I have tried passing on what I have learned over the last 40-plus years about catching fish and competing in tournaments. But this is probably the most important tip I can offer.
About a week ago I was invited to fish Falcon Lake with several friends. Boy, was I excited! I had just seen the Elite Series tournament coverage on The Bassmasters and I was ready to whack 'em!
Then I looked at the calendar and saw that my 25th wedding anniversary was right in the middle of the week we were to fish. I mentioned this to Linda, my wife, and her offhand comment was “That’s OK. Just do what you want. It’s just another day.”
I don't know about you, but I saw the caution flags in that statement.
By now, you're probably asking, "What’s that got to do with fishing?"
The short answer just might be, "Everything."
If you look at the successful Elite anglers, you'll see they have at least one thing in common. They all have the support of their family. One particular image sticks in my head.
After the third day of a tournament on the Kissimmee Chain, I walked past Todd Faircloth’s trailer and saw him sitting on the floor while one of his kids was in diapers and running around him. He was holding another younger child in his arms. The most memorable part of the moment was the smile on his face. It was much bigger than the one he had when told he had made the 12 cut and was in second place going into the finals.
Another of my most memorable Elite moments came at a Harris Chain tournament, but it wasn't my Day 3 catch that moved me up from 47th to 13th place. It came when I looked into the crowd and saw Linda.
During my brief time in the Elites, I traveled with Jeff Connella. Jeff is a great guy who never slows down. Once, after a day’s practice, he was buzzing around when I asked him if he even knew there were roses. He just gave me a quizzical look.
About a year and a half later —after we had both left the Elites —I get a call from Jeff at about 7:30 one morning.
His first words were “There are roses and they smell great!”
All of us spend hours changing hooks, changing line and getting our equipment just right. We hover over our boat cleaning it, scrubbing it and polishing it until it shines. We spend hours poring over maps and the Internet trying to get any advantage we can. We spend hours and hours on our fishing even when we're home.
Don’t think for even a minute that this goes unnoticed by our spouses. When was the last time you hovered over your family like that? When was the last time you made them feel as important as a tournament?
I know I get tunnel vision when I'm planning for a tournament ... or any fishing trip for that matter. I also know how lucky I am that Linda is so understanding.
We all get caught up in what we're doing and sometimes forget why we're doing it. Time after time I've watched a fisherman receive a tournament trophy while reaching for his wife and kids.
Fishing experiences and accomplishments mean nothing without someone to share them with.
It would take a lifetime of accumulated "kitchen points" to safely fish on my 25th wedding anniversary, but that's more than OK. We have a better plan now. We'll be spending it on the beach — no rods, no boats, no fish, just Linda and I strolling along near the water, hand in hand, and watching the sun dip below the horizon.