The Bitterness of Defeat

It?s not that I?m so smart, it?s just that I stay with problems longer.
- Albert Einstein 

I'm often conflicted with the purpose of my blog.  Part of me wants to use it as a means for personal promotion, where I can write about myself all the time and my struggles and what's happening in my life.  But a bigger part of me is constantly asking "who the heck am I to be bragging about myself all the time?  And why should anyone care?"   Because of this I try to think of blog topics that would interest me if I was cruising cyberspace, and not talk about myself too much.  However, sometimes I just need to vent, and this is one of those blogs.  So if you don't want to hear anything about me, and want to learn about the hottest fishing technique, keep searching.  But if you're willing to hear a story about the trials and tribulations of a wannabe pro bass fisherman, I invite you to keep reading and follow me into the seedy underbelly of amateur bass fishing. 

Our story begins like this:  Me and my fishing partner (my dad, Terry) have been fishing the American Bass circuit for the past few years in the North Idaho and Montana divisions.  Because of the hectic summer I've had so far, with the graduating from teaching school and weddings and family stuff, we'd only been able to make two tournaments all year (as of last week).  We had one more opportunity to qualify for the ABA classic on the weekend of August 20th and there was a tournament on Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle.  We were both busy in the weeks leading up to the tourney, and didn't have an opportunity to pre-fish, but I wasn't worried, as I'd fished a tournament here two years earlier where we'd done fairly well and weighed in a few decent sacks.  I expected the fish to be in the same places, so I didn't think we'd be losing much by not pre-fishing. 

We got down there and the Lake looked good.  The water levels in the Pacific Northwest had been higher than normal everywhere this year but the hot weather of the previous few weeks had regulated them down to where they should be this time of year.  We wondered if we could get into our 'honey hole' where we'd pulled out some nice largies in the past.  To get there we had to pass under an old concrete bridge that didn't offer much clearance above the water, even less this year.  In fact, we had to unscrew the windshield to fit the boat under. 

But we made it through.  And fished the heck out of the area, but all we could come up with was one 12" largie, four inches short of the minimum keeper size on the Pend Oreille.  This would become a trend for the day as we fished every single memory I had of that lake, only to come up with two borderline keeper smallmouth (13 inches) for a total weight of barely two pounds.  The water was clear, the lake looked great, but we couldn't find a decent fish to save our bass-loving souls on this day.  I fished like an idiot all day, spending too much time trying to milk fish from unproductive spots, and sticking to the same game plan for way too long.  Our only encounter with better fish was when we spooked two decent smallmouth off of a flat, and they were probably barely two pounds at best.  Broken-hearted, we sped back to the weigh-in.  Ironically, I ended up weighing in right after the biggest bag of the day, burning with envy at the 20+ pound sack which included a 7.53 pound kicker fish.  My face felt red hot as I stepped up to the scales with that fish's potential lunch in my bag. 

That night we drowned our sorrows in a few Keystones, and debated whether we should fish the second day or not.  We rationalized that we would just be burning our entry fee if we continued, but also that we needed the points to try to qualify for the Classic and fish for some real cash and a brand-new bass boat.  We didn't have a game plan for day two, but figured we should at least be able to match day one's weight, so why not go for the points.  We did just that and had two 14" smallmouth in the boat by 10 a.m. and a little bit of momentum on our sides.  That's when things died right off, I had a big smallie follow my crankbait to the boat before spooking, then spent a half hour in that spot hoping he'd return.  We then spent the next four hours fishing junk water and cruising up a feeder river hoping that we'd find some magical spot around the next bend  (it didn't happen).  I even shook off a borderline keeper smallie because I figured it wouldn't help us anyway.  If you ever decide to fish a bass tournament, don't do that.  That borderline keeper might be worth hundreds of dollars. 

Finally, with an hour to go we started working our way back to the launch.  We stopped at a few fruitless spots I'd fished before, just because they looked good.  But the shallow largemouth bite had been almost non-existent all weekend no matter how hard we tried to make it happen.  Finally with twenty minutes to go and a few miles to the weigh-in we came across an interesting looking section of docks.  They just reeked of smallmouth to me, and we cruised fast and hucked cranks.  Nothing happened on the first dozen or so docks, but finally I was smacked.  It was another 14" smallmouth and quickly went in the livewell.  Two of his buddies chased him out so I went back in after them and pulled out a 12.5 incher.  No matter how hard I pinched his tail, I couldn't quite stretch him to 13 so back he went with less than 10 minutes to go.  "Let me know when it's 3:25," I told my dad, knowing just how much time we had left.  Virtually a minute later he gave me the warning and I hauled my lure out there for one more cast.  That got stuck on a log.  The time it took for me to maneuver the boat over there added another minute.  I quickly shrugged the hook off and hurried to get the boat going.  But it didn't turn over.  Again... and again.  I gave it some gas and finally it did, but it cost us another minute.  We sped back to the weigh-in and made it there by 3:31, a single minute late. 

"Oh well, I guess we lost a pound," I said, thinking about the cost of being late.  So we'd maybe drop from 5 pounds to 4 pounds, not like we'd be in the money anyway.  We quickly threw the fish in the weigh bag and hiked up to the station where the director waited with a painful look in his face. 

"You guys were late," he said. 
"Yeah, the motor wouldn't turn," I replied. 
"I'll have to DQ you, you know?" he said apologetically.

I was confused.  I figured that like other tournaments, you'd lose a pound for every minute late.  Not so in the ABA, any tardiness is an automatic disqualification.  What a way to find out!  In his defence, the director was really good about it.  We both knew that every other boat there knew we were late, and that it was only fair to uphold the rules.  So what would have been 5 pounds became zero, and we were left to think how much weight we would've had if only we had a bit more time at the end there to fish the rest of those docks.

He assured me that we would still make the classic due to the fact that so few teams had turned out for North Idaho this year that virtually everyone would make it in, and I felt relieved.  Disqualified is a strong word though, and I had a lump in my throat that wouldn't go away for awhile.  After hearing that, I was actually thankful that we didn't have a good bag that day.  It would've been tough to get DQ'ed knowing we would've been in the money.  

This weekend left me with a lot of questions:  Where were the largemouth?  How did we not luck out into at least one?  How do I avoid 'fishing dumb' when fishing's tough? 

However, it also left me with a lot of ideas:  Pre-fish from now on.  If something isn't working, don't keep doing it.  As Mike Iaconelli says, "Don't give up!"

I decided to dig up a few motivational quotes, hoping one of these will stick with me next time the going gets tough out on the water.  Maybe they will work for you too:

Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something,perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumblingon something sitting down.  
- Charles F. Kettering

Many of life?s failures are people who did not realize how close they were tosuccess when they gave up.
- Thomas Edison

Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stickto one thing till it gets there.

- Josh Billings

Fallseven times, stand up eight.
- Japanese Proverb

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