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Pete Weighs In - A Blog

By Pete Robbins

New Year, No New Dog

January 1, 2010

Two o'clock in the afternoon on New Year's Day and I'm out in the garage sorting plastics (isn't that what everyone does on January 1st?), packing for a trip to Falcon in two weeks and contemplating a complete overhaul of my pegboard system, when in walks the fine-looking dog in the attached picture. I caught him out of the corner of my eye and assumed it was Riley, our Australian Shepherd, but then when I turned to greet her it turned out that he looked nothing like her.

At first I was taken aback -- while I love dogs and have two of them, I'm always a bit wary of a strange animal -- but this guy was a tail-wagging fool. He followed me out of the garage and towards the house. I went for the door but if I opened it up he was going to waltz right in and meet up with our canine welcoming comittee, which was a bad idea for a number of reasons. So I headed back to the fridge in the garage, opened it up and found a lot of beer and one pack of peanut butter crackers, which I used to keep him occupied while I ran into the house to get a leash and a wife.

We returned outside and he was still there, peanut butter crackers uneaten. What kind of a dog has higher food standards than a bass fisherman? He wasn't going anywhere, a true velcro hound like our two goofballs. Hanna called animal control, they said they were on their way, so we dug in for a wait of about half an hour. At one point she gave me the look that said "No, we're not keeping him." I reached that same conclusion when he decided to "mark" and left a small squirt on my tackle bag. Still, we bonded with him quickly, just a good friendly dog. Hopefully, he's an escapee rather than a neglectee.

Animal control arrived and the officer (after assuring us it's a no-kill shelter) took the leash and led our new friend toward the back of his van. As they neared the cage, the dog dug in his heels (all four of them) and refused to budge. "He's been in here before," the officer said. Eventually, with a little coaxing and a little force, we got him in.

It's not my place to go all Bob Barker on you and implore you to spay or neuter your pets, nor do I need to remind anyone that dogs can and will get out if given the slightest opportunity. But we live on a busy street and in 6 years here this is the second time this has happened (the first time was a similarly friendly 10 month old black lab). Our dogs are old (12 and 9) and I'm going to be crushed when they go, but it would crush me even more if their demise was somehow my fault.

I think we did a good thing today, but I can't help but feel that the incremental burden of a third dog, as well as the joy that another one could provide us, would be worth it to prevent today's new friend from having to see the back of the van again.

America's Most Wanted (Spinnerbait)

December 29, 2009

Check out the spinnerbait in the two pictures accompanying this blog entry -- by waking this big 'ol bluegill imitator I managed to generate some hellacious strikes at El Salto, nothing over five pounds and change, but you would've thought they were redfish or tarpon given the fuss they made. I recognize that the pictures aren't great, but hopefully they're enough to help you help me identify it.
I believe it's an even one ounce, although it might've been a quarter once less or a quarter ounce more. Either way, with that big #7 or #8 mag willow blade -- the type that Harry and Charlie would've called a filling-loosener -- it really pushed a lot of water. Unfortunately, after catching a handful of fish on it, I swung one into the boat and came back without that beautifully painted hubcap.
I'm 99 44/100 percent sure that I purchased this spinnerbait at Falcon Lake Tackle in Zapata, Texas last February, and as luck would have it I'm headed back there in mid-January, but on the off chance my steel trap memory has forsaken me, can anyone out there identify the lure's manufacturer? I want to get some more for future thrashings. Anyone pointing me in the right direction will get a reward -- I'm not quite sure what, though, maybe a spinnerbait of his or her own. If you're the manufacturer of this bait, thanks for the memories. I'm looking to create more.

24 (Or Thereabouts) (Minus Kiefer Sutherland To Wrap Things Up In a Tidy Fashion)

December 28, 2009

While there were times on December 12, 2009, where I would have given my first born, my left leg or my collection of Japanese tackle for a piece of Mary Ann’s coconut cream pie, Gilligan and his three hour tour can go to hell.

What started out as an easy jaunt to Mazatlan, six hours on two planes, both from the same airline, turned into a headache-inducing nightmare of epic proportions. As they might say in the movies, this dude abides, but it wasn’t easy. Here’s how what was supposed to be 10 or 11 hours door-to-door-turned into 24 hours of hell.

3:00am (Eastern): Alarm goes off, but I’m already up. The dogs are confused – tournament season has been over for a month and since the end of that road they haven’t been roused out of their easy slumber this early. They’ve enjoyed it. They march down the steps like political prisoners being sent to a refugee camp. They pee outside quickly and return to their bowls for morning grub. In just over 12 hours, I’ll be at Anglers Inn on El Salto, drinking a big margarita or a Pacifico. Maybe we’ll even get in a few hours of fishing this afternoon. What could go wrong?

3:45am: Hanna and I have the car packed with our luggage. We start the one-mile drive over to Bill’s house. I’ve known him for 14 years and lived this distance from him for six years, yet I always assume it’ll take 15 minutes to get to his house. It usually takes two to six minutes, depending on how I hit the two traffic lights between here and there.

3:50am: Everyone is supposed to be at Bill’s at 4am, but Hanna and I (10 minutes early) are the last to arrive. We load our gear in Mike’s white suburban (aka, “The Bread Truck”). Three rod tubes, five items to check and various carry-ons. Bill’s wife Rose, definitely not a morning person, has agreed to drive us to Reagan National.

4:35am: We’re at the airport. I assumed that by taking a 6am flight we’d have the place to ourselves, but the terminal (and the Continental counter in particular) is packed. It appears that everyone trying to get anywhere in Latin America today has to go through Houston. Not good times. Fortunately, Hanna tracks down a baggage guy, who takes our credit cards and our names, checks all of our luggage and gets us boarding passes. I knew I married Hanna for a reason. One crisis averted. What could possibly go wrong?

5:00am: We make it through security with a minimum of hassles. We’re all at least semi-frequent fliers so we know the drill. Most of us have chosen to put all hooks and lures in our carry-on luggage. For some reason, Bill has decided to bring a Lunker Punker in his carry-on. The TSA folks pull him aside. They let it pass. Another crisis averted. This is shaping up to be a banner day. I can almost taste the margarita now.

5:05am: Mike makes a desperate run for coffee. He’s an addict. While I didn’t pack any hooks in my carry-on tackle bag, I did bring all of my tungsten weights. For the first time today, I realize that all of those little weights add up. They’re pretty damn heavy.

5:30am: Continental announces that a pre-flight check of our plane has revealed a defective part. “It could take one, two or three hours to get it,” they announce. One hundred fifty passengers groan in unison (some in Spanish). What could go wrong, indeed? “We will call groups to the desk to make alternate arrangements,” they advise kindly.

6:00am: We were supposed to be taking off now. Oh well, what’s an hour or two? So that margarita will be delayed a bit.

6:30am: While Continental specifically advised us not to hover around the desk area, after no further announcements for about an hour we decide to disregard that admonition. Mike and I are about the fifth party in line. Unfortunately, the group at the front of the line has no clue what they want and for a good forty-five minutes they hog the desk. This is further complicated by the fact that one of the two desk attendants (yes, Continental failed to send any additional help for 150 stranded passengers) has no “zero” key on his keyboard. I’m glad that no one ahead of us in line is taking Flight 1000 to Beverly Hills 90210 – we’d be here until March. While we’re waiting, Mike makes four treks to the men’s room. Someday the time between his piss-stops will be recognized as an actual unit of temporal measurement. Who can help me make this happen?

7:45am: We are at the front of the line. The harried desk clerk makes six clicks on her computer then tells me there’s nothing she can do. She might be able to get us on a flight tomorrow. I explain that we are getting on a boat at 6am tomorrow (technically true) and that if we aren’t there in time our once-in-a-lifetime vacation will be ruined (pretty much true). She says that the supervisor at Gate 11 (we’re at Gate 14) might be able to effectuate an override. I walk down to Gate 11 to meet with the supervisor who I’m told is waiting for me. There is a line.

8:30am: The one woman standing in front of me in line is trying to get to Guatemala. She’s told that she has two choices: Fly out of Washington Dulles tomorrow morning, change planes in Miami, and get to Guatemala at noon; or fly out of Washington Reagan tomorrow morning, stop in Miami but stay on the same plane, and get to Guatemala at noon. She makes the desk agent repeat the options back to her three times. Then she repeats them herself. Then she looks stupefied. Then she repeats them again. Finally I say, “Lady, make a damn decision” and we exchange some not-so-friendly words. I later heard that she was trying to get to a funeral and I feel like a Class A jerk. But until that happens I’m still mad. When I finally get up front, the supervisor tells me she has no ability to override anything. Who said “good things come to those who wait?” If he were here right now he wouldn’t have to wait even a second for me to whack him over the head with 20 pounds of tungsten.

8:45am: A kindly Continental desk agent takes pity on me and tries to help out. She can’t find five seats to Mazatlan on any partner airlines. I get on the Blackberry and figure out that Aeromexico goes there – they’re not on her list. She checks and seemingly finds a potential route. The supervisor, standing next to her, does not seem pleased that she has actually found a way to help a customer.

9:30am: We are issued five new itineraries. Instead of DCA to Houston to Mazatlan, all on Continental, now we’re going on American to Miami, changing to Aeromexico, flying to Mexico City, then catching an Aeromexico Connect flight to Mazatlan. The kindly woman at Continental tells me she will reroute our luggage. It will be a miracle if it ends up in the same time zone and hemisphere as we do.

10:00am: Back out past security, up to the American counter and we get boarding passes to Miami. Their zero key works, which is a good thing. We go back through security and this time the Lunker Punker is not checked but Duncan is pulled aside for a full cavity search. We arrive at the gate and there is a partner from my former law firm on our flight. I did not like her then and I don’t really care for her now. Also I’m a little bit upset right now. I decide to avoid her. Otherwise I might say something regrettable, which in turn might get TSA involved. Not a good strategy in a DC airport. They seem to take that type of episode pretty seriously.

10:50am: We board. Mike and Duncan are sitting in the last row together. They both fall asleep quickly, but not before Mike sees our luggage get on the plane. I’m about 10 rows in front of them, separated from the rest of our crew and stuck between two large guys. I hate the middle seat. As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off, I need to get out and pee (it’s been at least three Mikes since I drank a 24 ounce Diet Pepsi). I consider jumping over him, but my limited agility results in a 50/50 chance that I’d kick him in the face, which he probably would not enjoy, so I wake him and get out. I get back to the two restrooms just as two middle-aged women go in (separately, in case that wasn’t clear). Ten minutes later, I’m still standing there. They haven’t even flushed. What can they possibly be doing for that long? There should be some sort of rule about this. It happens all the time at places like Starbucks. People go in and then spend ridiculous amounts of time in the john. At risk of being crude, if you have to go so badly that you’ll use the public head, it should all be over pretty quickly. Finally I get to go. When I get back, I have to wake my seatmate again.

1:10pm: We land in Miami on time and head out of security and straight to the Aeromexico desk. There is one family in front of us in line. Unfortunately, it seems like they are shipping an entire Toys R Us back to Mexico City for Christmas. What can go wrong? After what seems like an eternity of bartering on their part with the desk agent, we get to the front of the line and it for the first time in the trip I have to use my limited Spanish language skills. The Aeromexico woman does not speak much English, but I think she assures me in two languages that our luggage has been transferred and will meet us in Mazatlan. Then she cryptically tells me to double-check at the gate.

2:10pm: We get a table for five at Chili’s. None of us have eaten anything since we first arrived at DCA about 9 hours ago. We’re supposed to be in the van from Mazatlan to El Salto now, but we’re not even close. Temporarily forgetting both that I’ll be in Mexico for a week and that I’ll only have access to airport and airplane bathrooms for the rest of the day, I order the Quesadilla Explosion Salad. Memo to self: not a good idea. Hanna comes back from the ladies’ room and tells me that she could moonwalk across the Chili’s floor on the coating of grease. Normally I would find this entertaining and would get up and try it, but right now I’m too tired and perturbed to do so. Five minutes later, Bill comes back to the table from making a restroom visit and calling his wife, and comments, “Hey, did you know that the floor….” My ears can’t bear to hear it again right now, for some reason.

3:30pm: We go to the Aeromexico gate, which is a small, dark room in the bowels of the Miami airport. To get there, we have to go through security once again and once again the Lunker Punker is examined – it makes the cut. Apparently it’s common for people from Mexico to bring home large amounts of Toys R Us bounty, as most of the people flying with us seem to have something from the mega-mart. I feel left out that I have a tackle bag instead of a life-size Buzz Lightyear rocket ship or Holly Hobby oven. No mechanized hamsters in sight, though. The refills on Diet Cokes at Chili’s are getting to me. I need to “take a Mike,” but the sole bathroom in our sector has one stall and one urinal, the latter of which is out of order. When the prior user of the stall emerges, I head in. I’m glad my shoelaces were tied. If they’d dragged on the floor I would’ve had to throw them away.

5:00pm: Finally there’s an Aeromexico employee at the gate to inquire about our luggage. It’s the same woman from upstairs. I understand budget cuts, but if she’s flying the plane, I might just stay in Miami and fish for peacock bass. She makes a quick call and assures me that the airline has received our luggage and that we will not have to pick it up in Mexico City to go through customs. What could go wrong, right?

5:40pm: We’re on the plane to Mexico City, but they seem to be on “mañana time.” Everything’s moving a little bit slowly, probably because of the family sitting in front of us. It’s four kids, two young couples and grandma. The kids are all screaming, but it’s the father who is the biggest problem of all. He seems intent on getting a piece of their carry-on luggage in each quadrant of the plane, and is willing to hold up the flow of passengers onto the plane to do so. Throughout the flight I’ll also learn that he has a categorical opposition to “fasten your seatbelt” signs. Every time it goes on, his immediate reaction is to pop up out of his seat and head to the restroom, find a stewardess or sprint headlong toward one end of the plane or the other.

7:40pm: The stewardesses bring around a meal cart. I did not expect this. It’s a sandwich on a croissant, some sort of snow white meat, not sure if it’s ham or turkey or the dreaded “other.” I eat it quietly. Shortly thereafter, I plug in my free headphones and proceed to watch an episode of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” (in English). Never seen it before, not atrocious, but it’s going to be pretty hard to make me laugh at this point. I should be on my third lakeside Pacifico. The storyline is as follows: new Christine is dating Blair Underwood and is considering getting new breasts. Ultimately she decides against the purchase.

9:15pm: As we fly over Mexico City, we’re given an amazing light show. There are fireworks going off everywhere and we have a really cool perspective from overhead. I later learned from a Mexican co-worker that the fireworks were part of a celebration for the Virgin of Guadalupe, but at the time I just assumed that blood vessels were bursting in my head from frustration.

9:20pm (at least it’s 9:20pm Eastern time. I have no idea what Mexico City’s time zone is, so for purposes of consistency within this diary, I’ll keep it straight up East Coast until the end. Don’t screw with me unless you want the second coming of the Tupac/Biggie battle): We land in Mexico City. Right country, wrong place. Now there’s nothing in English and I’m the leading Spanish-speaker among our group, which isn’t saying much. We go through customs and Mike is stopped. Bill, apparently tired of Punkergate, just walks by the Federales. Somehow we all make it through. It appears the Punker is now safely headed to El Salto, with at least three or four of its nine lives left.

10:00pm: No gate is listed for the Mazatlan flight. I ask someone official-looking in broken Spanish and he directs us to Mezzanine M, which is a fair walk away. We get there, passing by a lingerie store and one selling soccer jerseys (deportivos). The area has four or five gates, and we’re repeatedly told that a few minutes before the 9:35 (Central Time, I think) take-off time we’ll be told where to board.

10:25pm: An announcement in Spanish tells us that our flight will be delayed until at least 9:50. I let out an audible groan. I may have punched a wall, too, but since I have no desire to spend the night in a Mexican prison, I restrain myself from causing further damage. Duncan is amused by the fact that one of the women waiting for our plane is wearing a skimpy dress and looks as if the New Christine had gone through with the scheduled plastic surgery enhancements. Sadly, at this point, even that does not amuse me.

10:35pm: They announce that we are moving to Gate 71 which sounds close but is not. Apparently the distance between Mezzanine M and Gate 71 was used to certify the marathon course in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Why did I bring so much tungsten?

11:00pm: We get on a plane with about 50 or so seats. I’m sitting next to a guy who has b.o. that I can only imagine would be like what John Candy would have after running a mile in 100 degree heat the day after consuming a meal loaded with garlic and washed down with about a gallon of tequila. There is no overhead storage. My bag barely fits under the seat in front of me. I’m curled into what is essentially a fetal position, which, I suppose, is not entirely coincidental. I’ve been up for 20 hours.

12:30am: We land in Mazatlan. Somehow I don’t feel relieved. I can’t wait to get off the plane but no one except the members of my group seem to share that sentiment. The other passengers dawdle, chat each other up, gather their belongings and gradually deplane. We meet them at the baggage claim, where our stuff has not arrived. We are directed to a separate “international baggage claim,” which stops spinning exactly 45 seconds after we get there, yielding exactly the same number of our bags – that is, zero. “Es todo,” we are told. That is all. We head out of the secure zone and for the first time all night something goes right: The Anglers Inn rep is present. He leads us to the Aeromexico counter where we fill out forms for all of the missing baggage. Somehow, I’m sure we’ll never see it again. Hasta la vista, baby.

1:15am: We get on board the Anglers Inn van for the ride up into the mountains. The driver has been kind enough to pack a cooler for us. Before we’re more than casting distance from the airport, Mike decides to sample a Pacifico, for research purposes of course. His initial research is inconclusive, so he has another. I’m sticking to water and soft drinks for now. We’re told it’s about 90 minutes on a four-lane highway. Bueno. When we start to see signs for El Salto, we assume we must be getting close, and we are, but the last 8 or 10 miles are serious E-Ticket territory, brutal roads with potholes that could swallow a Continental jetliner (if it could get the proper parts to get there). I’m actually kind of glad I can’t see outside, because I have a sense that one slight miss and we’re falling off a cliff. About a mile of this and Mike’s innards are stirred up and he has to ask the driver to stop for one more chance to shake the dew off the lily.

3:00am: We roll through the gates into Anglers Inn, unencumbered by luggage, but in serious fear of PTSD from this day from hell. We make the executive decision that instead of getting up at 5 (four hours from now) to eat breakfast and fish, we’ll sleep an extra hour. The knock on the door comes soon, but we’ve earned our time on the water. We borrow a bit of tackle (didn’t need either a Lunker Punker or tungsten weights), rig a few rods and we’re casting by 7. First fish is in the boat a few minutes later. By noon, the death march is forgotten. By that evening, when our luggage miraculously arrives (I wonder, did an airline rep actually come down that terrible road or did Anglers Inn retrieve it?), all is right with the world. I won’t go so far as to say that the struggle made it sweeter, but El Salto was worth the trip.


Hooked On Phonics

December 27, 2009

Unless someone is reading this to you out loud (which is an odd image, and highly unlikely, but nevertheless possible), I’m assuming that you can read. I might even stretch that a bit more to the outside and suggest that given the time and the appropriate subject, you actually like to read. I might be wrong. In that case, disregard the next few paragraphs and resume shopping for worms and Senkos and such things. If you’re totally lost, type www.google.com in the little box at the top of the page and go back to getting more info about Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan and the health care debate.

For those of you who do indeed enjoy reading the occasional book, magazine or pamphlet, and trust my opinions even slightly, let me recommend the following book: The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons, also known as ESPN’s “Sports Guy.”

Simmons has written approximately 700 pages about the NBA – not just facts and figures, but analysis, rankings and all sorts of “what ifs” that would be bound to inspire debate if I actually cared about the NBA. I don’t remember the last game I watched on TV and I’m pretty sure I haven’t attended one this decade. I lost interest in the league a while back and there are many discarded interests ahead of basketball in the queue to regain some of my limited time.

But this book is good because Simmons is so passionate about the topic, and has obviously spent an enormous amount of time in building his arguments. His intensity is so blinding that he gets the reader invested in his arguments, too. That’s the same reason I liked Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis – even though I still can’t tell you exactly what bond trading is, or why it’s important, the book itself was compelling for the people and the prose style. Someone could write a book about breeding Siamese cats, or collecting stamps from India (both of which are about 32,674 places below the NBA on my “inherently compelling” list) and 999 times out of a thousand they’re going to suck, but that one exception could be a masterpiece. It should have lots of references to pornography, Beverly Hills 90210 and Tupac Shakur, like anything Simmons writes, and then I will recommend it.

Someday I will write a 700 page book about bass fishing, replete with hundreds of obscure and argumentative footnotes. No one will read it because (as Battisti once pointed out) the average bass fisherman won’t read anything that takes longer than a single trip to the throne (this blog entry is getting perilously close to that threshold). I can’t guarantee that it’ll be cohesive or well-researched, and it certainly won’t have a forward by Malcolm Gladwell, but it’ll be pretty damn passionate. No one cares about this crap more than I do.

In the meantime, read The Book of Basketball.


Big Fish Bill

December 26, 2009

As noted earlier this week, I didn't corral a toad at El Salto. I caught several sixes and a truckload of fours and fives, but just couldn't get close to double digits. I was the bottom-feeder in our group. The redhead notched a 6-10 (her personal best), Mike Phillips had a seven-plus (his personal best) and Duncan Maccubbin had two sevens and two eights (thus breaking his personal best four times).

The continuing big fish magnet was my friend Bill Roberts, though. He didn't set a personal record, but he did catch his best fish from anywhere other than Ray Scott's property. In November he caught two tens and a 9-12 at Ray's, thereby beating his previous biggest largemouth, a 9-01, also caught at Ray's place earlier in the decade (no fringed jacket required). This week he added a 9-08, his fourth nine-plus in a span of less than a month -- and he caught it on a topwater, which has to count for something, right?

Bill has become our posse's on-the-water equivalent of former NBA baller Robert "Big Shot Rob" Horry, who won 7 NBA championships with three different teams. While he was never a superstar, Horry always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to make a difficult winning shot, thus the monicker. Even though I can occasionally kick his ass in a club tournament, Bill catches 'em when it counts, whether that be in a Federation state championship or when we're at a place like El Salto. Fishing with a couple of other ultra-competent sticks at Ray Scott's, no one else hit the eight pound mark, while he exceeded it three times. Same deal at El Salto, where he didn't necessarily catch more fish than anyone else, just the right ones.


December 24, 2009

I've never been a car guy or a gadget freak, but on the other hand I'm not the type of buzzkill who says of a new boat, "It's just a tool." For those of you who churn through a new fiberglass toy every year, maybe that makes sense, and for some of the Elite Series or FLW Tour pros it may even be true, but I still get excited about a new or new-to-me bass boat.

In the next month or so I'll take delivery of my fourth boat since I started fishing in the mid-90s. This will be my third BassCat and my second straight-from-the-factory, brand spanking new one. I like their product and I like the people associated with it, particularly head floatation expert and noodler of ideas Rick Pierce. Even before I met him, when I had a question about my first BC, the receptionist put me straight through to him and he offered a thoughtful answer. That's a company Prez who takes pride in his work, cares about his customers and no doubt sleeps very little.

But Mr. Pierce also has a mischievous and slightly sadistic side. Upon my return from Mexico on Sunday I had an email waiting with "Moving to Ship" in the title. Attached was the picture that accompanies this blog entry of my new boat ready to go, but still sitting in Mountain Home, Arkansas. The sadistic part is that the factory has closed down through January 4th, so my poor love-child is sitting there through the holidays on her trailer, ready to go but all alone. Of course, even were I able to take delivery right now, Virginia got nailed with two or so feet of snow over the weekend, so the fishing opportunities are limited. Still, I'm excited. I open the picture file on my computer and check it out about every 10 minutes or so, just to make sure it's really happening. When I first joined a bass club in 1995, I could not have dreamed that I'd ever own a boat this nice, this powerful or this blinged out.

With that bling comes the need to apologize to my friend Bill Roberts. When he first installed a Power Pole on his boat a few years back, I ridiculed him mercilessly (more than any time since he first wore his Ranger Boats "disco ball shirt -- the one with the silvery chevron across the middle -- for a tournament). But since then I've seen the value of this add-on, and not just for bed fishing. Many times over the past few years I've wished I had one on my boat. Now I'll have two. Freud would have a field day.


Lazy Gringos

December 23, 2009

On the third day at El Salto I commented to my traveling companions that I was finally beginning to develop “bass thumb,” a loss of skin on the thumb itself and between the thumb and forefinger from lipping so many bass. The rest of the crew looked at me like I was nuts – they had all been allowing their guides to land and unhook just about every fish they caught. That’s the Anglers Inn service in a nutshell. They didn’t allow us to expend any energy unnecessarily. Our laundry was done every day. Meals were cooked to order. Drinks were refreshed so you were never without a cold margarita or Pacifico in your hand.

The pampering was particularly noteworthy on the water. Not only did the guides expect to unhook every fish you caught, but they’d tie on your baits if you let them. That made me nervous, so I didn’t allow it, but Hanna gave our guide Javier a big bag of lizards and every time she needed a new one she’d put her hook in front of him and he’d thread on a new amphibian (reptile?).

They discouraged us from walking, too. Because the main lodge was full when we arrived, they put me, Hanna and Duncan in a two-bedroom cabin about 100 yards up from the water’s edge (for the record, Hanna and I were in one bedroom and Duncan had his own). Another 100 yards up a modest grade sat the bar and dining area, along with the main lodge. The camp manager gave us a golf cart to ride to and from meals. I’m embarrassed to say that most of the time we used it. But the ultimate sign of lazy gringosity is the fact that Anglers Inn provided all of us with rides to and from our boats in the morning. They had a fleet of vans and ATVs towing what appeared to be small sections of high school bleachers (pictured). Grab your rods and tackle bag, hop on, and there’s door-to-boat service in the morning, with the reverse upon your return.

All Apologies

December 22, 2009

No good deed goes unpunished and no good trip happens without a little pain and suffering. In other words, for something good to happen, someone else has to take on an outsized portion of the burden. Call it cosmic karma, Even Steven or the law of averages – it’s just a fact. Just as your Aunt Bertha’s lovely Kathie Lee Gifford track suit could not have been made without the hard labor of some one-armed three year old in a developing country, just as you couldn’t have your half-caf soy latte mochachino without the skin-cancer-inducing effort of a host of indentured bean harvesters, so too do good travel experiences depend on others’ occasionally difficult efforts.

With that in mind, I offer the following 10 thank you notes, written as apologies, to those whose hard work made my El Salto trip a success:

  1. To Rose Roberts, wife of traveling companion Bill. Ms. Rose is most certainly not a morning person, but she cowboyed up and loaded five of us and our gear into the Suburban belonging to (another fellow traveler) Mike Phillips, and hauled our crankbait-talking, Columbia-PFG-shirt-wearing asses to the airport at a few minutes before 4 in the morning;

  2. To the one Continental desk agent who helped us, after our flight out was canceled (more on that soon). Her colleague said nothing could be done. Her supervisor basically told us to go pound sand, but this one helpful woman found a way to get all five of us to Mazatlan. I didn’t get her name. I hope that only good things happen to her and that she doesn’t become bitter and unhelpful like her co-workers;

  3. To the Guatemalan woman who was trying to reschedule her flights at the same time as us. She was nervous, upset and confused, but in my own furor to get to the lake I took little pity on her. Granted, she spent the better part of five minutes trying to decide between two roughly comparable flights, asking dumbass questions over and over again, being indecisive and difficult, but she didn’t deserve the critique that I offered her (“Lady, make a damn decision already.”);

  4. To the baggage handlers at Continental, American and Aeromexico (Well, maybe not the ones at Continental. Even though it wasn’t their fault that our flight got boogered up, they’re guilty by association).  My bags were loaded to the max with enough tackle to stock two Bass Pro Shops outlets, when all I really needed were big lizards, 10-inch worms, Fat Free Shads, big-bladed spinnerbaits and a few topwaters. I hope your dwindling employee benefits cover the hernias and strained backs that may have resulted;

  5. To my friends who traveled with me – Bill Roberts, Mike Phillips and Duncan Maccubbin – by about the 20th hour of travel and the 3rd or 4th major foul-up, I might’ve been a little tough to be around.

  6. To Mr. Whitehead (cabeza blanca), my high school Spanish teacher, who assured me that one day his lessons would come in handy. Unlike the promises of my trigonometry teacher, his warnings came true. If only I had listened instead of stealing glances at the cute girl a few seats away, maybe my language skills would be better today;

  7. To the makers of the Fat Free Switchback Shad. I lost it in a deep hardwood tree before I ever got a chance to switch it back;

  8. To our guide for four days of fishing, Javier, who suffered through my broken Spanglish, worked hard to put us in position to catch fish, and ran for the net every time I called out “grande,” even though the hard-fighting fish in question invariably turned out to be just another four- or five-pounder.

  9. To the housekeeping staff at the Holiday Inn Sunspree at Mazatlan. Let’s just say that after a week or nachos, margaritas and camarones, I pretty much blew the bowl out; and

  10.  To my wife, who ten years ago never could have envisioned taking a fishing vacation under any circumstances other than at gunpoint. You did more damage to the fish population than Elin with a nine-iron but you’re the one I pity now. You don’t have the full addiction quite yet, but you’re on the way.

And to the weather gods, I owe you one.


The Lizard Queen

December 21, 2009

In local parlance, it might be pronounced “lee-zard,” but you get the message. The redhead not only survived four days of fishing at El Salto, she thrived. I don’t know if there’s a female equivalent of going “balls to the wall” – and if there is, I doubt I can include it in this allegedly family-friendly blog – but if there is one she was there all week, keeping up with the boys on the water.

Of course, my obsessive and extensive tackle selection was lost upon her – she would’ve been fine with a pack of 5/0 EWGs, a few bullet weights and a hundred pack of big watermelon lizards. Every fricking time I turned around to grab a different rod, whether it had a 10” worm, a topwater, a Fat Free Shad or a big-bladed spinnerbait, there she was, grunting and setting the hook on another “lee-zard” fish.

On our second morning in Mexico, we pulled up on a point and she caught her personal best on the lizard, a 6-10 brute that thought it was more like 10 pounds. It bulldogged hard and she did the full-on Ike, following the fish around the boat, from front to back and around the outboard. We went back to that same spot after lunch and a siesta and she landed a 4-15 and a 4-08 before I could get a bait in the water.

While her angling skills have increased exponentially over the past couple of years, the redhead’s “guy skills” have traveled even further. On the most basic level, that means she can laugh at a good fart joke with the rest of us. But she can also tough out a bad situation. On our first afternoon on the lake, she got a Pop-R stuck in a tree. Our guide took us over to the hardwood and retrieved that bait. Hanna encouraged him to make a long cast down the tree-filled gully to catch the bass that she was sure lurked in its shallowest reaches. He reared back and inadvertently sunk two of the three hooks on one of the trebles into her arm. We couldn’t back them out and we couldn’t push the barbs through to mash them down. The only option was to remove the other treble, take off the non-offending point and go from there. Fortunately, the redhead managed to remove one of the two impaled barbs, which Javier quickly clipped off. I asked him for a length of 25-pound mono and prepared to do the “line trick.” For those of you who don’t know it, you press down on the eye of the hook, take a heavy piece of line, double it, put it in the bend of the hook and yank it out. I’d heard about it but never tried it or seen it tried – and with 10 miles of dog-crap roads until we even reached a highway, and who knows how many more miles to the hospital, we had few other options. As I yanked, I fully expected a blood-curdling scream disproportionate to her diminutive stature. No such noise was forthcoming and the hook pulled out easily.

Let’s catch a few more before dinner, she said – actually, commanded.

WBT look out.

Fart jokes optional.