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DIARY OF A CO-ANGLER (from the TBF Championship)

DIARY OF A CO-ANGLER

I’ve decided to keep a log of my adventures at the 2009 TBF National Championship, which is scheduled for Bull Shoals Lake in Branson, Missouri from March 12 through March 14, 2009. I qualified for this event as a Co-Angler after finishing as the second place angler from New Jersey at the 2008 TBF Mid-Atlantic Divisional event held on Lake Erie.

I will essentially start my story on the morning of my departure, but may interject some flashback sequences. With that said, you should know that on Friday, March 6, I began feeling pretty terrible (which is unusual for me). The typical low-grade fever, followed by sore throat, runny nose and coughing made my weekend before my departure not particularly fun. But somehow, I muddled though. Finally, in case you haven’t already figured it out, this journal will pretty much be a “stream of consciousness” approach. Also, I will try as best I can to write this diary contemporaneously, meaning I will make sure that each day’s activities will be written down at the end of the given day. I may go back later and revise some things, but I want to make sure that I get my activities and thoughts down essentially when they happen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

5:08 a.m. – After hitting my snooze once, I woke up feeling slightly better than I had in the previous days. For your information, all of mine and my wife Terri’s packing preparations were completed before today. I could give you some long packing stories, but suffice it to say, getting all of my hard tackle in one tackle bag and packing seven rods in a hard Plano case is enough to get an angler’s mind racing. Will everything get there okay?? Will the baggage handlers maim my rods, etc., etc., etc? I felt good about my reels, which I put in my carry-on. Anyway, other packing problems involved Terri, who graciously decided to accompany me on my trek, the airline regulations, and my anal-retentiveness. First, you have to pay for luggage!! I was already pretty miffed (or as Tony Soprano says, “miffled”). This should tell you that it’s been a while since I was on a plane. So, we decided we could get away with one large suitcase, plus my rod case and tackle box (which counts as one item). We also would each have a carry-on and a “personal item” on the plane. In case you haven’t guessed, my personal item is my laptop. Anyway, the problem was the size and weight restrictions. Our one luggage bag had to be 50 pounds or less, not so easy for two people’s clothes, toiletries, etc. Also, the carry-ons couldn’t exceed 40 pounds. So, after much weighing and shifting of items between the various baggage items, we would up with two carry-ons which weighed 35 pounds each, and a large bag weighing, on my home scale, 47 pounds. So, I was a bit concerned that at the airport, we would be overweight on something, and have to pay an extra, exorbitant fee. But we’ll get back to that later.

After waking up and going through the normal routine, I went downstairs and began packing the car for the trip to the airport. Terri, who got up 20 minutes before me, was busy doing her normal morning routine. Somehow, we left our driveway in Hainesport, New Jersey at 5:58 a.m., exactly two minutes before I had hoped.

7:10 a.m. – We got shuttled to the airport and went to the curb-side check in. We already had e-tickets and boarding passes and just needed to check the bags. The moment of truth, would we be overweight? All of my consternation was for nothing. The very courteous baggage guy didn’t weigh any of our luggage. He got a good tip.

7:15 a.m. – Our flight isn’t scheduled to depart until 9:20 a.m., so we slowly start making our way to the gate. Time to go through the TSA Security Check Point. Well, as I noted previously, I haven’t been on a plane in a while, so I kind of made a mess of that. First, I left my belt on and set off the detector. Then, I set it off again, realizing too late that I had my cell phone in my pocket. Finally, I made it through the detector, but did not take my laptop out of the case, so that had to be re-scanned. Finally, the TSA guy told me he had to look through my carry-on. He started looking through, but once Terri told him that I had seven reels in a case in the carry-on, he stopped. I guess all that metal looked a bit ominous through the x-ray machine.

9:20 a.m. – We are all boarded and ready to go. Just then, the Captain informs us that there is a 25 minute backup in the “queue” and while we are ready, we can’t even leave the gate for 20 minutes. This is apparently standard Newark Liberty Airport procedure. In fact, the airline already added time to the flight to account for this.

9:50 a.m. – We move. Not very far. Time continues to go by, and after several Captain updates later, we take off at 10:35 a.m. Eastern Time. We are taking this plane to Dallas and connecting to Springfield, Missouri. The connector is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. Central Time, so unless something weird happens, we should make it in time. My next report will be from Dallas.

1:05 p.m. – Touchdown in Dallas. Amazing, we leave Newark 30 minutes late, but only arrive in Dallas 10 minutes late. Seems like plenty of time to get to the connector, until it takes 10 minutes to deplane and the connector is in another terminal. We race the clock and get to the gate at 1:30 p.m. for the 1:35 p.m. flight only to be told the plane has mechanical issues.

1:50 p.m. – We are informed we have another plane at a different gate, way far away. We walk there (all the time with me lugging the laptop and my 35 pound carry-on). Now it’s clear I will not be in Branson in time for the 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. registration. My blood pressure is rising by the second.

2:35 p.m. – We finally leave Dallas.

3:35 p.m. – We arrive in Springfield and are greeted by TBF representatives there to drive us to Branson, which is nearly an hour away. I am very happy to see that my rods and tackle box made it there also. By the way, if I don’t say this 100 times, it won’t be enough. The TBF runs among the most organized, professional events I’ve ever been involved in. Their staff and volunteers are hardworking, friendly and just plain nice..

4:45 p.m. – We arrive at the Branson Hilton. It’s a pretty impressive hotel and convention center. I rush to the tournament registration and discover that I was already registered by the TBF staff, since they knew I was coming in late. I also found out that I will be fishing the practice day and Day 1 with Troy Lindner from California. That last name sounds familiar . . . but California?? I take a seat in the already taking place boat orientation/briefing meeting. TBF President/CEO Robert Cartlidge gives us a thorough briefing of what to expect over the next few days. We leave the meeting at 5:45 p.m. and are told to be back at 6:30 p.m. for the banquet.

6:30 p.m. – After frantically unpacking my rods (no damage!) and putting reels on, and freshening up, Terri and I head to the banquet. Once there, we meet up with New Jersey President Tony Going and his wife Mary. Tony has my sublimated tournament shirt. It’s pretty darn cool. Also there are Scott Weiland and his wife and young daughter. Scott is the Boater qualifier from New Jersey, who by the way, qualified by winning the Mid-Atlantic Divisional. The dinner was quite nice and mostly uneventful; until, near the end, Robert Cartlidge introduced some individuals in the crowd. Among them was none other than legendary angler Al Lindner. Robert said he was at the event to watch his son, Troy. That hit me like a ton of bricks. I will be fishing with Al Lindner’s son for the next two days. Hopefully, I will also get to meet Al Lindner. Either way, this pairing may result in some camera exposure for our boat, given the lineage involved.

8:15 p.m. – After dinner, I visit Tonya Cartlidge (Robert’s wife) who had all the goodies I missed that were given out at registration. We made out great. Among the items was a nice pocket knife, two hats, two tee shirts, a pair of Solar Bat sunglasses, a Stearns CO2 life vest and a metal cast replica of the Ranger boats we will be using. Did I mention before that the TBF knows how to run an event!

8:30 p.m. – Finally have my tackle together and Terri and I bring it down to the boat; which is, by the way, a fully wrapped and rigged Ranger Z520 with a 250 hp Evinrude H.O. on the back. The wrap and graphics on this particular boat are from Berkley.

9:30 p.m. – Back in room to arrange my clothes for tomorrow. The forecast for tomorrow is brutal. High of about 45 and winds to 20 mph. And that’s after a week of 70 degree weather in Branson.

10:15 p.m. – Logging off and collapsing . . . . until tomorrow.

Wednesday – March 11, 2009 – Practice Day

4:28 a.m. – I groggily wake up when the alarm I had set goes off. Since I had all my clothes laid out, it takes me no time to get ready. I put on several layers, starting with Under Armor, followed by a turtleneck and one of my fishing shirts on top, not to mention my heavy fishing jacket. Over the Under Armor bottoms were plain old blue jeans, but I also wore my rain bib bottoms as well as my insulated boots.

4:55 a.m. – I arrive at the hotel-provided breakfast buffet. This breakfast is free to TBF competitors. I eat lightly.

5:15 a.m. – I get to my boat and meet up with Troy Lindner. We talk and he is quite a nice guy. By the way, the temperature is 25 degrees. Troy and I hang out together and talk about fishing until we get driven to the ramp by a TBF volunteer. We arrive there at 7:00 a.m.

7:22 a.m. – We are called to blast off (we are boat 35, but are launching in reverse today so we are out tenth . . . never mind, the reason why is too hard to explain); and we need to be back at 3:00 p.m. Troy had previously told me that he only got to pre-fish in the fall, but showed me several areas on the map he wanted to visit. Our initial run was a full 25 miles. You do the math as to what the wind chill is going a legitimate 70 mph in 25 degree temperatures. Brrrrr!

7:48 a.m. – We get to the first spot and Troy almost immediately catches a 13 inch Spotted Bass on a small blue herring colored Rapala X-Rap. We continue to fish the area with no success and leave. From there we visit several main lake points and fish with no success until 9:00 a.m.

9:00 a.m. – Finally, I get a bite. We moved to a secondary point area with some scattered brush and I throw a Storm Wiggle Wart in firetiger/purple back and get a 12 inch Largemouth. That’s not good in the tournament (the size limit is 15 inches for Largemouth and Smallmouth, and 12 inches for Spotted Bass), but it felt darn good. Five minutes later, Troy sticks a good Spot on a chartreuse and white spinnerbait, coming in at about 2.5 pounds.

9:06 a.m. – Almost immediately I get a good bite on the Wart. It is a near three pound Largemouth. Now we’re cooking, so we head for numerous areas that look similar. No dice!

10:05 a.m. – I finally get another bite, in some deeper water. I get a 13 inch smallmouth to eat the Wiggle Wart. Five minutes later, Troy bags a short Largemouth on the X-Rap. Five minutes after that, I get another 12 inch Largemouth on the crankbait.

10:23 a.m. – As we reach the back of the small cut we’ve been fishing, Troy sticks a hog on the X-Rap. When he gets it in the boat we are both amazed at the girth of the Largemouth he just caught. We both underestimate the fish’s weight at five pounds. We leave to head to another area close by.

10:30 a.m. – My first ever Spotted Bass! It’s not big, but it’s mine. The 13 inch beast ate the Wiggle Wart in six feet of water. We then proceed to fish, then move, then fish, then move, etc., etc., with no bites, until . . .

12:01 p.m. – Troy gets a short Largemouth on the X-Rap. I have decided to lay down my Wiggle Wart and see if I can get some bigger fish to bite my own, full-sized X-Rap.

12:19 p.m. – Troy catches a Rainbow Trout (!) on the X-Rap.

12:22 p.m. – Almost in the same spot, I bag a 14 inch Spot on my full-sized X-Rap.

12:50 p.m. – Our running and gunning continues. In a small cove, I get a really short Largemouth to eat the X-Rap.

1:15 p.m. – In yet another spot I catch a 12 inch Largemouth on the X-Rap. From here we run about half way back to the ramp and continue fishing small cuts off the main lake.

2:05 p.m. – Troy catches our last fish of the day, another short Largemouth.

2:08 p.m. – The strangest catch of the day, and certainly one of my oddest of all time. Throwing a Binsky (a metal blade bait), I feel the rod load up but there is no fish. The weight is moving slightly with my pressure and reeling, but it’s clearly not a fish, or anything alive on the other end. We both think I’ve caught a line or a cable on the bottom. I get the object to the surface. There, in living color, is a five inch around sold rock with the back hook of the lure imbedded in a crevice!

3:00 p.m. – Back at the ramp. As we are waiting for our tow, I prepare my tackle and rods for Day 1 of the event. I retie my Wiggle Wart and X-Rap, feeling confident that those lures will get bites. I also tie on a white Terminator Spinnerbait with two white blades. I’ve had that lure do wonders in clear water. I leave on a football head jig (which I threw some today and did not get bit); as well as a Shaky Head (which I did not throw at all). Our plan for tomorrow is to return to the areas where we caught clusters of fish and fish them significantly more thoroughly. It sounds like a good plan to me. If it doesn’t happen, we may run up past the ramp to some areas that Troy fished in the fall. P.S. – The high temperature today was a whopping 37 degrees, not even near the predicted forecast high. The water temperature ranges we found were from 48 to 49.5 degrees.

4:15 p.m. – Back at the hotel. I get back in room and turn on the weather. Unbelievable!! The forecast for Branson tomorrow is for one to three inches of snow, starting in the early morning. The high is supposed to be 35 degrees (at least I’m used to that now . . . not!). Oh, well, there is an old fish tale that bass bite in the snow. I hope it’s true.

6:45 p.m. – Terri and I go to dinner at the restaurant in the Bass Pro Shops across from our hotel. It is quite good. I have the bright idea after dinner to see if the BPS has a Save Phace face shield. No such luck. So it’s back to the wool hat, neck fleece and sunglasses.

8:05 p.m. – Back in the room. A quick shower later, I’m wiped out. I lay out my clothes for tomorrow and hope for the best weather-wise.

9:15 p.m. – Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Heading for bed. After a few minutes of unwind time, I’m sure I will be down for the count. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s report. No matter what, I bet it will be interesting.

Thursday – March 12, 2009 – Tournament Day 1

4:32 a.m. – I wake up before my alarm goes off. Same routine as Practice Day. I am very, very happy when I look out my window and see pavement. No snow! The weather forecasters are just as bad in Missouri as they are in Jersey.

4:56 a.m. – At the breakfast buffet, I see Troy and we both talk about the plan for the day. We are pretty confident that the bite will be better today since it’s now the second day of the cold front. After breakfast, the wait begins.

6:30 a.m. – We are shuttled to the ramp. By the way, as I mentioned before, the boats are towed to and from the ramp by TBF volunteers, as well as State Presidents. These individuals give their time to make our tournament a success. They stock the boats daily with water and lunch for us; get gas for the boats, and perform many, many, other incidental duties. This tournament couldn’t be run without them. I appreciate their hard work tremendously.

6:55 a.m. – We are in the water. The temperature is 32 degrees and its overcast, but the wind is light.

7:20 a.m. – The first flight begins launching. The event is on!

7:32 a.m. – We are off! Given the “warmer” weather, the nearly 30 minute ride at 70 mph is less horrific than the day previous.

7:59 a.m. – First cast, no fish. We are in the spot where I caught my three pounder in practice and Troy caught his good Spot. We are both confident that this area is loaded with fish.

8:15 a.m. – Troy catches the first fish of the day, a very short Largemouth on his trusty X-Rap. For the next 15 minutes when we get near the point of the cove we are fishing, Troy catches literally eight to 10 small Largemouth. Not even one is 12 inches, and 15 inches is a pipe dream. I have yet to get a bite, but given the action in the area, my confidence is high.

8:45 a.m. – My previous suspicions are correct. A camera boat arrives and begins taping. Troy catches a couple more shorts.

9:05 a.m. – I’ve picked up a Shaky Head for the first time. After the second cast, a fish picks the worm up and swims away. I set the hook hard and SNAP, the line breaks clean! Troy turns to me and asks, “What was that?” I say a fish that just broke me off. No sooner than the words are out of my mouth does the fish jump out of the water trying to spit the Shaky Head. It looked like a 12 inch or so Largemouth, not a keeper, so I’m relieved, but I’m still annoyed at the break off. Not to mention it was on camera (although I’m sure that will never make it to the small screen). For the next 10 minutes, Troy catches several more shorts, and I join in the fun by catching three short largemouth, all on the Shaky Head.

9:15 a.m. – Tired of catching shorts, we move to the next area where we caught fish on Wednesday. After 15 minutes and no bites, we leave. By the way, the camera boat is still with us.

9:45 a.m. – Now at another practice day spot, I stick a very short Largemouth on my full-sized X-Rap. The fish only has the back treble, just like all of the fish Troy has caught today on his X-Rap. The bass are swiping at the baits, not really eating them. Troy and I are also starting to wonder what has happened to a) the bigger fish bite and b) the Spotted Bass. We’ve caught all short Largemouth so far.

10:00 a.m. – We’ve moved to a close-by cove we did not fish in practice. It looks good and the freshening wind is blowing into it. We get to a certain spot and I get a good bite on my X-Rap. Knowing I have a good fish on, I call for the net. The fish jumps, it’s a solid three pounder, but I can’t tell if it’s a largemouth or a Spot. I do see that it has the back hook. I play the fish carefully. It gets next to the boat, but still down about five feet. It turns sharply and POP, the fish is free. I am mortified. By the way . . . once again on camera. In reality, there was nothing I could do about losing that fish the way it was hooked, but now I’m steaming.

10:05 a.m. – Troy hooks a bigger fish. He plays it carefully to the boat and I snatch it in the net. It’s a Smallmouth, but it’s no longer than 14 inches.

10:20 a.m. – We move back close to our original starting cove, but fish the deeper shoreline leading to it. Troy catches a short largemouth immediately and I follow up with one of my own. We are now exclusively throwing jerkbaits.

10:30 a.m. – I get a good bite, but it’s only a 14.5 inch Largemouth. Close, but no cigar! Troy catches yet two more shorts. He is seriously accomplished with that jerkbait!

10:45 a.m. – Troy gets a good strike. He knows he has a good fish on, and plays it very carefully; also knowing it probably only has the back hook. I prepare with the net. While waiting for the fish, the net gets tangled with Troy’s Wiggle Wart rigged on one of his other rods. Now I’m frantic. I can’t dislodge the lure from the net. I decide just to pick up his rod and I figure I’ll net the fish with the crankbait still stuck to it. That’s exactly what I do. Finally, a keeper in the boat. Troy’s largemouth is a three-pounder. Oh, by the way, all on camera. Keep your heads up during the televised show; I suspect this clip may be played. If it is, I’m curious if the commentators will say that Troy’s Co-Angler did a good job netting the fish even though it got tangled, or say that his Co-Angler is a boob who got his net tangled just when he needed it. If they say anything, I hope it is the former . . . we shall see. We fish the area thoroughly for 15 more minutes, with no luck and move.

11:00 a.m. – The camera boat moves on.

11:15 a.m. – I get a 12 inch Largemouth on the X-Rap. I’m starting to get a sinking feeling about the day.

11:30 a.m. – We move to a new point. On my second cast, my X-Rap gets clobbered. It’s a hard fighting fish. Half way to the boat I can see it and it looks like a keeper, and it is a fatty. Troy safely nets it and we both believe this Largemouth will be over 15 inches. Out comes the measuring board. I measure the fish at least five times on each side and pinch and fan its tail. No matter what I do, the fish is only 14 and 7/8 inches. I dejectedly set it free. How can things get any worse? For the next hour we run and gun points, with no success.

12:30 p.m. – Just when I thought things could not get worse, they do, it begins to snow. Luckily, it’s very light, but still unpleasant. We are now in full out “run and gun” mode. For the next hour we hit every cut off the main lake and fish the points. We are now getting fewer bites, other than the occasional dink Largemouth. We are still throwing the jerkbaits, but I’m also trying the Shaky Head, a Wiggle Wart and a football head jig, and Troy is also throwing a tube.

2:05 p.m. – We run back past the ramp and Troy catches a short Largemouth.

2:20 p.m. – We enter a cove with dead and dying shad everywhere, we fish it very thoroughly, with nothing but a short for Troy to show for it. For out last hour we are frantically trying to get bite, but it is just not our day.

3:30 p.m. – We are done. We get picked up at the ramp and towed to the Convention Center. I’m pretty dejected and Troy isn’t far behind. It’s a humbling experience blanking in such a big event, especially in the manner I did. It was also clearly a big disappointment for Troy, who I believe has a big future in the sport.

4:30 p.m. – At the weigh-in, I wait in dread for my turn to go out and face Charlie Evans with no fish. But I’m not the only one without fish. That’s really no solace. In retrospect, it’s really quite amazing that between Troy and I we caught about 40 fish on the day, and only had one keeper in the boat. And we never did catch a Spotted Bass.

5:40 p.m. – I am called out. Charlie asks me what the plan is for tomorrow, and I make a smart-alecky comment and he mercifully lets me go. Scotty is called out a few anglers later. He also had a disappointing day, only three keepers and a little over seven pounds. He’s about seven pounds off the lead in our Division for the Boaters. Brent McNeal, from Pennsylvania, who I fished with at the Erie Divisional, is leading our Division for the Boaters. Troy’s fish weighed three pounds even.

6:00 p.m. – I find out who I’m paired with and move my stuff to his boat. I will be fishing tomorrow with Sean Andrachick from Montana. He had three keepers on the day, but did better in practice.

6:10 p.m. – I meet up with Terri in the now empty arena. I then see Al Lindner and his wife. I tell Terri I would like to introduce myself and let him know that I fished with his son for the past two days. We go over and introduce ourselves. Al and his wife are incredibly nice and gracious and he asks me several questions about how our day went. We talk for several minutes. Terri had her camera with her and I undoubtedly could have got a picture, but somehow it seemed inappropriate to ask. It was just two fishermen shooting the breeze about a day on the water.

6:30 p.m. – Terri and I go to dinner at the restaurant the TBF has provided anglers and family with discount coupons. There’s a big crowd so it takes quite a while, but the food was good.

8:30 p.m. – Back at the room. I’m so fried I don’t even care what the weather is going to be tomorrow. I know one thing though; I will go out there and give it my all. While I’m about 12 pounds behind in my Division (Reuben Williams from Virginia is leading the Mid-Atlantic Co-Anglers), I need to redeem myself!

10:00 p.m. – Sleepy time.

Friday – March 13, 2009 – Tournament Day 2

4:38 a.m. – I wake up before my alarm goes off, go through the same old, same old and head for the buffet.

5:05 a.m. – I eat breakfast alone and quietly.

5:20 a.m. – I head to the boat lot and arrive at my boat for the day. I had moved my equipment into that boat last night. This boat has a Kellogg’s Cereal wrap and a 250 hp Yamaha VMax strapped to the back. I see that Sean is already sitting in the truck, staying warm, since the temperature is 30 degrees and partly cloudy. I take my rods out of the rod locker and arrange them. I then get in the truck and introduce myself to Sean. We talk about our first day. You know how I did and as I said previously, Sean had three keepers. He tells me he did quite good in practice and is hopeful that the fish that didn’t bite yesterday for him would bite today. Interestingly, he also stated that he caught his fish on a jig. I had thrown a football head jig sparingly in practice and got no takers, so I didn’t throw it on Day 1, but it was still tied on.

5:38 a.m. – We leave for the ramp. Sean and I are getting along famously telling each other about fishing in our various states and other fish stories of our past.

6:08 a.m. – We are in the water. Now the waiting begins. We are boat number 34, which means on this day, we are in the first flight and launch eleventh.

7:20 a.m. – We are off. Sean already told me that we will be going about 10 miles down lake to fish in his best area. The trip is typically teeth rattling, but his boat with the Yamaha won’t go more than 68 mph. Believe it or not, the two to three mph difference from my Day 1 boat makes a difference on the level of chill.

7:30 a.m. – We arrive and start fishing. I start with the trusty X-Rap. Sean’s jig is actually a Yamamoto Skirted Grub on a 3/8 ounce football jig head. He makes a critical mistake; he catches a short Largemouth on his first cast. We joke about how this is a death knell for our chances for the rest of the day.

7:45 a.m. – Sean catches another short Largemouth on the jig. He is throwing two different colors. A green pumpkinish color and a more purplish color.

8:06 a.m. – My first bite. It comes on my Wiggle Wart. I get the monstrous eight inch Largemouth to the boat and joke that it looks like a fish, only smaller.

8:30 a.m. – Sean catches a short Spotted Bass on a jig, this is just after he lost what looked like a keeper-sized Spot after trying to flip it in the boat. He didn’t seem very annoyed.

8:40 a.m. – I’ve begun throwing a Kinami Cut Tail Worm in Green Weenie on a 3/16 ounce Ike Spike. I get a bite and set the hook hard. My line snaps (it’s 10 pound test Berkley Vanish Transition Fluorocarbon). I am stupefied. I never break off fish in this manner. More to come.

8:45 a.m. – We move to another cove, stopping on the entrance point first.

9:00 a.m. – Sean bags a keeper-sized largemouth on the inside of the point, once again on his jig. I have now also begun throwing a “true” football head jig as well as the Shaky Head.

9:20 a.m. – I catch a 14.5 inch Largemouth on the inside of the opposite point. This fish comes on the Shaky Head. While I’m disappointed that the fish is short, I am encouraged that we have figured out a bit of a pattern. We decide to start running main lake points, hoping to cash in on our suspicion that the fish have moved to these locations. By the way, the sun is trying to make its way out. And the temperature is actually rising. The water temperature is also creeping up, starting the day at 48 degrees but now at 49 degrees.

9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. – We run through several points, fishing them thoroughly with jigs and worms. We have some very light bites and boat nothing. I also get a good bite on my jig, which is rigged on 20 pound test Berkley Vanish Transition. I rear back and set the hook and the line breaks. I don’t think I’ve ever broken that line on a hook set. I assume that all of the rocks have been weakening my line. I am now seriously peeved. That was probably a good fish since the jig was a 5/8 ounce full-sized football head jig with a large trailer. I re-rig with a smaller profile 3/8 ounce Bitsy Flip jig hoping to get a few more bites on the smaller jig.

11:30 a.m. – We make a run a little further down lake and fish a smaller point with some brush on it. It looks more like the spots Troy and I had fished the day before. I stick a 12 inch Largemouth there on my Wiggle Wart. After several more minutes, we decide to go back to the big main lake points.

12:15 p.m. – We pull up to another main lake point. Once we get to the inside of it, I get a bite on my Shaky Head. I set the hook and pull in a 13.5 inch Largemouth. On my next cast to the same spot, I get another soft bite. I set the hook and this fish feels a bit better. Sean gets the net, and I get a glimpse of brown. It is a Smallmouth. I get it to the boat and Sean nets it. We look it over and think it’s short but I measure it to be sure. It’s only 14.25 inches. We stay there for a while with no other takers. It is now sunny and there is little to no wind. The air temperature is a whopping 45 degrees. It’s a heat wave!

1:30 p.m. – After moving a few more times, we hit the inside of yet another point. Sean catches two consecutive Largemouth. One is 14.5 inches and one is 14 inches. The water temperature has spiked up to 51.5 degrees.

2:15 p.m. – We are now on a main lake shoreline. I throw my Shaky Head up against the rock shoal shoreline. I hop it twice and a fish hits it. I set the hook and SNAP. I am beside myself. I don’t think I have ever broken off three fish in one day.

2:40 p.m. – We move to within sight of the ramp. I am now throwing the Wiggle Wart. No takers.

2:54 p.m. – We head for the ramp for our 3:00 p.m. check-in. It has happened two days in a row. Another ignominious skunking. I have only ever once before not weighed a fish two consecutive days in an event (at the Federation Classic held on the Maurice River, which, for those of you who have been there, essentially explains why).

4:03 p.m. – The weigh-in begins and the Mid-Atlantic Division is first. I state that I would appreciate not being the first one out there given my level of futility. They let me go out fourth out of the seven Co-Anglers.

4:10 p.m. – There I am once again, face to face with Charlie Evans with no fish. This time I do it right. Charlie asks me about my experience. I tell him that I think I might have set a record; 17 fish in two days with no keepers. I then go on to thank the TBF for running a tremendous event. I also thank FLW Outdoors for its support as well as the other sponsors. I continue by thanking the volunteers for all of their behind the scenes hard work. Finally, I thank Terri for coming all the way here to support me.

4:15 p.m. – I get my stuff from the boat and return to the weigh-in. I want to see how it turns out. In our Division, the Day 1 Co-Angler leader blanks, and most of the others have one or two fish. Finally, Eric Stewart, from West Virginia steps up. He was one pound five ounces behind. He has one fish, a smallmouth. It’s enough to do it. Eric has only 13 pounds 7 ounces over the two days, but he is going to the BFL All-American, and has a chance to win the Co-Angler Division tomorrow and also go to the Forrest Wood Cup.

4:25 p.m. – Scott weighs in. He again has only three keepers for six pounds and change. The Mid-Atlantic Boater Division is won also by a West Virginian, Robert Harkness, with 27 pounds two ounces. Later on, Sean weighs in his one fish. It weighs 2 pounds 14 ounces. Terri and I stay for the rest of the weigh-in and applaud all of the winners.

7:00 p.m. – We go to dinner at the Mexican restaurant in the mall across the street. It is very good. I’ve already gotten over the debacle that was my tournament. I figure, someone has to come in last place. I have also decided that I need to get back to the Nationals some day to show everyone (including myself) that it all wasn’t just some kind of fluke.

8:20 p.m. – Back at the room. I’m physically and mentally drained. I relax for a while, and stay up later than the previous nights.

11:00 p.m. – I go to bed, hoping the promise of a new day will wash away the bitter taste in my mouth of the actual tournament, while leaving the sweet taste of the amazing experience I’ve had and how well we’ve been treated by the TBF.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

7:32 a.m. – The alarm goes off. I hit the snooze once and get up. I slept like the dead. I hit the shower. Terri is also up and we decide to head for breakfast, then come back to the room and start packing.

8:15 a.m. – We hit the breakfast buffet. The waitress tells me it is still free for us since I was a tournament participant. I’m not so sure she was right, but didn’t argue. We left her a hefty tip.

10:45 a.m. – I finally begin packing up my rods and tackle. I successfully get everything back where it was originally. I’m not quite as worried about it all getting back home safely. We also start packing our luggage and other items.

1:30 p.m. – We head downstairs to the Family Fun Zone set up outside the weigh-in area. We plan on checking that out, then watching the 3:00 p.m. weigh-in. We also plan on staying for the 4:00 p.m. third day weigh-in of the FLW anglers who made the cut from the Table Rock Lake event. By the way, I haven’t been outside today, but the weather is overcast with some light drizzle, although the weatherman indicated that the temperature will hit 50 today.

1:35 p.m. – Even before we enter the Family Fun Zone, we see Larry Nixon in the entrance way. I introduce myself and ask if I could get a picture. He agrees. Pretty cool already! We go into the arena. It’s pretty amazing. There are professional anglers everywhere. Many of the anglers who did not make the cut at the Table Rock event are there signing autographs and taking photos. I am just about overwhelmed. Calling me a kid in the candy store at that point would pretty well describe it. I don’t know where to start. Terri and I actually met and talked to, and got autographs from, in no particular order, David Fritts, Luke Clausen, Dave Lefebre, Clark Wendlandt, George Cochran, David Dudley, Dion Hibdon, and Jay Yelas. I also got my picture taken with all of them. We also talked to several other pros. All I can say is . . . wow!

3:00 p.m. – The final weigh-in starts. The Co-Anglers are first. It was another tough day it appears and not too much weight is coming in. When it’s all over, Woody Parks, the Co-Angler from Georgia, is crowned the Co-Angler Champion with a three day total of 23 pounds, 13 ounces. He wins $5,000 and an entry into the BFL All American and Forrest Wood Cup. Next are the Boaters. Robert Harkness weighs in a good limit early on for a total weight of 40 pounds, 13 ounces, and takes the lead, remaining there until the Day 2 leader steps to the scales. He only needs a bit over six pounds to win. He doesn’t have it; he only weighs two fish that weigh less than five and one-half pounds. Robert Harkness is the TBF National Champion and is awarded his prize: $10,000 and the Living the Dream package (worth about $90,000 in money, merchandise, entries, etc). It felt good to see that an angler from our Division took the prize.

4:15 p.m. – The FLW Table Rock Lake weigh-in begins. The Co-Anglers are first. It is their championship day. Only the top 10 got to fish this day, and eventually, the Co-Angler champion, Patrick Majors, is crowned. He had over 14 pounds on the day and won $20,000.

4:40 p.m. – The top 10 pros begin to weigh in. Scott Canterbury takes the lead early on with over 16 pounds. It holds up through the rest of the anglers, almost all who are heavy hitters.

5:15 p.m. – On our way out, I see Troy Lindner with his Mom and Dad. I ask him if he would mind if I got a picture with him and his Dad. He agreed and Terri took my picture with them both. We talk for a few more minutes. I can’t say it enough times about what a true gentleman and how down to earth Al Lindner is; and Troy is a chip off the old block.

5:25 p.m. – Back in the room. Time to dress up and look pretty (!) for the banquet. In my case, that’s basically impossible, but luckily, I will have my lovely wife on my arm.

7:00 p.m. – We arrive at the banquet. We sit at a table with Tony and Mary, as well as Scott, his wife and daughter, and Brent McNeal from Pennsylvania. After the dinner, Robert Cartlidge, Charlie Evans and Forrest Wood all make speeches; and Robert introduces the new National Champion, Robert Harkness, as well as last year’s National Champion, Brian Travis, both of whom address the attendees.

9:00 p.m. – Robert begins to announce the anglers to come up front to receive their checks and trophies. The Co-Anglers are first, in reverse order, so yours truly gets to be the first one up there. On the dais, I get my picture taken with the trophy and Forrest Wood.

Sunday – March 15, 2009

6:30 a.m. – The alarm goes off. Time to get up and get going. I’m packing the final items into our bags. Terri is also readying herself.

7:55 a.m. – The shuttle arrives. There is quite a large group of us. Terri and I don’t quite fit in the van, so we wait for the second van, which is only a minute or two from arriving. By the way, these shuttles are not provided by the hotel or the airport, they are provided by the TBF. The TBF rented the vans and, as usual, volunteer TBF and State Federation officials are driving them.

10:45 p.m. – I am in my own bed, ready to go to sleep. It’s good to be home, but tomorrow it’s back to work. The fantasy world of big-time bass fishing is over for me for the time being.

Final Thoughts

Did I stink out the place during the event? I really did. While I caught a good number of fish, I couldn’t get a keeper in the boat. I unusually broke fish off. I finished dead last. I feel like I’ve let down many people, and not held up my end of representing the New Jersey Bass Federation at this event, at least in regard to my placing. On the other hand, I am incredibly proud that I had the opportunity to represent the Federation, and I hope I did a creditable job with all of the other responsibilities that go with that, notwithstanding my futility on the lake. On the bright side, there are tens of thousands of Federation anglers who will never get to experience a National. Also, I never gave up. I fished every minute as hard as I could. In fact, in light of the sheer number of fish I caught, you could look at it as just plain old bad luck that I didn’t have any keepers. In fact, with good luck, if just half of those fish were keepers, it would be me who was the Mid-Atlantic Co-Angler winner. I will take this experience for what it was, an opportunity to fish at the highest level of competition in the Federation. When it is all said and done, I am satisfied, regardless of the result. I would encourage any Federation angler to hold making a State Team and/or a National as a goal. They are experiences of a lifetime.

Finally, I must thank many people who supported me through this adventure. First and foremost is my wife, Terri, who seemingly unconditionally supports my fishing “habit.” In addition, I must thank New Jersey Bass Federation President Tony Going and the Board of Directors for its financial and other support as well as the anglers, family and friends who personally wished me luck. I would also like to thank Scott Weiland for helping me with information regarding the lake, and for being supportive after it was all over. Further, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my Boaters. Both Troy Lindner, who I fished with on Practice Day and Day 1, and Sean Andrachick, who I fished with on Day 2, treated me as an equal. While they were the Boaters and would have been within their rights (and within the rules) to have not even given me the time of day, both bounced ideas off of me and asked what I thought about any given situation and made sure I was in position to fish effectively. This is especially true of Troy, with who I really seemed to hit it off. I truly felt that we were working as a team in trying to figure out where to fish and how to catch’em. While it didn’t work out for each of us, I will always remember our days on the lake. Lastly, I thank the TBF for allowing a true weekend-type angler like me the opportunity to do something I love to do with a chance to achieve something truly special.

There is an old saying that goes something like, “that which does not kill us, only makes us stronger.”