Dateline: Parked in the db/bb/rv
I'm sitting behind the Bass Northern Open Registration table in the Crete Memorial Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
I've been here before.
To be exact, 769 days ago.
I'll never forget it.
ESPNOutdoors.com sent me to be in a fishing tournament. I had no idea they had fishing tournaments. I figured it was just a bunch of guys on a pier with a ham sandwich and a worm.
They said it was "an Elite Event."
So I brought a foot-long ham sandwich ... and two worms.
I was wrong.
Way, way, wrong.
I got strapped into a fiberglass rocket, maybe 20-some feet long and about 2 inches deep. They call it a "bass boat," and in practice I got shot across the lake to almost Vermont. During the first day of the tournament I got shot down 50 or 60 or maybe 1,500 miles at 72 mph to some town at the other end of the lake because that was supposedly where the fat bass lived.
Then I got shot back.
BTW, Lake Champlain has waves — at 72 mph a RIPPLE feels like a tidal wave — but supposedly bass boats can go THROUGH waves, ON TOP of waves, and frankly, if you are getting late for the 3:45 p.m. Check-In, UNDER the waves if the largemouths in the livewell will get you a check.
After my first day as a tournament rider-alonger-journalist, I got off the boat at the weigh-in and walked up to the tournament director guy and said exactly this, "Don't even think of doing that to me again."
It took him about a year to say hi to me again.
In the 769 days between then and now I have gained a huge amount of respect for the men and women in the bass boats.
But it takes more than a Ham Club Sandwich and a bucket of worms to get to the Elites. You have to qualify.
And that's just what the drivers of the 181 bass boats are here to do. Get to the Elites.
Godspeed guys ... and buckle up.
db: "So where you from."
I just asked a big guy wearing a "Dunnville Bass Club," T-shirt where he was from.
The Big Guy: He looks down at his T-shirt, up at me, squints, purses his lips up and in and says exactly this: "Dunnville."
db: "Oh. Where is Dunnville."
Big Guy: "In Canada."
db: "Really ... so it's THE Dunnville. How cool is that?"
I'm being stared at pretty heavily right now ... the two "nn's" on his T-shirt are flexing.
db: "I used to feed pigs there."
The "nn's" stop dead, "Excuse me."
db: "And feed chickens and cows and drive this old tractor around in the field when my uncle wouldn't wake up from lunch."
Big Guy: "Excuse me."
db: "We had a barn, chicken coop, an outhouse, no running water. I used to take a bath in a tub on the kitchen table, my grandmother used to heat the water on a wood stove and dump it in."
The three people behind him, and two in front, all say, "hum."
Canadians as well. In this tournament we have 28 anglers from over the border signed up to fish.
To the crowd in general, but mainly the Big Guy from Dunnville staring at me I say exactly this ... "I used to be almost Canadian, too."
Big Guy: "I AM Canadian."
db: "Me too ... almost. My Grandmother and Grandfather were born in Canada ... right around Dunnville ... I used to spend most of my summers up there on the farm when I was a kid ... Gramp's last name was Robbins ... Gram was a Long."
Big Guy: I've actually re-stunned him, he looks at me, stares actually and says, "Then we may be related ... we have Robb insin our family as well."
My summers up in Canada on the farm are some of my best memories, cherished times, and when the buffet was served I got in line and sat down and ate lunch with some of the guys from across the border, and who knows, we may even be related.
One of the guys I met, and not possibly related to me, was Curtis Richardson, currently tied for second place in the Northern Open Division.
Curtis has been fishing "since I could walk," but only tournament fishing "since I was 12."
He's 26 now. Lives in Belleville, Ontario, in the winter he goes to the University of Ottawa and studies Criminology, "I hope to get into law school," in the summer, "I fish."
Curtis: Ever since I can remember I wanted to fish in the Elites. We lived on a pond when I was growing up, I used to get up at 5 a.m., go down to the pond and fish until I had to go to school, go to school, come home and fish until dark. Did that every day."
The stuff of Elites right there.
In the Opens the top two qualify to compete in the Bassmaster Classic, the top seven get invited to fish the Elite Events.
"To qualify and become an Elite would be a dream come true."
In his first Bass Northern Open Tournament in Chesapeake Bay (which is the furthest south he's ever been) on his first day he caught 22 pounds of smallmouth bass, with one weighing in at 6 pounds.
For this tournament he is going after largemouth. "I've caught a lot of big fish, they seem to group up around the bait fish. I could do real well, or I could bomb."
As we walked back into the building I stopped to talk to Elite Pro Mike Iaconelli for a second ... Curtis just stood there.
When Ike left Curtis watched him go and said, "Pretty cool to be fishing for the same fish as Ike, huh."
Pretty cool indeed.
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.