By Steve Graf
Over my many years of fishing tournaments, I’ve encountered and fished with some real characters… people who I will never forget for various reasons, both good and bad. While there are many things, I cherish about being a tournament angler, the people that I’ve had the privilege to fish with rank at the top of my list. Now over the next couple of weeks, for the sake of protecting their identity, I will not reveal their names, but I will give you a good description of just how amazing and crazy they were.
Anglers come in all shapes and sizes from all demographics and cultural backgrounds. They range from engineers, nurses, lawyers, truck drivers, coaches, to doctors, pilots, singers and folks who are self-employed. Some are men and some are women, along with high school and college students. Some have great personalities and want to talk all day long, while others will literally fish all day and never say a word. In some cases, you wouldn’t even know they’re in the boat if it weren’t for an occasional burp or the rocking of the boat as they set the hook. Some co-anglers become lifelong friends and there are others I just as soon never see again. But one thing is clear and defined about all of them; they all love to fish! Each and every one of them have the same passion I do about bass fishing and that is where the bond is unmistakable. We all want to succeed and, at the very least, cash a check in each event in our respective divisions.
Now let’s gets discuss a character I drew at an event several years ago. This guy stands out for me as an angler I actually had to kick out of my boat on tournament day. This gentleman arrived at this event with a major back issue that he did not reveal to me until he got into my boat. Now one thing was clear from the moment I saw him walking down the dock to my boat was that this was not a little guy. He was every bit of 400 pounds and was struggling to carry all his tackle. Once he arrived at my boat, he dropped all his tackle on the pier and was gasping for air. Now I’ll be honest, and Lord forgive me, but I thought to myself “WTH is this guy doing fishing a bass tournament!” … as he was clearly not in the best shape to fish or do much of anything that required energy.
My next and final clue that there was a problem was when he crawled on his hands and knees off the dock and into my boat. I had to literally help him into his seat. It was at this time that he let me know he had a major back issue and could not handle rough water conditions. I’m thinking to myself once again, “Really!!! Have you never been on Sam Rayburn before?” Rayburn is a place legendary for rough water and guys kissing the bank after they made it back to weigh in safely. It is known for three- and four-foot swells with 20 MPH winds, common especially during the spring. It was prior to take off that he told me he probably would not be able to go across the lake that morning due to how rough the lake was. I made sure HE understood that at some point he was going to have to suck it up and make the ride because I had fish in two areas up the lake and I was definitely going to make the run.
Now understand, there is actually a rule with major tournament trails that states at no time will an angler handicap another angler during an event. This rule popped into my head as I was trying to decide how I could accommodate this guy early on. I had some fish close by that I planned on fishing later in the day just before weigh-in, so I decided to start there instead and let my “wounded fishing warrior” get acclimated to the conditions. After an hour of fishing, I caught two good keepers, but I knew it was time to head across the lake and go to my other two areas holding fish. I told my co-angler it was time to make a move and head up lake and that’s when the crying began. “Oh, please no! I don’t think I can make it…please don’t run up the lake!” I then reminded him of the “handicap” rule to see if that would change his mind. To give you an idea how difficult it was for this man to get around, he once again had to drop to his hands and knees and roll off the back deck and into the floor of the boat so he could get back into his seat. At this point I cranked the big motor and headed across a very rough Sam Rayburn only to stop due to all the moaning and groaning this man was doing and begging me to “stop the boat!” So, I shut down in the middle of three-foot rolling waves and told him that his day was done.
It was at this point that I decided to call the tournament director and notify him that I was bringing my co-angler to the dock and dropping him off due to the fact that he was handicapping me by not allowing me to run across the lake because of his back injury. The director was not happy because he had no one to put in the boat with me. You see in pro/am events you have co-anglers in the boat to help keep anglers honest and discourage cheating. He then informed me that I would have to submit to a polygraph test after I weighed in that day. I said “no problem” as I motored away from the dock and headed across the lake.
Turns out, I ended up finishing in the top 15 for this event and got a check. But I hated the fact that I had to kick an angler out of my boat, which had never happened before. But my advice to all anglers is that if you’re hurt or injured and can’t fish the way you’re supposed to….don’t handicap another angler by entering a tournament! Next week I’ll reveal another one of my awesome co-anglers I’ve drawn over the years that has a much better ending. Till then, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!
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