"I can't get ahead no matter
how hard I try ...
Dateline: Greyhawkin' Elite Camp
The toothpick is getting a workout.
The tip quivers up and down. Stops. Then rolls left, quivers up and down, stops, then rolls back to the right.
When it stops on the left side, he talks.
When it stops on the right side, he's thinking.
When it's bouncing up and down, he's listening.
A tiny, pointed 2-inch wooden conductor's baton.
Rolls left, I pick up the pen.
Rolls right, I put it down.
A big man is telling me about a small town.
"It's tin-ee, 'bout 4,000 people 100 miles north of Houston, Madisonville, Texas is, you know."
I don't. Don't know much about Madisonville, but also don't know much about the Elite pro telling me about it either.
Broad face, broad chest, big hands. Tiny toothpick.
He's your buddy from high school who played tackle on the offensive line. The guy with the banged up truck, dents on the dually hips, scrapes all over the truck bed, used shotgun shells rolling around on the floor, homework papers thrown behind the bench seat.
Fumes in the fuel tank. Girl by his side, 'cept during deer season.
Always wearing a baseball cap.
Always wearing a smile.
The kind of guy who carries America on his back. Your phys ed teacher. The rowdy kid down the road, now the town cop. The guy who remodels your kitchen, turns your basement into the family home entertainment room.
Big guy, small town, working for Dad.
"Reed Furniture ... I worked in the family store for 24 years. Worked with my best friend, my father, Jerry."
And if you work in a family business, you know what that means.
"I did it all, the fixin', the customer service, the sellin', delivering, cleaning. If it was fixin' to get done, I'd do it."
At one point the small town furniture store also sold appliances, toys, housewares, even sporting goods.
"Never had no desire to live in a big city, even went just about 40 miles down the road to college at Texas A&M."
Was a Business Management Major, left about 30 credit hours short of a degree.
Matt didn't say why.
I didn't ask. Just watched the toothpick as the chewing picked up pace.
So why would I pick Matt Reed of all the guys in the Elite Camp to do a story about?
When I went on Facebook and said I was looking for an Elite pro to do a story with, saying basically, "Any Suggestions," Matt's name was never mentioned among the several comments and many emails.
Got the normal KVD, Skeet, and so-on-so-forth stuff, even got some suggestions of the lesser written abouts, not Matt though.
An invisible pro.
For the past couple of years we nod when we see each other, give "Heys," and "Ya'll's." Well-wishes both ways. Nothing pro, nothing con, just a couple of guys working for a paycheck, raising a family, lowering a mortgage.
That changed over a picnic table of ribeye and baked potatoes. K-Pink and K2 had invited me over to their site for a cookout. I brought over some bag of microwave steamer vegetables, and a pitcher of Margaritas.
My normal contribution, minus the steam.
As we were finishing up, James Niggemeyer and Matt Reed walked up from their camping spot. James sat down on the picnic bench, and Matt stood at the end of the table, one leg on the ground, one leg up on the bench.
Small talk ... blah ... blah ... blah. Nothing I can remember even when I try hard to be remembering.
Then from the end of the table, Matt started talking.
Suddenly his body was animated, hands, arms, going every-which-way, feet shifting back and forth from ground to bench.
Whenever he said something that sounded goofy, or made his actions seem goofy, he would reach up and twist his baseball cap over to the right side of his head with the brim resting on his right ear looking all tornado-blown like.
And suddenly, Matt was invisible no more.
" ... I'm gettin' really good at barely gettin' by ... "
Matt worked during the week in his dad's furniture store, didn't ask how many hours a week, figured the 9-5 shift was just a dream. On the weekends though, his dream came true.
"From the late '80s until about 2003 I fished local tournaments, 35-40 a year all over Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana."
The furniture salesman was a big stick on the water. "I normally made more money doing that then I did working in the store. I would invest maybe $3 grand to do it and win $100 grand a year."
You gotta sell a lot of couches to trump that.
"At my local BASS club I won Angler of the Year eight times, one guy there told me, 'Won't you please go do something else.'"
But it was on the local circuit that Matt met his fishing team partner, and the guy who would one day become his mentor, Ricky Friedrich.
"We fished together in team tournaments for 12 years, almost every weekend. The third time I qualified to move up and fish the Elite tour he told me I HAD to go and do it. It was my dream, and Ricky even helped me back then with the fees and expenses to do it."
To this day Matt still talks with his former teammate four or five times a week. "It always helps me when we talk."
But the big dream ... the dream you go to bed hoping you have ... the one you don't want to wake up from was, for Matt, fishing the Bassmaster Classic.
The Super Bowl of fish catching.
"I made it in 2003 and then once again in 2007."
Suddenly the chewing of the toothpick intensifies. I don't ask, but I know what's behind the heavy chomps.
2009. Last year. Last season. Matt was in a three-way tie to make the Classic again, the last spot, and he lost the tie-breaker.
Lost the chance to fish in the premiere event of the sport.
By an OUNCE.
"I had it in my hand, too, that's the hard part. That last Elite tournament I was culling fish, catch 'em so fast as they were schooling that I had to judge their weight just by lookin' at 'em and holding 'em. Didn't actually weigh the fish. So I know I may have misjudged one or two, and just one of them would have moved me up in the points, no 3-way tie business, and I would have been in the Classic."
That's being one pitch away from the World Series, and watching it go deep over the right field fence.
Matt smiles, and says something like, but you move on, no sense letting it bother you ...
... but you can tell it does.
"By the way though ... you can bet I will weigh anything I cull from now on."
" ... I'm a hard, hard workin man ... "
Not been the best year for Matt, this year, 2010.
"Most frustrating year ever on tour. Got me a fifth place at Smith Mountain, then nothing but a bunch of bad ones. Three bad tournaments, and I'm around the fish, on top of the fish, but I just can't get it done."
Matt puts down his can of diet cola, picks up the Margarita I just made, sips it, puts it back down on the Greyhawk's slide-out dinette table, "I do truly enjoy the sport, love fishing against the best anglers in the world, but when you do that, you better catch 'em, better catch them fish."
Trouble at the weigh-in scales usually leads to trouble elsewhere. "It's very much a huge financial crunch right now. Very hard getting by. Hard. Real hard."
But one thing that helps, specially when you are on the road about 100 or so days a year is to live ...
... in sort of ...
... a ...
... box ... thing.
"Got me that for $2,500 in 2003 at a Bass Pro Shop "Ding & Dent" sale."
"That," is a truck camper, with about four years worth of bugs splattered across the front.
A big guy in a small box.
"It has the legs that come down so it can stand, but you know, I put those sawhorses underneath it so it can also rest on those for, how you say, increased stability."
It has no bathroom.
And an old WINDOW air conditioning unit that he got from the family furniture store. You know the kind, the thing you stick in your bedroom window in summer so that the dog stops moving around on your bed at night looking to get comfortable.
5,000 BTU's of sleep.
"The BOX does have one of them $1,000 memory foam mattresses ... you gotta get your good sleep you know ... and then of course, the satellite TV."
Satellite TV said just like this, "And here's another photo of my grandkids ... "
"I know which spots in which campgrounds I can set it up and get the signal in-between the trees. I just turn the TV inside the BOX (what he continually calls his camper) REAL loud and walk around outside with the dish until I hear the signal come through the TV real clear. Here I about had one foot on the bank and one foot on land until I found the right spot using my compass."
In the BOX, space is at a premium, but when TV is so important you carry a COMPASS to get it, well, that pretty much explains what he told me next. "Don't have a coffee maker in the BOX though, no room."
After I took some snaps of the BOX he lives in, and his proud placement of where he gets TV from outer space, Matt drove me back to my spot in Elite Camp.
And for a minute or so we sat in his truck, and talked.
Matt talked, I listened.
Listened to how much he loved, "Fishing against the best in the game," and how "special that makes me feel."
And when I climbed down from the truck cab and watched him drive away, two things came to mind.
One: That Matt could not, NOT, be an angler. Fishing is Matt. Matt is fishing. The two are one in the same.
And inside the db/bb/rv, as I dumped the ice in the blender, and hit the pulse crush ice button, I thought of one other thing.
About how deeply he feels for his sport.
And I knew, with that kind of love ...
Matt would be ...
"I got it all on the line For a peace of the promised land."
Hard Workin' Man
Brooks & Dunn
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.