April 15, 2014 by JT Kenney
Editor's Note: The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.
The media does a great job of covering bass tournaments. It's easy to find out who won the tournament, what the winning pattern was, and who ended up in the top five or 10. That being said, have you ever wanted to hear about the train wrecks that happen at every event that you never get to hear about? Well, here's one for you. Not that it involves anyone you know - just follow along:
As an angler, you do everything right, plan and prepare for weeks leading up to an event. You have everything in order, and everything is set. You found fish in practice - good ones, and they are biting. You're pumped, you're ready and the tournament is finally here.
"Boat No. 16." You hear your boat number called out. Excitedly, you raise your hand as you idle past the checkout and then stand on the throttle. You're on your way; this is gonna be a good one ... Then, "WHACK, followed by, "BANG-BOOM."
"What in the heck was that?" you wonder as you come off plane. Then you spot it, a floating log just barely brushing the surface of the water, and it just took out your gear case. You curse, spit, curse again and yell something about that dirty darn log and all the rain that floated it down. You put in the trolling motor and start making your way back to the dock. When you arrive, you're thankful that Jay and the shore crew from Mercury are waiting for you with their bag of tricks.
You're back on the water by midmorning and speed to your best stretch of the lake. The problem is that you find two other boats already on it, and they're culling. You, being the professional you are, show due respect and professional courtesy and let them have it. They were there first, and that's that. You go to some backup stuff and scratch out a small limit; enough to keep you in it. Later that night you find out that the two boats on your best stuff are in second and fourth. You shake it off because you know you can go smash 'em tomorrow.
Day two starts, and before long you're flying down the lake when you remember an area that looked like your best stuff, but where you actually didn't get bit in practice. It's warmed up. Hey, let's go try it. You turn the boat around, and before long you're fishing. On your second cast, "BOOM," a 4-pounder is in the boat, and a few casts later a 3-pounder joins it in the bucket. Here we go! It's on now.
A little while goes by, and "BAM," it's a big 'un, 6-plus ... and it jumps off right at the net. Two casts later, another big 'un. Halfway to the boat it pulls off. You get your plug back, and the back hook has pulled out. Your 25-year-old Wiggle Wart has seen its last cast. And you've lost 10 pounds of fish in five minutes. Meanwhile, it's starting to get late in the day, and the panic is setting in. Important things are slipping away: Forrest Wood Cup points, world rankings and, oh yeah, the mortgage payment that's due along with the health insurance premium - the power bill is already weeks overdue. Not to worry about the MasterCard payment, though, because the VISA card has enough left on it to cover the minimum payment.
First things first. You've got two fish for 7 pounds. You know you need 9 pounds for a 10-grand check and valuable points. You've got one hour left to catch a 2-pounder worth $10,000. Can do, not a problem; no, wait, it doesn't happen.
You're spent - mentally, physically and financially. It's hard to group words together to make a proper sentence. Well, it's over now, and nothing else can be done. You see the guys that were on your first spot the first day have moved up to first and second in the standings. That just caps it. Well, not really. Now comes the phone calls. Mom calls to let you know that, "That finish is gonna hurt you in the standings for the Cup." Girlfriend calls to remind you, "Your bills are getting behind again." And then there are your buddies asking, "What happened?"
Unintentionally, of course, your family and friends constantly remind you that you're a failure in that you've invested so much of your time, energy and emotion into so little purpose. But you know it's more than that. You've invested your soul, your whole self into it.
And now for the next day, the day after you didn't make the cut. Time to attend the Expo and greet the fans. To you it feels like four hours of people (unwittingly) ridiculing you by asking the simple questions of "What happened?" or "Didya catch 'em?" Over and over again for the next four hours. And during those four hours you have to repeat over and over, "No, I finished 107th."
The hours crawl by, and it's finally over. You get packed up and ready to head for home, though you're still not done. There's one more Expo and four more hours of "What happened?" and "Didya catch 'em?" Then it really is over, and you're rolling coal outta there. You listen to FLW Live on the 20-hour drive home. The guys that were on your spot ended up first and second. You hear all the cheers and applause.
Why is your head not exploding? Because you're already thinking, planning and preparing for the next event. The last tournament is over, and the slate has been wiped clean. Redemption is the only thing on your mind as you make the long drive home, though maybe the aforementioned bills that are past due rear their ugly heads now and then. Through the negative, there is light. You really are fishing for a living. It's not quite as glorious and glamorous as you once thought. But you really are living the dream. You really are doing something that most of your friends and peers only wish they could do. You really do have thousands of fans that adore you all over the country.
And you're okay with the lesson that all professional anglers have to learn and make peace with: While you're living the dream, there might be a night terror or two along the way.