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My America

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August 27, 2015

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Anything I might say about Wednesday’s shootings at Smith Mountain Lake would likely be premature, uninformed, inappropriate or all of the above. Other than the pure tragedy, though, the thing that has me freaked out about the whole deal is that I’ve stood almost exactly where it happened. I haven’t been to SML in four or five years, but on several occasions in the past I fished tournaments out of the old Waterwheel ramp, which is directly across a bridge from where the crime occurred.

I say this not because it confers upon me any sort of unique insight, but rather because it made me realize how many of my fishing travels have put me in touch with history – I’ve fished Toledo Bend while search crews there looked for pieces of the Space Shuttle. I’ve been in Stockton to fish the Cal Delta while that city got slammed by the subprime mortgage crisis harder than any other. I’ve been at Sam Rayburn while three white supremacists were tried for killing James Byrd by dragging him behind a pickup truck.

My fishing travels have not just brought me in contact with tragedy. There have been some good brushes with history, too. At the 1997 Forrest Wood Cup out of Lake Ferguson, I caught my fish in a cut off the Mississippi River at Rosedale, the town immortalized in song by Robert Johnson and then again later by Eric Clapton. On the James and Potomac Rivers, I regularly fish around pieces of our nation’s earliest history. I don’t always take the time to appreciate it while I’m on the water, but I’m aware of what’s going on and what happened there.

Those dalliances with history and different regional cultures and current events are all part of the fishing experience. If you tell me about something happening in Nigeria or Australia or Peru, I can probably relate to it intellectually, but never having been to any of those places I can’t tell you what it truly feels like to be there. On the other hand, if something goes down in Detroit or New Hampshire or the Everglades, I can paint a pretty accurate mental picture in my head, with details to contextualize it. A lot of that is due to fishing. Of my accomplishments in life, perhaps the one that I’m most proud of is that I know, and can relate to, people on both Park Avenue and the smallest backroad in Arkansas. Many of us often talk about the benefits of fishing in terms of discipline, competition, love of the outdoors and time for serene contemplation, but few of us – myself included – regularly appreciate that it often works to give us a sense of where we are.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 27 August 2015 07:05
 

The Question I Want to Ask But Probably Won't

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August 26, 2015

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As the B.A.S.S. AOY race winds down on the heels of FLW crowning a new Forrest Wood Cup champion, my mind is not focused on the lead dogs, but rather those picking up scraps at the end of the line. For many years, I’ve wondered what compels someone who annually and repeatedly finishes in 90th place or below at year’s end to keep at it. Realistically, if that’s the only zone you’ve ever known, you have to know that you’re not suddenly likely to become AMart or KVD or Andy Morgan or Larry Nixon. Fishing caterpillars simply don’t become angling butterflies overnight, if ever.
As far as I can tell, there are three classes of anglers who consistently finish at the bottom of the heap but keep coming back for more:
1)      Those who were hammers at their local or regional level, but for one reason or another can’t take it to the next level (that reason could be lack of skill, lack of financial support, lack of intelligence, some family turmoil etc.)
2)      Those who got lucky to qualify and simply don’t have the chops to be there; and
3)      Those who have substantial resources at their disposal but perhaps aren’t capable of competing, and don’t really care.
It’s this last group that confuses me the most. If you’ve got seven or eight figures backing you up, then at some point in your life you’ve probably known some pretty substantial success. In fact, you may be used to being successful at everything you’ve ever tried. So why do you continually subject yourself to the “Thank you, sir, may I have another” treatment? I desperately want to ask the question to guys from all three categories, but particularly from group number three, but I doubt that I ever willAs the B.A.S.S. AOY race winds down on the heels of FLW crowning a new Forrest Wood Cup champion, my mind is not focused on the lead dogs, but rather those picking up scraps at the end of the line. For many years, I’ve wondered what compels someone who annually and repeatedly finishes in 90th place or below at year’s end to keep at it. Realistically, if that’s the only zone you’ve ever known, you have to know that you’re not suddenly likely to become AMart or KVD or Andy Morgan or Larry Nixon. Fishing caterpillars simply don’t become angling butterflies overnight, if ever.

As the B.A.S.S. AOY race winds down on the heels of FLW crowning a new Forrest Wood Cup champion, my mind is not focused on the lead dogs, but rather those picking up scraps at the end of the line. For many years, I’ve wondered what compels someone who annually and repeatedly finishes in 90th place or below at year’s end to keep at it. Realistically, if that’s the only zone you’ve ever known, you have to know that you’re not suddenly likely to become AMart or KVD or Andy Morgan or Larry Nixon. Fishing caterpillars simply don’t become angling butterflies overnight, if ever.

As far as I can tell, there are three classes of anglers who consistently finish at the bottom of the heap but keep coming back for more:

1)      Those who were hammers at their local or regional level, but for one reason or another can’t take it to the next level (that reason could be lack of skill, lack of financial support, lack of intelligence, some family turmoil etc.)

2)      Those who got lucky to qualify and simply don’t have the chops to be there; and

3)      Those who have substantial resources at their disposal but perhaps aren’t capable of competing, and don’t really care.

It’s this last group that confuses me the most. If you’ve got seven or eight figures backing you up, then at some point in your life you’ve probably known some pretty substantial success. In fact, you may be used to being successful at everything you’ve ever tried. So why do you continually subject yourself to the “Thank you, sir, may I have another” treatment? I desperately want to ask the question to guys from all three categories, but particularly from group number three, but I doubt that I ever will.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 10:38
 

Marshal, Marshal, Marshal! A Very Brady Fisherlady

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August 21, 2015

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When the Redheaded wife and I arrived at the Upper Chesapeake Bay for last week’s Elite Series event,
we learned that BASS was short a few Marshals. I kind of suspected that would happen, so I packed the
her rainsuit and Save Phace mask in the Suburban in case she could be convinced to go for a ride-along.
With a little bit of prodding from me and some encouragement from BASS Assistant Tournament
Director Chuck Harbin, Hanna agreed to go out with one of the competitors on Friday. I have no idea if
Chuck fixed the draw, but he offered up Todd Faircloth, which seemed like a great option. Even though
Todd had a tough Day One, he’s fully capable of catching a big bag just about anywhere. Furthermore, I
knew that he wasn’t going to crash through six-footers at 70 mph or do anything else foolish. As
expected, he was a true pro from start to finish.
It was kind of comical to see them go through the checkout line, Red fully garbed in foul weather gear
for what turned out to be a hundred yard idle. As Overstreet, Gluszek and I followed the struggling Jacob
Powroznik, Hanna got to see Faircloth have a banner day, one which jumped him from 67th (outside the
cut) to 31st (inside the cut), en route to a 17th place finish, his best since the Sabine in an atypically tough
campaign. Maybe she’s good luck. If so, I hope she brings some of that the next time we go out in the
boat, along with her bright red Save Phace mask.When the Redheaded wife and I arrived at the Upper Chesapeake Bay for last week’s Elite Series event, we learned that BASS was short a few Marshals. I kind of suspected that would happen, so I packed the her rainsuit and Save Phace mask in the Suburban in case she could be convinced to go for a ride-along.

When the Redheaded wife and I arrived at the Upper Chesapeake Bay for last week’s Elite Series event, we learned that BASS was short a few Marshals. I kind of suspected that would happen, so I packed the her rainsuit and Save Phace mask in the Suburban in case she could be convinced to go for a ride-along.

With a little bit of prodding from me and some encouragement from BASS Assistant Tournament Director Chuck Harbin, Hanna agreed to go out with one of the competitors on Friday. I have no idea if Chuck fixed the draw, but he offered up Todd Faircloth, which seemed like a great option. Even though Todd had a tough Day One, he’s fully capable of catching a big bag just about anywhere. Furthermore, I knew that he wasn’t going to crash through six-footers at 70 mph or do anything else foolish. As expected, he was a true pro from start to finish.

It was kind of comical to see them go through the checkout line, Red fully garbed in foul weather gear for what turned out to be a hundred yard idle. As Overstreet, Gluszek and I followed the struggling Jacob Powroznik, Hanna got to see Faircloth have a banner day, one which jumped him from 67th (outside the cut) to 31st (inside the cut), en route to a 17th place finish, his best since the Sabine in an atypically tough campaign. Maybe she’s good luck. If so, I hope she brings some of that the next time we go out in the boat, along with her bright red Save Phace mask.

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Last Updated on Friday, 21 August 2015 06:38
 

Dude doesn't even have sprinkles on the cone

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August 20, 2015

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I’ve previously written that fishing with Steve Kennedy is a top-of-the-heap bucket list item for me. So is dating a supermodel, but my wife has curtailed my dating options more than she’s limited my fishing trips, so I think I’ll shoot for the one that I’m more likely to achieve.

Part of why I want to fish with Kennedy is because he just enjoys the sport so much. Quite a few tour-level veterans act like a trip to the lake is the functional equivalent of a trip to the proctologist, but SK seems to find a bit of wonder and enlightenment every time out. The other reason is because while he’s not necessarily a “low tech” angler, he’s definitely an adherent to the idea of limited tech – only what he needs. He’s not going to add six graphs to his boat just to look bad ass – he’d rather wow you by earning a big six figure Happy Gilmore check with a discontinued swimbait that you can’t have. When I saw him on Saturday and mentioned John Cox, the FLW Tour pro who finished second in their AOY race without a transducer in his boat, Kennedy was quick to say “He’s my hero.”

This pic sums it up – a Zebco 33 and an ice cream cone –  a perfect representation of the attitude that Kennedy brings to every event, a child’s glee (combined with an assassin’s skills).

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The War of Western Aggression

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August 18, 2015

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We may be at a tipping point in terms of the transition from bass fishing as a predominantly southern sport to one that shines its brightest light on the west.

Don’t look now, but Aaron Martens is leading the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. That’s hardly newsworthy, but keep going down the list and you’ll see that his left coast homeboys are the ones challenging him. Second, third and fourth places are occupied by Justin Lucas, Dean Rojas and Brent Ehrler. It’s all westerners at the top.

Now, I know some of you obsessively-detailed types are going to argue that Martens and Lucas aren’t westerners anymore because they reside in Alabama, but as far as I’m concerned they could move to New Jersey, Maine or England, and live out the rest of their days there, and they’ll still be westerners. It’s an inexact science, of course – there are guys like Kota Kiriyama who temporarily had western addresses, who I don’t consider to be from the west, and there are also cases that are more in the gray area, like James Niggemeyer, who spent his younger years in California and learned to fish there, but I nevertheless more closely identify him with Texas.

Depending on who you count as being from the west, there are somewhere between 15 and 20 of them in the 113 man Elite Series field. Not only do they occupy the top four slots, but they also have five of the top six, six of the top eight and seven of the top 15. Brett Hite, the 13th ranked western angler by my count, sits in 57th place, right at the midpoint among the 113 who started the season.

I’m not sure of the reason or reasons for this phenomenon. It could be that western anglers with borderline skills are less likely to take the expensive plunge into the Elite Series. It could also have something to do with the fact that these guys are particularly adept at unlocking new waterways, since most of them qualified through Opens on unfamiliar waters. It probably doesn’t hurt that two of the tournaments were on the California Delta and Havasu. Maybe it’s just something in the air out there.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 August 2015 04:23
 

AMart Vs. The World

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August 13, 2015

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Don’t look now, but Aaron Martens is on track to claim his third Angler of the Year title. Of course, there’s still a lot of fishing left to do – two full-field tournaments plus the AOY Championship – and he’s only 11 points ahead of Dean Rojas in second, but Aaron is in the driver’s seat and he’s shown before that he can close it out.

What makes this so exciting to me is that no matter how it ends up it will be historically significant, because either Aaron’s going to move up in the ranks of all-time winners, or else we’re likely to have a first timer. KVD (currently 9th) and Skeet (10th) aren’t out of it, but there are a lot of moving parts that work against them. Meanwhile, none of the anglers in 2nd through 8th have previously won the title. Making it even more interesting, five of the seven (Justin Lucas, Jacob Powroznik, Cliff Pirch, Brent Ehrler and Keith Combs) are all recent defectors from the FLW side of things.

If they were just heading to dropshot country up north, Aaron would be more than a prohibitive favorite, but this week’s rodeo on the Upper Chesapeake could throw a wrench into the whole calculation. Not that Aaron won’t do well – I’m never surprised to see him fishing on Sunday – but I’m guessing that none of his immediate followers have fished a tournament on the Chesapeake. Given the wackadoodle weather and tides they’ve had up there this week, anything could happen. One bomb, and  a stellar tournament from someone else, and his world is at least temporarily turned upside down.

If he prevails, though, he enters rare airspace. Roland Martin has nine AOY titles and KVD has seven, but after that there are just two anglers with three apiece – Bill Dance and Mark Davis. He’d pass Jimmy Houston, Larry Nixon, Gary Klein, Guido Hibdon and Davy Hite. 

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Last Updated on Thursday, 13 August 2015 06:12
 

Rat's All Folks

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August 11, 2015

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Asked to name my favorite bass lure, I’ll typically give the too-lame answer of “Whatever they’re chewing.” It’s true, though. I love to catch ‘em on a topwater or a frog, but I also like the “THUNK” when my Flapping Hog penetrates a mat and then gets crushed. I like skipping a Senko under docks and watching the line swim off as well as feeling my square bill climb over a stump and then shoot sideways. I equally enjoy burning a big spinnerbait and having my shoulder dislocated by a jarring strike. You get the picture.

Still, once in a while I jones for a specific type of bite. Right now, I want to see something annihilate a waking rat bait. I don’t care if it’s a largemouth or a smallmouth, I just want to see Mickey get smoked. Fortunately, SPRO sells one for a pretty reasonable price. I’ve been pleased with many of their products in the past, including the Little John crankbait, which has become one of my staples, and of course their frogs, which many consider the industry leader. Still, it wasn’t until several friends who are not sponsored by the company told me how much they like these particular rats that I decided I had to get some.

Now I’ve got five of ‘em on the pegboard in the garage, ready to be transferred to the boat when I get the itch. That’s enough to Alabama Rig the suckers, but I’m not quite sure that the world is ready for that level of excitement.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 August 2015 07:02
 

Street Fighting Man

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August 6, 2015

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Consecutive wins by Edwin Evers are impressive, but the story that has garnered the most attention in our world since the conclusion of the Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River has been the combative local land owners. First Mark Menendez came out with his story of harassment and then Russ Lane shared his tale of another local who decided to get ugly.

I do feel a slight twinge of sympathy for some locals. The water under their docks is public property and the fish are a public resource, but I’m sure more than once an uncoordinated angler has bounced a ¾ ounce jig off of their boat or left a multi-hooked crankbait in a rope near where their kids swim. That doesn’t sound like the situation at the St. Lawrence, where until we’re told otherwise it appears that Menendez and Lane were inappropriately targeted.

If you’ve fished for any amount of time on developed waterways, it’s something you’ll encounter. On one lake that I fish frequently, there’s a dock owner who clearly doesn’t want anyone skipping a Senko under his pier. If he sees you approaching he’ll come barreling down the dock, stomping as hard as he can and yelling at you. One time a friend of mine yelled back and Harry the Homeowner proceeded to throw a cinder block into the water. The situation is certainly not new in tournament fishing, either – at last year’s Forrest Wood Cup, a local went postal on Anthony Gagliardi and almost ruined his chances of winning a half million bucks.

I’m glad that neither Menendez nor Lane nor Gagliardi decided to go all Ronda Rousey on their attackers or do something else stupid. That’s a black eye that the sport doesn’t need, and if Menendez does contribute to getting his enemy combatant prosecuted, maybe that will send out a warning shot to other ne’er-do-well landowners. The one thing I can’t figure out, though, is what the hell Mr. Get off My Lawn Number Two was thinking. I mean Menendez and Gagliardi are regular sized guys. Size alone isn’t a clear advantage – I don’t think anyone would like to incite the lightweight Mike Iaconnelli – but have you seen Russ Lane? For all I know, he’s the nicest guy in the world, but the guy is built like a Redwood Tree. He might never have been in a fight in his life, might be a veritable Mahatma Gandhi of non-violence, but on first glance he looks like he could rip your spleen out. Not a wise choice. You got away with one, dude.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 08:17
 

This Makes My Head Spin

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August 5, 2015

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I must be the world’s greatest salesman because I’ve convinced my younger brother the traveling businessman to go to El Salto with me in January. For most of you, that wouldn’t be a hard sell, but he’s a million-mile a year flier, headed off on one work trip after another, and when he’s home he’s spending time with his 16 kids. He’s never showed the slightest interest in bass fishing, and while he claims he caught a bass at some point in the past, I’m guessing that it was in the late 80s. Yes, are far as we know we were spawned from the same set of parents, but it took a Maury Povich style paternity test to prove it.

While I’m glad that he’s going, I’m a bit daunted by putting a tackle kit together for him. I’ve never taken anything but baitcasting tackle to Mexico. As far as I know, he’s never used a baitcasting rod and reel. That’s a recipe for disaster, whether you want to call it backlash city, Carolina slack or professional overruns.

Given a half hour to teach him, I could likely make him functional with baitcasting gear, but since a typical week for the boy is Atlanta on Monday, Houston on Tuesday and Tokyo by Thursday, I doubt we’ll get that time between now and January. As a result, spinning tackle seems to be the logical choice. What I don’t know is whether anyone makes quality spinning gear that’s up to the task of flipping a half-ounce jig and pig or deep cranking a DD22 across the tip of a long point. I’m so spinning-averse that I can’t imagine anyone would use such a rig by choice, but certainly someone must’ve run across this scenario before. This will take some serious investigation to get it right. I’ve got to find something that’s capable of bringing those violent 3- to 7-pound fish out of the timber, and since he doesn’t really no what a trophy is, he’s almost assured of a 10-pound hookup while we’re there. I’d like to see him convert the opportunity.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 August 2015 07:10
 

Truth in Advertising

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July 29, 2015

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Sometimes when I buy tackle, particularly if it's from Japan, the product's name alone doesn't tell me much about how it'll perform or exactly what it'll look like. This spinnerbait which arrived via ebay today offered up no such mysteries. The package simply pronounced it "Huge," which is pretty damn accurate for one ounce of filling-rattling goodness with a 9/0 hook. The only request I make going forward is that they place the letters where the skirt won't impede my view. Right now it looks like radio host Mike Francesa named it -- or would that be "yoooge"?

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