated precisely, they were roaming around the grassbed under cloudy skies. Time to stop thinking about the pass rush. The bite gradually resumed, and got pretty damn good again. The fish weren’t big, but we weren’t under any pressure. LT and his crew left – we only noticed them catching two or three fish the whole time, anyway -- and we had the area to ourselves again.

I never got the big bite that I needed to do really well in the tournament. Still, I culled up by ounces enough times to claim a check. Meanwhile, my non-boater, who has only been fishing for a short time, managed to weigh in his first limit. As hyper-competitive as I am, we were having so much fun catching fish (and burning a grand total of two gallons of boat gas all day) that It seemed less like a tournament than just a good old fashioned sandlot ballgame. Draw up a post pattern in the sand -- keep running and the ball will be there when you arrive. I’ll take care of the pass rush. Not a flashy performance, but good enough to add one in the win column, as far as I’m concerned.

Raindrops On Roses and Whiskers On Kittens

September 9, 2009

Unlike Pacman Jones, I have neither the ability nor the means to make it rain, but as an avid fisherman I know that it is inevitable that into my life a little rain will fall. Actually, as a tournament angler, I know that inclement weather tracks my every movement and follows me mercilessly. It’s part of the experience. I was warned of this before my very first club tournament in 1995 when I asked a more experienced fisherman what I needed to get, thinking he’d recommend a particular rod, reel or lure, and he quickly responded, “The best damn rainsuit you can buy.” A few years ago, one of the BASS pros (I don’t remember exactly which one, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was Kelly Jordon, although Jeff Kriet also seems to be a likely candidate) dubbed their traveling circus the “brown glove club” – as a result of the need to wear rainsuits every day, their hands were the only part of them that got any sun.

In other words, if you’re not wearing gore-tex, you’re nobody.

So now that the redheaded wife joins me in the boat on more than the occasional sunny, wind-free day – and is traveling with me on two fishing trips to Mexico this winter – the time has come to get her a rainsuit of her own. Sounds easy enough. The problem is that she is “vertically challenged.” This makes it harder than you think to get her a decent, properly fitting suit. I’m not sure I agree with Randy Newman on everything, but in this respect having a less than statuesque spouse has made life a little bit difficult.

[On the subject of her height, all along I’ve thought that she was just a hair over 5 feet tall. This past weekend she told me that she’s 5’1 and ¾ (the ¾ being of the essence, like the kindergardner who tells you he is 5 and a half – for the record, I’m 39 and 5/8.). I could’ve sworn that she’d never mentioned topping the 5’1” mark before. Maybe it’s the result of a new hairstyle that I failed to notice, a latter-day version of Fletch’s basketball stats.

I’m insisting that she get rain bibs instead of pants – in my experience, if you bend over at the wrong time while wearing the pants, you get a deluge of water right in the crack. I’m guessing that would leave the wife unhappy, and if the wife is unhappy she tends to be verbal about it, and then ain’t nobody happy. We went to Bass Pro Shops and tried on the 100 MPH suit. The bibs were just way too long. The only thing worse than water down the crack is tripping over the bottom of your rainsuit and ending up in the drink. With zippers at the bottom, they can’t really be shortened, either. I suggested a uniquely male solution (duct tape around the ankles to hold the pant legs up) but it was summarily dismissed.

All along I had intended to get her a Cabela’s Guidewear Suit, which I’ve used happily for over a dozen years. They even come in short versions, or so I thought. Alas, by the time I went to order them the short version had been discontinued. An email to Cabela’s Customer Service asking if any of their retail stores have any leftovers has so far gone unanswered.

We tried REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods and LL Bean all near our home, and found nothing satisfactory. Online, a couple of companies like Helly Hansen and Gill make suits aimed at ladies, with inseams for shorter gals, too. I have no idea if any of them is decent, even close to comparable to the Guidewear, but I guess we’ll end up ordering one of those and trying it out. Do any of my female readers have suggestions?

Country Clubbing

August 26, 2009

The summer after my senior year of high school, I was a poorly paid sales associate in the sporting goods portion of an exceptionally poorly-run department store. Ideally, I would have had a broad knowledge of products ranging from badminton to basketballs, but at the meager wage they offered they weren’t going to get someone well-informed, let alone highly motivated to learn more. The practical result of this fact was that when people would ask me questions like, “Why should I buy the more expensive binoculars?” I would have to be quick on my feet and come up with some crappy but seemingly authoritative answer like, “You can’t go wrong with superior optics.” I also spent a lot of time ogling the fishing equipment.

It was an absolute bargain basement type of store – mismatched junk, odd selections of off-brand electronics, cheap furniture and poor management. No wonder they went broke and no longer exist.

One of my co-workers, a recent high school graduate like myself, was a more avid and experienced angler than I was. He explained a lot about the tackle we had for sale – which was junk and which merited expending my employee discount. He also bridged the gap between our low-rent retail district and the country club set. If I could remember his name 21 years later, I’d call him out on it, because it was absolutely brilliant, but I can’t, so I’ll just recount his story.

It seems that he and a friend had been asked to the prom by two young women in whom they had no interest. I am not sure whether their potential dates were physically unattractive, annoying to be around, not sufficiently morally casual, or why their company was not particularly desirable – I can only speculate – but once the two guys learned that the event was to take place at a country club that had within its bounds a top notch (and previously inaccessible to them) trout stream, they signed onto the program.

Prom night rolled around and they couldn’t afford any sort of chauffeured transportation, so my co-worker and his friend escorted their dates in a four dour sedan, a Buick LeSabre or Olds 88, if I remember correctly, although the story would work even better had it been a Chrysler Cordoba (“fine Corinthian leather”…RIP Ricardo Montalban). They wore the standard issue tuxes to pick up their dates, but neatly stashed in the trunk were two fly rods and two pairs of hip waders. Once the party started, and their dates became somehow occupied (since it was the late 80s in the suburbs, I’m guessing they headed to powder their noses and touch up the Aqua Net hairspray on their big mall hair), our protagonists slipped out a side door, got their gear from the car and spent the rest of the night fishing.

I don’t know whether that story is 100 percent true. If it is, I have no idea how it ended (except that in some form it must have ended badly), but I think it illustrates a lot about the addictive power of fishing, even for low-rent rough fish like hatchery trout.

And that, my friends, was the last time two regular guy anglers mixed with the country club set.

I started writing this blog entry in Syracuse, where I was covering the final Elite Series event of the regular season, and at the weigh-ins I noticed that except for the occasional glum-looking ESPN executive, you didn’t see too many guys who looked like they were on the squash team at Princeton. I know many of the pros play golf in their off-time, but this crowd skewed heavily toward NASCAR and tractor pulls. Even though I have little interest in the latter two events, I know this to be true because I’m one of ‘em. But that doesn’t mean that competitive endeavors more at home around the manicured greens where America’s wealthy and powerful play can’t inform our appreciation for our sport. I was reminded of this while reading an essay by the late David Foster Wallace entitled “Tennis player Michael Joyce’s professional artistry as a paradigm of certain stuff about choice, freedom, limitation, joy, grotesquerie, and human completeness.” The article was written about tennis pros tottering on the edge between AAA competition and establishing themselves as full-fledged members of the professional elite, but in many respects it could easily have applied to fishermen doing the same thing.

Below, in bold, are some choice quotes from the essay. Interspersed, not in bold, are my applications of those quotes to the world of professional bass fishing.

You are invited to try to imagine what it would be like to be among the hundred best in the world at something. At anything. I have tried to imagine; it’s hard.

Here’s the main problem with being a professional bass fisherman. You can’t tell anyone you’re a fisherman, or stop at a gas station towing a wrapped boat, without having someone tell you about their friend or uncle who once caught a monster bass or who is a pro (defined broadly, apparently). If you’re polite enough to express quiet amazement at their brush with greatness, they’ll proceed to tell you that you’re doing things all wrong – you need to be fishing a day-glo orange Hellbender or scouring their neighbor’s yard for nightcrawlers if you really want to catch some fish. And what are you doing chasing those measly bass, anyway, when there are big catfish and carp breaking the surface and virtually asking to be caught at every stock pond and crick in a four hour radius? And if your interrogator should happen to know even the slightest thing about bass fishing, they assume that with a few breaks, a little bit of cash and some time off, they’d be in your shoes, or in your boat, and that the only difference between their weekday Dockers and your dye sublimated jersey is that they’re good family men and you’re a rotten bastard. So much anger.

(P)ros simply do not make unforced errors – or at any rate they make them so rarely that there’s no way they’re going to make the four unforced errors in seven points necessary for me to win a game.

The bottom line here, as a friend once explained it to me, is that if you play Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant or even an injured Dwyane Wade a hundred times in basketball, they’re going to mop up the court with you. But if you fish against KVD a hundred times, you might, just might, beat him once or twice, if nothing else because you remember a day under perfect conditions where you whacked ‘em on your home lake and you remember a day on that same lake when there were 40mph winds and chocolate milk was flowing in through the tributaries and he had motor troubles so KVD weighed in a less than tournament-leading bag of fish. Bottom line, you’re not KVD. Get over it. Even if you’re the top stick on your local pond, and even if you could beat 80 percent of the pros on that pond, that’s a totally different ball game than going out on a national tour, fishing against these guys and trying to be competitive. Some of them may seem nice on TV, but give them an inch and they’ll eat your lunch, I promise you.

The realities of the men’s professional tennis tour bear about as much resemblance to the lush finals you see on TV as a slaughterhouse does to a well-presented cut of restaurant sirloin.

Here’s the other problem vis a vis Joe the aspiring pro at home watching the Bassmasters on TV on Saturday morning because his boat’s in the shop or his kid has a soccer game at 11 – when he’s watching the show, they’re only showing (at most) the top twelve guys, who by definition are the guys who went beyond whacking them in what has become a series of whackfests. They’re the guys who catch 20 pounds when every other pro is catching 10. They’re the ones who catch 30 when Classic contenders are happy to have 20. They’re the ones who take big risks and reap big rewards. But a much more accurate show would be to follow around the bottom 12 in the standings, because when you get down to it, most anglers leave the tournament unhappy. There are the fifty percent who don’t take home a check. There are the ones who missed out on post-season glory and are going home to an offseason of uncertainty. There are the ones who had equipment failures. There are the ones who had a legitimate shot to win, perhaps the first, last and only one of their career, but something boogered that up. And there are of course, in this day and age, at least one or two whose house is about to get foreclosed upon or whose wife is having an affair with the mailman.

We prefer not to consider the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews, or to imagine what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think it the simplistic way great athletes seem to think.

It took me until about my hundredth interview as an outdoor writer to realize that the pros don’t want to be my friend, don’t care about my fishing stories (see above) and for the most part can’t offer much meaningful information about the world outside of bass fishing (although occasionally one or two know something about wildly disparate topics such as saltwater fishing or hunting). That’s not necessarily a knock on them. I wouldn’t go to Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky or Tiger Woods for quotes about world affairs or entertainment, either. We want our heroes to be dynamic personalities because it feeds the myth that they are superhuman, but truth be told, as many writers have pointed out before me, most of them are quite boring.

He has a tight and long-standing group of friends back home in LA, but one senses that most of his personal connections have been made via tennis.

As noted in my commentary on the last quotation, the pros don’t want to be your friend and for the most part they’re not terribly perceptive about anything outside of their limited sphere of influence (which, of course, makes them similar to at least 99 and 44/100 percent of the rest of the population). This is partially because they’re an insular group. Not to pick on three guys (who I consider reasonably smart), but when Zell Rowland and Kelly Jordon and Jeff Kriet want to recreate during the breaks in their schedules, they like to relax by fishing in saltwater, and they do it together. For every Kevin VanDam who has fished with all sort of celebrities and athletes from other sports, or Alton Jones and Mark Davis, who have been to the White House, there are 10 up-and-coming pros whose only desire is to narrow their blinders even further, like their idols, and become more focused on the single thing that matters to them.

There’s great debate among tennis pundits about whether legal guarantees have helped the game by making the finances less shady or have hurt the game by widening the psychological gap between the stars and all the other players and by upping the pressure on tournaments to make it as likely as possible that the stars don’t get upset by an unknown.

BASS has on occasion been accused of having their “Golden Boys,” a group of photogenic anglers who get disproportionate media coverage. This doesn’t apply to guys like KVD and Skeet, who could look like the northbound end of a southbound mule and still get TV time and magazine features simply because they catch ‘em tournament after tournament after tournament. I won’t name names, but I’m sure you can figure out some of the objects of their jealousy and resentment – anglers who may have had some good seasons once but may not have had one in a few years and still seem to get sponsorship love and magazine coverage. Without opining on who “deserves” what, it raises the following question: Does BASS care about who does well? Do they have more invested in KVD making the postseason than in say, Cliff Pace (who made it) or Kevin Short (who did not). Is it about the anglers, or as Seinfeld famously said, is it just about the laundry? If the anglers went on strike and were replaced by scabs we’ve never heard of, and those scabs caught fish just as well, would we care? If the answer is “no,” how does that affect the mentality of a journeyman pro? What about an up-and-coming angler who can barely string a couple of sentences together? Are the cards stacked against him?

Most players I spoke with confirm, by the way, that Gatorade and All-Sport and Boost and all those pricey electrolytic sports drinks are mostly bullshit, that salt and carbs at table and small takes of daily H2O are the way to go. The players who didn’t confirm this turned out to be players who had endorsement deals with some pricey sports-drink manufacturer, but I personally saw at least one such player dumping out his bottle’s pricey electrolytic contents and replacing them with good old water, for his match.

The sponsorship game is at once the most important and the crappiest part of our sport. Since few if any can make a living from tournament winnings alone year in and year out, they have to go and whore themselves to the highest (or in most cases, only) bidders. In some cases, like with quality tackle manufacturers, it’s a fairly honest and transparent transaction, but more often than not it’s shameless QVC, Franklin Mint caliber hucksterism. It’s become the dominant paradigm of aspiring pros. They don’t want to catch fish like KVD as much as they want to sell like KVD. The goal is to become a walking billboard. This pisses me off to no end. I don’t mind someone trying to make a buck, especially if it’s part of a clear career path, but it demeans the sport. Maybe that attitude derives from the fact that I’m not a NASCAR fan – even the other leagues are now starting to include advertising on their uniforms (they all look like second division Greek basketball teams to me) – but I just don’t get it. Is it more about looking the part than actually playing the part, the “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV” syndrome? For the record, I have no stickers on my truck or boat. I reserve the right to change that if monthly checks start showing up in the mailbox.

When he points out that there’s “no point” getting exercised about unfairness you can’t control, I think what he’s really saying is that you either learn how not to get upset about it or you disappear from the Tour.

Whether you’re a weekend angler or a top-level pro, no one wants to hear about the other guy’s advantage, about the toad you lost or about the tournament you would have won if only you’d gotten a better boat number in the first flight. Look at Skeet and KVD – I’ve spent time in the boat with both, including a Classic where the BASS-supplied trolling motor in Skeet’s BASS-supplied boat had recurring problems – nothing phases them. Drop them on Mars, in China or in the middle of a teen beauty pageant and if there’s water nearby they’ll still catch fish. Then look at the known complainers, the one who always have an excuse or a gripe, both on the pro level and on your local circuit. They may have a moment or two in the sun, but they never live up to their potential and that tends to kill them. I’m never surprised when they wash out. Look at the Elite Series rookie classes over the past few years.  Lots have gone to the Bass Pro Retirement Home and others should be there sooner rather than later.

It’s the sort of love whose measure is what it has cost, what one’s given up for it.

Again, this applies to both the weekend warrior and the pro alike. For the pros, think of all of the things they miss in life – weddings, graduations, other achievements and occasions – all to chase little green (and brown) fish. The schedule is unforgiving, there’s no real retirement plan and you leave a venue frustrated more often than you leave happy. For those of us, like me, who fish 10 or 12 ultra-low-level club events a year, it’s not all that much different. Our tow vehicles may accrue fewer miles per year, but we give up all sorts of stuff to be out there. Unless you’re superhuman, you can’t stay out late partying if you want to get up at 3 in the morning, drive to the lake and fish your ass off. You end up having to explain to friends and family members that you can’t go to little Johnny’s kindergarten graduation because you have a Federation championship that weekend, and after explaining what the Federation is and what this event might qualify you to do, you feel stupid but you’re still not going to give it up. Your credibility is strained, you waste thousands of dollars on stuff you’ll never use and you have a boat that seems to be in the shop more than it’s on the water, but the thought of life without it is painful and dull and dry. So take your love of the sport and multiply it by ten or a hundred or five hundred and that’s how bad most of these guys want to make a name for themselves, how much they’re willing to give up.  It’s not just that they don’t know anything else, it’s that they don’t want to know anything else, even the long odds against them.