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Money Fish: Things Change When Cash is on the Line

'Entering a fishing tournament is like gambling. If you can afford it, go for it, but I'm not bankrolling you.'

Money Fish: Things Change When Cash is on the Line

Illustration by David Houston

Each Fourth of July, a fishing tournament at McKey Lake awarded the winning two-man team a $500 purse. It was a big deal among area sportsmen, and it attracted the county’s best. Shane and Ronnie had fished McKey until their thumbs were sandpaper, and they believed they could hold their own.

”Hey, Dad? Me ’n’ Ronnie are enterin’ the tourney this year," Shane said to his father one June day. "We think we can take it."

"That so?" his father replied. "It’s one thing to have confidence; it’s another to have the $50 entry fee."

"That’s what I want to talk to you about," said Shane. "If you loan me $25, I’ll pay you back double if we win."

A long pause followed as Shane’s father took a sip of his coffee.

"Look, Shane," he said, "entering a fishing tournament is like gambling. If you can afford it, go for it, but I’m not bankrolling you."

"OK," said Shane slyly. "I was just giving you a chance to make some money, because we’re winnin’ it.”

"I hope you do!" his father replied. "Just know that when money is involved, even gentlemen can turn … unsporting."

On the day of the tournament, Shane and Ronnie pulled into McKey’s parking lot at 6:20 a.m. People everywhere hustled to launch boats. Ronnie had just started to back the little BassBuster down the ramp when someone yelled, "Hey pal! There’s a line. Get in it!"

Finally launched and waiting for the whistle, the boys quickly realized they were the only team not in a high-dollar bass boat with at least 150 horsepower on its transom. Minutes later dozens of wakes amid a deafening roar of engines nearly capsized Shane and Ronnie. Soon they were all by themselves, puttering as fast as their 9.9-horse Johnson would push them.

When they reached their first honey hole, the boys were disappointed to see two boats already there. They motored to the next spot only to find Mr. Nixon, the vice president of the bank, flogging the lily pads with a buzzbait. Ronnie steered the boat to the other side of the cove and drifted in.

"I’m already fishing this spot!" Mr. Nixon yelled. "Find your own!"


The boys went from one cove to the next, but all of them were occupied. Every angler looked as if his life depended on his next cast. It was a full hour before the boys finally found a vacant point at the upper end of the lake.

By 11:30, they had caught five bass—a stringer—but nothing big.

"It’ll take us 25 minutes to get back," said Shane, looking at his watch. "One more cast ea—"

Suddenly Ronnie shoved his hips forward, arched his back and set the hook powerfully.

"It’s a pig!" he hollered while savagely cranking his silver Abu Garcia. Soon the fish surfaced and Shane deftly netted it. The bass was easily over 6 pounds.

"Dude! This might do it!" shrieked Shane as he slipped the fish into a cooler of lake water with the others and tugged the motor’s rope. Seconds later another boat nearly ran them over, spraying the boys with water.

They pulled into the marina with no time to waste. Ronnie drove the boat’s nose onto the bank, and Shane jumped out in a sprint to the scorer’s table.

"We’ve got a stringer to weigh," he announced.

"Sorry, bud," said the official. "You’re four minutes late."

"Oh come on!" said Shane. "Are you serious? We’ve got a biggin’!"

A fisherman who was waiting in line leaned forward. "All teams must check in by noon," he said, pointing to the large rules banner. "See?

Shane sulked back to the boat and broke the news to Ronnie. The boys sat in disbelief as the winners were announced. The tournament’s big bass weighed just 4 pounds, 6 ounces.

Later that evening, before the fireworks began, Shane saw his father.

"Well, you $500 richer?"

"No," said Shane before recounting the full story. "But I’m going bluegill fishing tomorrow, where people aren’t such jerks. Wanna go?"

"Sure," said his father. "I’ll bet you $5 I catch the most."

"And ruin a day of fishing?" asked Shane. "No thanks.”

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