HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — "db ... you as crazy as a run-over dog."
I'm on my second warm glazed donut from Daytime Donut.
"I'm telling you, it's good eatin', done up right, like I've said before, you get any of it on your forehead, your tongue going slap your brains out to get at it."
The WBT anglers have just launched on Day Two of the Championship, it's 40-some degrees outside, where I'm not. Today I'm writing about the outside, inside, and I can see the outdoors through an open door, but I'm done being inside the outside.
I flip open the chocolate creme-filled box.
"db ... you listening?"
"Uhmmmh-humm-argh-ha." (db for "no.")
"db ... you take some collard greens, or turnip greens served with that limb-rat — that's good eatin' there."
I close the chocolate creme-filled box.
"db ... I can't believe you never ate no squirrel."
If you follow professional WBT angler Pamela Martin-Wells, Steven is the guy who brought the hyphen to the boat.
Pam and Steven have been married for seven years now. "She said she had a crush on me back in Bainbridge High School on the shores of Lake Seminole, but db, I don't remember. I honestly don't remember that."
Life got in the way of the crush. Steven married someone else. Pamela went fishing. Steven got two kids. Pamela got a bunch of trophies. Steven became a welder. Pamela became a fishing pro.
Something happened and Steven became unmarried (I didn't ask, didn't think it was any of my business); Pamela had never married, and quite possibly still had the same crush. This time Steven remembered.
And so came the hyphen.
Whenever Steven sees me, be it near or far, he either says, or shouts, "Hey, YANKEE," my being from up north in Buffalo and Connecticut, and his being from not near there at all.
I've come to calling him, "Dixie," or, my favorite, "Mr. Pamela Martin-Wells."
To either one, he just takes a drag of the cigarette and smiles. Steven is the kind of guy that if you are in trouble, you would like to have him next to you. Or, if you are not in trouble, you would still like to have him next to you. We are oil and water, glazed and granola, North and South.
Always in blue jeans, T-shirt, sponsor baseball cap, mouth talking, hands jerking, eyes moving, he is a man of constant commotion.
And he is devoted to his wife, Pamela, "Only missed one tournament since the day we got married. db, you're looking at a professional bass caddy."
Professional bass caddy
On tournament days, Pamela leaves the launch site at first safe light, sometime after noon for me, more around 6:30-7:30 a.m. for BASS. Check-in, when Pamela has to be back, is usually between 3-4 p.m.
Throughout that time, Steven never leaves the launch site.
"I have to be here, I couldn't be anywhere else. This is as close as I can get to my wife while she is out there doing her job. I know she is out there, she knows I'm here. It's a bond we have. She knows I'm right here for her. Some people think I'm crazy for being here all day, but to me it's not. My wife is out there and I'm not going to leave her."
I have never been to a WBT tournament and driven up to the launch site at any time during competition and NOT seen Steven there. If Pamela is on the water, he is as close as he can be to her.
Here's a personal glimpse inside their lives during tournament days, and why that hyphen made not only a marriage, but a team.
"When we get to the ramp, I always leave the nose of the boat hooked to the trailer, and I back down the ramp, it's my job to get out and unhook it — I don't let anyone else do that — and then Pam comes to the front of the boat, and we hug and say a little prayer. I always say a little prayer before she gets on the water. It's something we do together, and Pam knows that I've taken care of everything, and she doesn't have to worry.
"Out on the dock, when she is in her boat, I stand there and talk to her. I say things like 'Get em,' or '30' or '45,' meaning that's how long I think it will take her to catch a limit. It relaxes her. I tell her not to stress over this. Ain't nothing but a thang (which Steven says translates to "no big deal"). Before she leaves we hug, and I give her a kiss.
"For a tournament, we are there seven days before the tournament starts, sometimes 10. Every day, she practices from daylight to dark. I carry a little gas grill with me so I'll have pork tenderloins, or deer back strap (don't ask me, I have no idea what this is — and was pretty much afraid to ask) and some greens. She'll go take a shower and when she gets out, she'll go lay down on the bed with a map of the lake and study it while I get dinner ready. We eat, she gets that map back out, I clean up the stuff, she studies it, marks it up until she falls asleep.
"If I can take some of the pressure off her, it just helps, because no one prepares like she does. When she made her first Championship, we knew spotted bass were going to play a part in it, and since we were raised in a swamp, we didn't know that much about spotted bass. So she tells me, 'Before this Championship happens, I will know everything there is to know about a spotted bass, from the time he hatches to the time he dies,' and she started right then, four or five months before the championship, reading and studying every night."
At one tournament during a sleet storm, Steven walked the bank all day long, back and forth, "I done worn a path right through the sleet. When I left, I saw that the geese were using it themselves as a little cleared highway on the bank."
As I walked off the early morning dock, Steven, as I knew he would, stayed behind. He stood there and watched the ripples on the lake, glanced upward as a hawk skimmed the thermals, looked down as he tapped his cigarette butt on the wooden rail, but whatever the movement of the eyes, within moments he was looking back at the lake, watching the horizon, scanning the coves.
Always watching for Pamela, who he told me was, "As fine as a frog hair split three ways."
Which is Steven's way of saying love and devotion.
Don Barone is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Other stories of his can be found on Amazon.com. For comments or story ideas you can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com