By Steve Graf
This week, we continue our series on “My Unforgettable Co-Anglers” with another one of my worst nightmares. The thing I enjoy the most about fishing Pro/Am events is the amount of diversity among anglers. I’ve fished with guys from our region like Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, and from as far away as New York, Florida, Georgia and Alabama, to name a few. Each of them had their own little quirks and different ways of doing things, but I’ve learned something from just about every angler that’s ever gotten into my boat. Just because they are fishing the co-angler side does not mean they don’t know how to fish. Some are really good anglers that fish as a co-angler simply because they can’t or won’t take the time off to scout for a tournament. Some don’t want to pay the higher entry fees to fish the Pro/boater side.
Let me set the stage for this event. It was the FLW BFL Regional Tournament with a full field of 200 boats on my home body of water…the mighty Red River. This particular event went out of the Red River South Marina just south of Bossier City… an absolutely awesome facility that has hosted several national events including the Bassmaster Classic twice. It was a two-day event with the top 5 earning a trip to the prestigious FLW All-American, the pinnacle of BFL anglers all across the country.
Now after day one I was sitting in 3rd place with a golden opportunity to make it to the All- American until I drew “Crack Head Joe” who was strung out so bad that he bit his tongue four times because he was talking faster than his mouth could move. “Joe” was an angler in his mid 50’s from the great state of Tennessee. This guy was a real treat who ran all over my boat like a rat on crack during an eight-hour period. Hyper does not even begin to describe his demeanor. He literally got into my boat shaking before takeoff that morning. I think he must have had twenty cups of coffee with a pound of sugar to boost his energy level past extreme! Now as I have noted, I like an angler or someone in my boat that I can carry on a good conversation with…an angler I can get to know on a personal level. Some have even become good friends of mine over the years. But this man from the Volunteer State has, nor will ever be on my Christmas card list.
As “Joe” and I headed out on day 2, I had a particular spot that I could catch a couple of good fish really early on my way to my main starting spot. On my first flip, I caught a 3 ½ pounder and as I was boating this fish, Joe decided to flip into the same spot in front of the boat (which is against the rules). Co-anglers are not supposed to cast past the boater/pro in front of the boat. Needless to say, I was not a happy angler and I made sure I reiterated the rule of not throwing past the front of the boat. But he was very apologetic as he hooked up and boated a 4 pounder out of the same hole where I just caught my 3 ½ pounder! So already frustrated, I pulled the trolling motor up and headed to another area I had further down the river. On my next stop and about four casts later, I set the hook on another 3 pounder. Well as I was reeling this fish in, I called for him to get the net for me, as he made another cast to the same spot! Once again, I scolded him and promptly reminded him about the rule of casting past the front of the boat. But I could tell that he was not hearing a word I said as he once again apologized and dropped another 2 pound in the live well. Now Joe was also a dancer of some kind because after every fish he boated, he would break out into some sort of Tennessee dance to the tune of “Rocky Top” on the back deck of my boat.
Now that “Joe” has my full attention and I’m so mad I could eat a fried shoe sole, I proceeded down a rock jetty flipping old pilings with a worm. Just a short time later (30 minutes) I set the hook on another good fish and once again ask for him to get the net. While I was fighting this fish, he threw a spinnerbait right by my ear and directly in front of the boat. Now I’m mad and so after I boated another keeper fish, I reach up and grabbed his fishing line and bit it into. He was shocked and the look on his face was priceless. He could not believe I just bit his line into! I told him that he had two choices the rest of the day. Either follow the rules and fish where he was supposed to or continue to break the rules and then I would make sure not to sign his weigh slip at the weigh-in which would have disqualified him from the competition. I WAS NO LONGER GOING TO BE A NICE GUY THE REST OF THIS DAY. FOLLOW THE RULES OR GET OUT OF MY BOAT! Needless to say, Joe straightened up with little to say the rest of the day, much to my pleasure. Now I’m not sure if me biting his line was the reason for his change in demeanor, or if the caffeine just finally wore off. But whatever the reason, he was a lot calmer.
To wrap up, I finished in 7th place and just missed the All-American by less than a pound. While it was still a great tournament and I was proud of how I fished, sometimes things just don’t always go as planned. Even with all the distractions of “Crack Head Joe” I maintained my composure and kept my head down and fished hard. In pro/am style events, you have no control over the co-angler you’ll be paired with. It’s simply the luck of the draw and sometimes you get a really good co-angler and sometimes you get one that you wish you could have left at the ramp. But it’s all good and it’s what makes pro/am tournaments so interesting. Till next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!
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