"When I was younger … "
Dateline: Season's End.
In the 59th year of my life, I became a man.
This year, Two-Oh-One-One.
The sport did it to me. Your sport. This sport all around me, tournament fishing.
On the outside, I was the man I wanted to be, to look like, David Crosby with a limp.
On the inside, I was a child.
But then came the young.
But then came the tales of youth.
Came your fathers.
Came your sons.
Came your mothers, came your daughters.
Came your stories, and with them, I became a man.
" … I saw things in black and white … "
I know now where the color of life comes from.
I'm not whacked enough to say the color of life comes from this sport, it doesn't, the color of life comes from the LOVE you have for this sport. I know that to be an absolute fact, because you have told me so.
Hundreds of times, hundreds of stories, so many, and so easy coming from you, that you may not even realize it yourself. In fact, you may have to be me, or someone like me, to see it, to learn from it.
Me, an outsider, to all this.
I have no dog in the fight, I have nothing in the pond, nothing on the end of my line.
I only have you.
Your tales. Your love of all this. Your love of this may be so ingrained in you, that it is just second nature anymore, a given, just who you are and what you do.
But to an outsider, it is nothing short of magic.
I remember when I first came to this sport, people were horrified that someone who doesn't fish would have the guts to come here, and write about fishing.
If you looked up stupid idea, I'm sure my photo was right next to it.
But let me tell you a secret, when I sat down and did my very first interview about fishing, I was prepared to write about how to fish, prepared to be fired in about a week. It was pretty black and white to me.
Write about something I had no idea about.
And then this happened, the dude I was going to interview about fishing, never said a word about the fish.
I still have the notebook I used for the interview.
When all the howls were out there for my skin, to get rid of me, when all of that was happening I would go back to that notebook.
There, scribbled and underlined was the first thing an angler ever said to me, ever said to a brand new fishing reporter.
Other than me and the dude, no one has ever read what he told me, read the first answer I ever got about fishing, but I have thought a lot about it during this past week here at the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship, thought about it a lot this entire year.
Thought so much that I knew when I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning thinking about it, knew it was time to share it with you.
When you read it, it will answer a lot of your questions about why it is I do what I do.
I asked the man this, "So tell me about fishing."
Simple, the only question you can ask when you don't know the answer.
"Tell me about fishing."
And this is what he said, my first fishing answer.
"Well, me and my boy, my son, we love it, just like me and my daddy did."
Never once did he mention a fish.
Never once did he mention a lure.
Never once did he mention a size.
All he talked about was family.
His answer to me about fishing was, pure and simply, family.
I've chased that answer ever since.
Now you know.
" … now all I see is a sad, hazy gray … "
Growing up me, I grew up in a black and white world. Middle ground were shades of gray.
Thirty years as a reporter, the last 20 or so as an investigative reporter, the only way you survive that, for that long, while getting iron on your mantel, is to color your world, black, and, white.
When you chase the Russian Mob around the planet, black and white is the only color you need.
When you chase bad people doing bad things to good people, there is no room for gray.
I have stood in alleys, eye to eye with thugs. Black, and white.
I have sat in restaurants and listened to punks tell me stories of killing people. Black and white.
I have come to crime scenes with the smell of gunpowder in the air and the sweet smell of perfume lacing the pavement. Black and white.
I have come to not be scared of people, just frightened by what people do to each other.
You changed that.
Thirty years of covering hate.
The first sentence here, one about love.
The color of life.
The other day I was waiting for the weigh-in to begin here, I was freakin' freezing. I saw a truck parked on the grass behind the bleachers, but facing the stage … and it was running … heat.
So I go up to it and it is the PVA wrapped truck … Paralyzed Veterans of America B.A.S.S. Tournament truck. Ask if I can climb in and get warm, the back door opens so I can get in.
And in the back seat of the Tundra I look around and see that with me in the truck are three other dudes.
In the driver's seat, a paralyzed veteran.
Riding shotgun, the President of the Mexico Federation.
Next to me in the back seat, the President of the Canadian Federation.
A guy from Canada.
A guy from Mexico.
A long-haired freaked writer.
Not a word of politics.
Just laughing. Tales of family, of fishing, of tournaments.
You need to know that because to you it may be old hat, the norm, but in my black and white world, it is not. Far from it.
Thank you, for your gift to me.
The color, of life.
" … sometimes I see a narrow flash of light … "
I once knew a blind man who made kites.
Robert was his name. He lived alone above a corner store in my neighborhood.
Every Friday night I brought him a pizza.
Half cheese plain, half cheese and pepperoni.
Robert paid with exact change, plus 75 cents for me.
I would walk up the stairs, knock on his door, he would yell out, "Come in Bones (my nickname growing up)," and I would walk in to a huge flat with windows that went all across the front, side and back.
And there Robert would be sitting, at a bench building a box kite.
I would put the pizza down on his small round kitchen table, go to his frig and get out a bottle of "Pop," open it and set it down next to the pizza box.
Then, depending on how many other deliveries I had, I would go over to the bench and watch him work.
Robert told me he built kites, "because it's how I see the clouds in the sky."
I never saw Robert fly a kite. One Tuesday, the mailman found Robert dead in his apartment; that package spared me from finding him on Friday.
A couple weekends later some lady showed up and started taking things out of his walk-up, said she was an aunt or something, came from Florida, my friend Bobby and I helped her load her car.
The lady didn't care much for the kites, threw most of them away, but gave me one when I asked.
That afternoon I drove down to Buffalo's Delaware Park, a couple of miles from Robert's Delaware Avenue walkup. After some trying I got Robert's kite up in the air.
I remember, the string was on a cardboard tube, I had stuck a pencil through it, and just let it … fly.
Let it play all the way out.
Until in my hand I only held the tube.
Let the kite fly away.
Gave Robert his chance to see the clouds up close.
I thought of Robert as I stood on a crooked dock at take off the other day here … smiled … because I stood there, cold, for one shot, for one picture, only one picture.
A photo of one angler's kite heading for the clouds.
And after the 27th boat went by … came the photo.
In the biggest tournament of his life, as promised, Destre DeDeaux was taking his father fishing for one last time. Tucked down in the well of the passenger seat was a wooden box made of ash, and inside the box were the ashes of Destre's father Thomas.
Robert would have loved it.
The photo I took was for Robert.
A blind man, who taught me how to see.
The color, of life.
" … sometimes I look … "
The media is hero challenged.
I pretty much hate the media, and avoid it as much of possible, and frankly could care less what the media thinks of me.
You know the media is upside down when all the newscast lead with the overdose death of some rock star, while on the same day four young soldiers are killed in Afghanistan, and they barely get a mention.
I had a news director once tell me no one cares about "Joe Six-Pack."
BTW … "Joe Six-Pack … is you."
Joe Six-Pack is my hero.
Joe Six-Pack is the working stiff.
My father was Joe Six-Pack. My uncles, aunts, neighbors … working stiffs.
I believe the greatest stories in America are not about the celebs, but the working stiffs.
The people on who's back America rests.
And sometimes America rests on vanilla spiked hair.
Met last night with an angler and his wife, both of whom have ended up on my hero list.
Nick and Katrina Fitzsimmons … Nick is 30, Katrina is 27. They live on the Columbia River in Lyle, Wash.
I have socks older than both of them.
We sat and talked for a couple of hours, Nick patiently trying to explain to me just what his job is.
I never got it … he's a working stiff for sure … a Contract Project Manager for AT&T (I think).
"I grow capacity for cell sites, fiber optics T-1 lines and DS3. When the data gets clogged in the delivery lines, bottlenecks, I get it more capacity, sort of like unclogging an artery."
Sorry … it's the best I can do with trying to explain it … Google it if you don't get it, cause I have no idea especially when he tells me, "I'm in charge of Alaska … if Alaska has issues with it's T-1 lines (or some incomprehensible things I couldn't even understand to write down) my team and I fix it."
And Alaska if you read that and freak out because the working stiff in charge of you is here fishing a tournament, you're safe, because this working stiff is STILL WORKING.
Alaska goes down, Nick has everything in room 106 to fix you, get you up and running.
Nick is competing.
Nick is working.
Here's his schedule: Get up at 3:45 a.m. to go out to the boat yard, work on tackle as much as possible, fish the tournament to 3:15 p.m., come back to the hotel, shower, eat and the work as a project manager for AT&T from 7 p.m. until midnight.
Working stiff hall-of-freakin-fame right there.
"I had a paper route at 10, worked the fields at 13, began "pulling cable" in apartment buildings at 16, at 18 went out on the road for 7 years doing T-1 testing … "I'm driven, never meet my own expectations for myself."
And then a 59-year-old scraggly long haired guy learns from a 30-year-old guy with spiked hair the color of vanilla, "I tell my children don't be "I can'ters," if something is important to you, you go for it, you make sacrifices to get it."
He said something then that I will always use as an example of the champion spirit within.
Use as an example of passion for what it is you do.
Use as an example of why the stories of America should ONLY be about the Joe Six-Pack nation.
"I love fishing so much, working while I'm here is no big deal, I have a passion for fishing, when I was a little kid I bought a child's rod and reel, didn't have any place to fish. We lived in the second story of a house, so what I would do is I would go get a pair of socks, throw them off the second floor porch, and then fish for them, cast out and try and hook the socks."
I can't write that quote without choking up.
That's what this whole sport is about.
That's what LIFE is about.
Fishing for socks.
Last night, alone in my hotel room, at 59 years of age, I realized that all my life I have been fishing for socks.
Robert's socks were kites.
Destre's socks, his father's ashes.
Canada, Mexico, a paralyzed veteran in a warm truck … socks.
Thank you for allowing me into your sport of tournament fishing, and letting me fish for socks.
And for Robert, thank you for letting me see ...
… The Color, of Life.
" … and you show me the way."
Fields Of Gray
Catch you next time, B.A.S.S 2012,