Dateline: Room 103
When I hit send on this story, I will be going too.
29 days on the road. A leap year month.
3,500 PLUS miles, gas money out the wahzoo.
Met all kinds of people, ate all kinds of things, done all kinds of stories.
Drove here, there, back again, was at one place that my GPS unit said didn't exist. Empty space with a ? mark was all it showed.
I've met fun people, bland people, nice people, bad people. In one day one guy called me, "Ma'am," met other guys that same day who will be friends forever.
Been accepted and rejected. Learned some, taught some. Felt safe, and not so.
29 days full of life.
If you stand back and watch life, instead of living life, life itself becomes NEW.
If this trip was a journey to learn about fishing, then it was a failure. If this trip was to learn about THOSE who fish, it was the excursion of a lifetime.
Extraordinary professional men and women chasing a dream in five-fish limits.
I've talked with them on boats, docks, picnic benches, on stage, behind the stage, in my passenger seat, in their passenger seat, restaurant booths and counter seats, barbeques and banquets, check in and check out.
And today, I talked to two more, down my hotel hall, in room 103.
One a pharmacist, one a comedian.
Roommates on the road.
Chasing the Bass Dream.
Paul Hirosky, a pharmacist, came to Wheeler Lake and the Southern Challenge and ended up finishing 97 out of 107 or so. That would be the GOOD news.
Paul Hirosky: "Everything that could go wrong DID go wrong. The Saturday before I left I spent all day fixing my trolling motor (Joe Smith the trolling motor guru might beg to differ on the "fixing" part), the next morning I get up and leave for the tournament and I'm not 9 MILES from my house, didn't even leave town, and someone on the road sideswipes my boat trailer. On Monday, my propeller wasn't working right so on Tuesday I'm thinking I will get up early and get the time on the water back, but when I walk outside, flat tire on the boat trailer."
It gets worse: "The first day of the tournament I rip the nail off my baby toe and could barely stand (of which he had to do for 8 hours), then my last day of the tournament, my motor dies, won't start, I tried to jump it but my jumper cables melted, finally at 4:02 p.m. it starts, and I'm supposed to be checking in to the dock at 4:10 ... EIGHT minutes. Made it though."
Jon Bondy, the only Canadian in the Elite Pros, lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and has been guiding all his life for walleye, muskie and bass, "the only job I ever had, 'cept this."
When Jon talks of fishing, his face turns red with passion, lips get all small-like, eyes boring through you, "I live, breath, think, DREAM about fishing," if he wasn't looking down when he said it, I would be wiping spit off my chest.
I've met guys like this before in other pro sports, down the road they always seem to end up with MVP behind their name. They can be scary, but they can also be funny.
Jon Bondy: "I went down to scout out Lake Amistad (Del Rio, Texas, Battle on the Border), had some of that egg crate foam in the bed of my pickup truck, slept in the back of the truck for seven days. Seven days never took a shower. You know you stink when you go through the drive-thru and they shut the drive-thru window on you midway through your order."
Paul and Jon became friends after they placed 1-2 in a 2005 Bass Open on Lake Erie. Paul first, Jon second. "We each got about the same money, and a Bass boat, but Paul got this huge trophy, mine was a bitty thing half the size."
This year Paul has yet to place in the top 50, and get at least the $10,000 prize money that goes along with that. His winnings so far: $0.00. Jon has "made the cut" into the top 50 twice this season and has just missed the cut three other times, once "missing it by 10 OUNCES, that's a THOUSAND DOLLARS an ounce." Almost the cost of diesel fuel.
As road roommates, and friends, "whenever one of us makes the cut, and the other doesn't, like Jon did a couple times this year, that person will pitch in and pay the hotel bill for both of us. Just a way of helping the other guy out."
Jon: "We help each other out, it's important to have someone out here who you totally trust, helps you get through the ups and downs."
Respect. Both guys have it for each other, they each have been fishing for over 25 years, and for others on the tour. Paul: "When I won in 2005 the first one to shake my hand when I came off stage was Ken Cook, THE Ken Cook, here I am winning and this legend comes up to me and shakes my hand and THAT made my day, didn't want to wash that hand for a week."
And respect for the sport: Jon: "Last year on the way back from California I spent seven days on Grand Lake in Oklahoma in below freezing weather throwing a SINKER. No bait, just a sinker. I was looking for brush piles, found 65, so I'm dragging sinker for seven days in freezing weather but when the tournament comes, there was this huge flood and I never caught a fish off one of those brush piles, all of that was for NOTHING, but that's what you have to do to compete at this level."
Jon told me that during the tournament here on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala., he would cast one time every 15 SECONDS, for 9 hours. I did the math, that would work out to 2,160 casts that day. Carpal tunnel fishing.
Paul Joseph Hirosky.
Born two months ago.
3 pounds, 11 ounces.
Two months premature.
Mom, Andrea Hirosky, is being kept in a Meadville, Penn., hospital, baby PJ is transported to a larger hospital in Erie, Penn.
Dad is on Falcon Lake, Zapata, Texas, competing in the Lone Star Shootout ... 1,800 miles away.
Paul: "PJ was in rough shape, in an incubator, my wife was in one hospital, the baby in another ... I couldn't sleep at night, on the boat I couldn't concentrate on fishing. My mind, my HEART wasn't there."
It gets worse. Paul is a pharmacist, his wife is a nurse. They know what all the tubes are, all the medical speak, all the medications.
Paul: "I worked at a hospital pharmacy at night where I made up the compounds (meds) for the neonatal babies, so I know how serious this is, and now those compounds are being made for my son."
One word though punctured his heart; Vancomycin.
PJ was fighting an infection and had dropped down to 3 pounds, 7 ounces. "When I heard he was getting Vancomycin, I thought, uh-oh, it's a very strong antibiotic that is pretty much the drug of last resort. Doesn't take much to go from bad to tragic when you've reached that point."
From the tournament stage, straight to his truck, and pulling the boat behind he headed north to be with his wife and baby boy.
Paul did that for 30 HOURS straight, 1,800 miles, "From Texas to Erie, Pennsylvania, I lied to my mother and told her I would take a break and stop to rest, but I never did. I had to get there, had to be home."
When Paul got home he collapsed for about 4 hours then had his mom and dad bring him to see his newborn son for the first time.
"When I walked into the hospital, when I finally got to see him (pause & swallowing), I cried for two hours straight. I just fell apart, all the emotions, just fell apart. And I couldn't hold him. He was in the incubator and all wired up."
In about a month, PJ was in dad's arms. "He came home at about 4 p.m. on a Saturday and about 4 a.m. the next day I left for the Southern Challenge on Lake Wheeler, but I did get to hold him without all the hospital stuff around before I left."
And so on a southern tour filled with Life and Luck, let this be the last thing I write from the road:
PJ Hirosky, now 8 plus weeks old, 7 POUNDS, 3 ounces and, "Doing fine." PJ, welcome to the tour.
Don Barone is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Other stories of his can be found on Amazon.com. For questions, comments or story ideas you can reach him at: db@DonBaroneOutdoors.com