Hunger of a Rookie

He can’t tell you what it’s like to be in 19th place in some Tour De France, catchin’ wind off Lance Armstrong, wishing he’d have thought about this whole bicycle nonsense. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be sitting pretty…

He can’t tell you what it’s like to be in 19th place in some Tour De France, catchin’ wind off Lance Armstrong, wishing he’d have thought about this whole bicycle nonsense. He don’t know what it’s like to be sitting pretty, bossing a caddy somewhere, and gaining on Tiger Woods on some landscaped field with little holes and flags in awkward, plaid pansy pants, sneaking sips of Jack and Coke. He hasn’t dipped his head to accept a bronze medal after spinning ’round on some hanging loops at the Olympics. That would just be silly, and quite frankly, uncharacteristic, especially for some worn out fireman with a broke down trolling motor and more fishing rods then sense.

He can tell you however, what it feels like to show up just before dawn, staring off into Lake Texoma, noticing how it is just stirred up enough to look like blown glass speckled by sterling silver mini docking lights and how the low hum and gurgle of motors dancing just below the surface will set his belly on fire. He can tell you how the co-anglers dot the docks, leaned up against some tie-off pole, staring through the crowds for the guy who’d become a part of their moments of anxiety and adrenaline for the next 8 to 10 hours. How the wind whips the edges of brightly advertised tents, how a distant camera flash bounces off the water’s edge and seems to disperse into nervous laughter and far off conversations. He can tell you what it feels like to look across inlets and peninsulas, second guess the instinct, pretending that practice might give him some sort of direction. How the plop of an Omega jig sounds at just the moment it hits the surface and that zeer-zeer-zeeeerrrrr sound signaling the fight from a large mouth bass sends chills down his spine. He was fishing “Pro” at Lake Texoma this year in the Central Open, which in essence, is like saying because he can go break neck speed down West 70th in Shreveport in a 20-ton fire engine dodging Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles, that he ought to be sitting Pole at Talladega, winking at Tony Stewart and cursing his pit crew for not getting his front end quite right. That’s exactly what he was doing… minus the fireproof suit and a hot, model wife.

The surreal aura of that first morning, that morning he agreed in his mind that if he didn’t make the top 30, he’d be alright, was slightly overwhelming. It was his third tournament fishing Pro. He’d accept defeat gladly, just to touch those moments of expectation, to sit idle in a no-wake zone and stare at the Terry Butchers and Rick Clunns watching and being a part of a dream that passes by like Engine 15 en route to a 3 alarm fire…right through a red light and into a neighborhood that really doesn’t care about the flames pulling oxygen from the night sky. The anticipation seemed like blackened smoke sending embers dancing upward, singeing treetops and barreling its way through someone’s lost memories, where “Abu Garcia” is simply the name of the guy standing on the corner watching the house burn down and “Omega Tackle” is what the police do at a college fraternity party gone wrong.

It was him…in an element that he almost pined to be a part of, dressed like he belonged, armed with skinny, spindled “weapons of Bass destruction,” little Omega-Mega jigs tinkling magic at the end of a 20 pound line.

If he had to tell you what he did, outside of my description, he had only two days of practice. That’s die hard run time. Fishermen need more time then that before a tournament. There are low spots, high spots, outside spots, humps, ridges, creeks…… He crank baited in practice, shallow runnin’ to be exact along with spinner baits, tube baits, “the whole kitchen sink.”

“Reality is……” he grins when he talks about it, “I didn’t think the jigs would work, but they did.” His question was “How deep do you go?” He noticed the bait fish flickering near a peninsula where the wind current was kicking up activity. “I keyed in,” he smiles, “and I noticed a sharp drop on my ‘topo map,’ noticing the bigger rocks in the water on my Lowrance’s Depth Finder. The bigger fish might stage deeper using the shallow side of the ledge as a dinner table.”

Later in the tournament, he stole fish, or it seemed, with the Zoom Blue Pearl Hologram Super Fluke, like Bonnie and Clyde at Capital One. No one ever asked “What’s in your tackle box?”

He goes on. “I just drug the half ounce Praying Mantis Omega Football jig trailored with a green pumpkin Strike King Rage Crawl Chunk……the rest was 9th place.” (Now, I’m completely turn on)

He laughs about the money he paid to be there. Irresponsibly, if you ask the women in his life. Well spent, if you ask the men. He gambles the moments, grieving two broken trolling motors at midnight before “cut day,” and then driving 45 miles to Melissa, Texas, to a Co-angler, L.W. Buck’s home to borrow another that would peddle him to 9th place overall by the time the last day was weighed out. And 9th place mine as well been the Superbowl win, 3 minutes left, Cowboys down by 6. He wonders why he’s even there, remembering the two prior tournaments, feeling like a rookie fireman from Shreveport, Louisiana in downtown New York for September 11th (Oh yeah, he did that).

Even the crowd wants him to win. A little. Nobody shows up, dockside, hollering his name, holding little signs up. He weighs in alone. The excitement is spilling adrenaline into pieces of his spine he didn’t know was there. He thinks about Frank Villa, another fireman, and one of his co-anglers at Lake Texoma, and he feeds off the light in his eyes. “If ….” suddenly seems like a quote that no longer wiggles around on the end of a line at Caddo or Bistineau Lake, but that bubbles and flicks side to side like a big largemouth bass right there in his hand, with folks taking pictures and spelling his name right on websites that he fell asleep to once.

When he tells the story to me, he crosses his arms, like my grandfather talking about Vietnam. And if he uncrosses them, the feeling will slip away and the memory will wane off. He smiles about it all. And he sits silent. Tomorrow he will put out a fire in the Cedar Grove area of Shreveport, he will send life-saving drugs via IV and sneak someone back from an edge he need not touch. And he’ll think about Lake Texoma. And he’ll believe.

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