By Paul Crawford
November 11, 2011
Hello from Florida! Thanks to all of you who kept reminding the editor of my existence by inquiring, “What ever happened to Old What’s His Name?” In spite of the best efforts of my family and doctors, I’m alive and well, albeit a bit longer in fang.
Since we last typed, I’ve gone through several adventures including my long awaited yet rather unexpected retirement. Since I’m aware several of you Boomers will soon join our expanding ranks of post productive civilians, I’d thought I’d provide you a little insight into what may be in store for the highly experienced fisherman.
Prior to retirement, I had the typical visions of serious tournament anglers everywhere. I dreamed of pleasant days of fishing most every day, having sufficient practice to sweep the local tournaments, and generally getting used to spending my days on the water. Like all dreams, reality has a way of barging in, altering our plans and disrupting our expectations.
This Is Not What I Expected
My first bad assumption was that I was in good shape and capable of doing anything I wanted. Somehow I transitioned overnight from being an active, fairly healthy insured individual to a rather overweight basket case of various aches, pains, conditions, and somewhat compromised insurability. When I was working, it seemed I rarely took time off to see a doctor and my sedentary lifestyle was perfectly adequate to stave off all but the most determined diseases. Now I seem to see enough doctors with various concerns, all of whom wish more exotic and expensive tests, to be deserving of my own honorary golf tournament. While I’m perfectly happy to prioritize my fishing, cancer treatments, heart disease, arthritis, worn out joints, and gastrointestinal examinations, my wife insists that I give equal wait to all of them.
This leads us to the truism that I can still do anything I used to do, it just takes longer to heal. Where you use to shrug off a strenuous 12 hours on the water overnight, you now measure recovery by a calendar. Things you used to never pay no mind about, like simply launching the boat without getting your feet wet, suddenly warrant examination and demand new solutions. Somewhere along the line boating comfort becomes more important than how fast you got there. A degenerative spine can make you trade your pole seat for a full seat and an extension on the trolling motor handle. Stepping up and down all day from the front casting deck can emphasize the wear and tear those extra few pounds put on aging knees. And pushing the trailer around by hand to get it back into the garage can now qualify as aerobic exercise.
Another pin in my bubble has been financial adjustment. I never considered the cost of operation and maintenance of my boat as a true expense. If you’re really going to spend all that additional time on the water, you’d be wise to hope the company’s IPO goes up another $10 a share prior to retirement. Gas at $4 a gallon for both the boat and the tow vehicle can eat up a surprising chunk of the social security check. Spending more time in the boat gives you more opportunities to break all that more stuff. Arthritic joints emphasize just how poorly designed the placement of the pumps and electrical wiring is on your boat. The cost of replacing that pump again this month suddenly makes you wonder just how much profit margin marine manufacturers have on their products. And breaking the eye off of a $200 tournament rod no longer calls for automatic immediate replacement and upgrade. I’m thinking fishing on a budget sucks more at 65 than it did at 25. So much for my grand illusion of life on the water post-retirement.
Yet another consideration became the size of the lake. When I was working and fishing tournaments, there was never enough time to check all the lake for the best spots. About six months after retirement, my home lake started to shrink. I wore out my welcome at the dozen or so reliable hot spots I’d developed over the years. I became quite familiar with coves and points that I had overlooked since the Reagan administration. And in spite of now having days to explore, most of the lake was just as much of a sterile desert as it always was. It turns out to be a lot less interesting if you spend so much time catching the same fish that you have them individually named.
With all of the time in the world to invest in them, I found tournaments started to lose their appeal. Pre-fishing the lake for next week’s tournament gets kind of old after the 5th day this week. And you’ll find you spent considerably more than all but the biggest wins just scoping things out. The financial and time investments no longer seem to add up. You’ve got such a head start on most of the field that even cashing a check becomes more of an expectation than an appreciation. Traveling to out of state tournaments can stretch all but the most generous budgets and the physical toll of five to seven days of 12-hour a day fishing starts to add up to less than a good time. It turns out that having all the time in the world for tournament fishing just wasn’t the most enjoyable way of spending all of that time.
The mental adjustment that was probably the hardest was the weather. Back when I worked all week, I’d go fishing even in a hurricane or a snow storm come the weekend. When you can go anytime, you tend to get picky. If the wind is blowing 25 mph, you start saying, I’ll wait until tomorrow. If it’s pouring down rain, you skip the day instead of putting on the rain suit. A hard cold front can shut you down as quickly as it does the bass. Of course the trouble you immediately get into is there are increasingly fewer perfect days. And that leads to the whole winter season getting a little tough to get going in the morning.
Remember – A Changeup Can Be A Good Thing
But there is plenty of light at the end of the retirement tunnel. You just have to learn to approach your fishing different than you expected. Once you find your own new path, you’ll rediscover your passion and excitement you never took time to appreciate when you were busy making a living.
The first place I started was my boat. I had spent a lifetime upgrading to finally arrive at a first class tournament boat with all the equipment. But if you’re not fishing a tournament every day, you end up with a very specialized tool demanding a lot of upkeep that has too many actual shortcomings. My 250 motor drank gas faster than I could afford while getting me someplace in a hurry when I could afford the time. The big 21’ rig was a lot to haul around and the back deck was empty 95% of the time. And when your bones ache sitting still, they ache even worse bouncing across the waves at 70 mph in 2’ waves. For some reason, getting up out of a bass boat seat is too much like getting off the floor when you’ve got bad knees and a kinky back.
Knowing that I still had a pretty valuable rig for all of its newly acquired short comings, I headed for the local boat show to see what I could find. Now you need to remember that I live in Central Florida which is gifted with hundreds of lakes, some of the best shallow water fresh and saltwater on the planet, and about an hour from my choice of the Atlantic gulf stream or the Gulf of Mexico. Finding great fishing isn’t a problem but having all of the right gear for all of the different types of fishing can be.
So, my 21’ foot tournament bass boat turned into a 20’ bay boat. The new generation of bay boats shares a lot of features with their dedicated bass boat cousins. The same manufacturers reuse many of the hull and performance features and most of the electronics are the same. You get about the same draft on a heavier rig equipped with a lot of stainless steel and non-skid surface sans carpet. Instead of my custom of picking the biggest, baddest boat and putting the fastest motor on it I could find, I started by defining the motor I really wanted. I chose a 150 horse 4-stroke that sips gas and requires very little maintenance. That put me out of a lot of the bigger, better equipped boats, (most at 22’ requiring at least 225 hp), but shopping around let me equip an “entry level” boat with all of the tools and toys I’d need. I even had enough left over to buy the wife a removable Bimini top. I was suitably overjoyed at just how smooth a ride you can get in 4’ waves if you’re standing up and letting your legs absorb a little of the beating. I wasn’t winning any races to the next hole anymore but I cruise there in comfort and have everything necessary to compete with the best of them in the catching department.
I was still able to use most of my bass gear in salt water fishing as well. It turns out that when the bass fishing tends to be the toughest, (i.e. dog days of summer or middle of winter), those are exactly the best times to fish the flats and nearby coastal waters. Rather than sitting all day probing the deep water with a Carolina rig for five bites a day, I can catch 50 small sea trout in a morning using all top water bass baits. Of course the occasional 40 pound red fish helps to make sure the drag still works. You can even come home early for your afternoon nap and still catch the night shift for some buzz bait action from the bass.
When you’re not spending all of your time looking for tournament fish, you can have a real nice time just having fun fishing. If you run into a school of small bass that bite anything that moves, you don’t have to leave them and look for better quality fish. And if you’re not worried about filling out your limit, you can spend quality time with bigger or more aggressive baits doing some serious hawg hunting. You can throw what you want to throw instead of what you need to throw for maximum results. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how often a SwimSenko or a top water bait will out-catch the traditional tournament worms and jigs if you throw them all day. Of course there are still days when a Senko will out catch anything on the water and nothing prevents you from using that, too. I generally think of myself as having a much better day when I get back to the basics that all of the fish, regardless of size, still count as one.
It turns out this new approach can lead to a much happier home life. You still have a great excuse to get out from underfoot of the wife. When you’re fishing more days of the week than you’re not, you don’t fight quite so hard to avoid taking your wife to the niece’s wedding as long as casual dress will do. You can even discover your grandkids having fun fishing! If you’re not consumed with pre-fishing for the tournament, you can have a great time just guiding the grandkids to some fast action even if it means feeding worms to perch. You even have an excuse to use Grandmaw’s Bimini top and pack a picnic lunch. Just make sure to remember the camera.
Life doesn’t end when they put you out to pasture. Life does change and you have to change with it to reap the full benefit. Remember your doctor appointments so you can feel up to a 5 day road trip come the first of the month. And if you see a bay boat floating in a quiet cove out of the wind, stop by and say “Hi”. I’ve got plenty of time to share a few stories before nap time. See you on the water.