I was in Idaho last weekend on bass business, which still seems a bit odd because although they have exceptional fishing for both largemouths and smallmouths – it consistently takes over 20 pounds to win local tournaments – few of the locals seem to care about America’s most-chased freshwater gamefish.
I spent 48 hours in Idaho over the weekend, and except for hard-won breaks to catch a little sleep nearly all of that time was spent in meetings or in a vehicle driving to meetings. On Saturday, though, we had a 90 minute break while El Jefe dealt with some family matters. One member of our group had to go to the store, and I’d heard there was a tackle shop in town, so I asked if I lobbied to be dropped off on the way.
The one problem with the overwhelming catch and release ethic in bass fishing is that we don’t always know exactly what the fish we catch have been eating. Of course we occasionally find a shad tail sticking out of the throat of a freshly-caught largemouth, and many of us have found crawfish or small, partially-digested bluegills in our livewells, but even when one forage is dominant, it’s not always what they’re chewing on.
In 2001, just after OMC (then-manufacturer of Johnson and Evinrude outboards) went belly-up, I was scheduled to spend a tournament practice day with Missouri pro Chad Brauer. As we trolling-motored away from the Jolly Roger Marina on the upper end of stumpy Toledo Bend, his father Denny yelled out, “Try not to break anything.”
Over the past dozen years my writing has opened doors that enabled me to experience all sorts of incredible fishing trips. I’ve fished for peacock bass in the Amazon (twice, with a third trip on the schedule), tigerfish on Africa’s Lower Zambezi River, redfish in Venice and cutthroat trout in Montana. I’ve spent three days practicing with KVD on the California Delta and multiple days on St. Clair with a two-time PMTT Champion. I’ve taken off my shoes to fish in AMart’s boat on a private lake in Georgia, and I was there to see Rick Clunn’s most recent victory at the St. Johns. Last year I made a trip to East Texas where I got to fish with four different Classic qualifiers (Keith Combs, Clark Reehm, Albert Collins and Lonnie Stanley) on three exceptional lakes – when two great days on Rayburn are the least productive days of the five, you can call it a trip of a lifetime.
Last Thursday, the New York Times published a lengthy (approximately 3,000 words) feature on the state of bass fishing titled “This Is the Most Lucrative Moment in History to Catch Bass.” The writer, Haley Cohen Gilliland, previously of mega-serious and prestigious publications like The Economist and Vanity Fair, did a fantastic job with what is likely a difficult topic for people outside of our orbit to understand.
On Monday I got to spend 90 minutes in the boat with David Fritts, 1993 Bassmaster Classic Champion, 1997 FLW Championship victor, and widely acknowledged crankbait savant. About a decade ago I’d spent a day with him on the Potomac River on a tour practice day, but that day he was focused on finding fish so I really couldn’t pick his brain. This time, it was all about the Q&A.