Bass fishing lessons for the ages

In addition to sampling his exceptional shrimp etouffee, I had the good fortune to practice with David for three separate B.A.S.S. tournaments, and those experiences helped me to understand why he was “the man” on many East Texas waters in the 1980s and 1990s. If you watch old tapes, for example his victories on Sam Rayburn and Lake Murray (he won twice on Murray), you’ll understand his mastery of grass fishing – the understanding of how to find little bald spots and turns in the grasslines with what we’d now consider to be prehistoric electronics. Indeed, I’d put his grass skills up against those of anyone else I’ve fished with or ridden with.

During the two days we practiced together for the 2003 Bassmaster Tour event on the California Delta, he absolutely destroyed a legion of 4- to 6-pound fish with a spinnerbait. He also taught me a ton about swimming a paddletail worm over grass and led me to a 7-pounder on the technique. The paddletail didn’t help me in that tournament, but I’ve since used it a fair amount on the Potomac River, my home waters. On Day Two of practice for the 2004 Bassmaster Tour event on Guntersville, he put me on the closest thing to an East Texas Rat-L-Trap bite you can find in Alabama. By my estimate, I had a best five that would have weighed 19-20 pounds. By his estimate, they easily would have eclipsed 21. He’d caught more fish on odd-numbered Tuesday’s than I’ll catch in my entire life – I’m happy to accept his answer over my own.

Those three days were great, but the one that I look back upon most fondly was the day I practiced with him for the 2003 Louisiana Top 150 on Toledo Bend. While he’s better known for his utter mastery of Sam Rayburn, he was no slouch on the lake next door. We fished a variety of cover and a broad range of lures, and he truly was on his game that week, prepared for any weather condition that might confront us. Indeed, one day was cancelled due to inclement weather and rain during the week, and it required that the pros make major adjustments to dirty, rising water. On the final day, the remaining six anglers were moved to a hole course and he ran away with the win, beating his nearest competition (Takahiro Omori) by nearly 13 pounds.

It was the only time I’ve fished or ridden with the winner of an event in that tournament. I’ve come close a few other times, but no cigar. As with the KVD example at the beginning of this column, I’d like to think that my presence in the boat somehow contributed to the final result, that I was seen as something other than just a passenger — but I know that’s not the case. I’ll just have to be satisfied with having been a front-row observer to history.