When the Sabine River Challenge entered the sites of the Elite Series pros, all the competitors wanted to get off to a good start — including the members of Team Rapala. Each of us had high expectations.
But as fate would have it, things just didn't work out as planned. The Sabine brought some unique and unexpected challenges — some of which were insurmountable.
With that said, here's a brief account of the mishaps and misfortunes that Rapala's best had to deal with.
Mike Iaconelli won the worst luck award by stuffing his 20 foot Bass Cat into a thicket of cypress trees. According to Ike, he lost control after hitting a submerged object at high speed. The impact torqued the steering wheel from his hands, sending him and his Marshal hopelessly up a 30-degree embankment. When the boat came to rest, it was completely out of the water. Fortunately, no one was hurt, as the boat miraculously missed hitting any of the larger trees during the crash.
After collecting themselves, the pair began making calls for help on their cell phones. Soon after, help arrived and Ike's boat was pulled back into the water. Although shaken, they were back in action. Unfortunately for Ike, however, things never really improved. His season started with a dismal 83rd place finish.
As if one collision wasn't enough, young Brandon Palaniuk also tested fate when he and his Marshal were struck by an oncoming boat. Apparently, an off-duty law enforcement officer cut an inside corner in a narrow bayou, meeting Brandon coming at high speed from the opposite direction. When they swerved to avoid each other, that's when the collision occurred. The officer's boat struck Palaniuk's squarely on the port side.
Talk about close calls! Brandon recalls seeing nothing but the underside of a hull as it careened up and over his portside gunnel. Fortunately, the officer's boat slid back down Palaniuk's rail into the water, sparing both Brandon and his Marshal in the process.
Understandably shaken by the event, Brandon's week never improved from there. He finished 90th.
Ever since entering the Elite Series three years ago, Ott DeFoe has been one of the most consistent competitors on tour. Until the Sabine River Challenge, he had missed the money only once. But the "Challenge" lived up to its name, and one of fishing's best faltered under the brutal conditions.
According to Ott, his problems began in practice when he tried accessing an obscure backwater area. Plowing through a slender passage barely wider than his boat, he ran aground and couldn’t progress any farther. Faced with no option of turning the boat, he began the arduous retreat in reverse using his trolling motor. But that didn’t get him very far. In minutes, he destroyed the prop and nearly burned up the motor.
Eventually he made his way out of the cut, but more problems ensued.
Accessing a different area on tournament day, Ott rounded one of the bayou's many blind corners and suddenly encountered a local fisherman in a pram hidden behind a group of cypress tress. Believing he might swamp the tiny boat by coming off plane, he opted to gun it and create less wake. As it turned out, the local angler didn’t appreciate the gesture … at all.
Later, the two encountered each other again. That's when Ott got an ear full of obscenities. The angry man said he would have shot him had he been carrying his gun, which he claimed he normally does.
Hearing that, Ott decided the area wasn't worth the risk. He finished the tournament in 79th place.
Davy Hite also had his share of problems on the Sabine. Although his weren't near as severe or life threatening, he too struggled through what many Elite Series competitors claim is the toughest event ever scheduled by B.A.S.S.
After scratching together nearly 8 pounds of bass for a 59th place finish, he narrowly missed making the money.
Was Hite pleased with his performance? No. "Relieved" might be a more accurate description. At least he salvaged some very valuable points toward the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
My week started out fine … at least until the second day of practice. That's when things got weird.
After scoping out the Upper Neches River with roommate Zell Rowland, we decided to trailer to another area. While driving south on the highway, a car pulled up next to me, yelling that one of the boat's compartment lids had blown open. I immediately pulled over to see if I had lost anything. But after a quick inspection, all seemed to be in order. So I continued down the highway.
That evening, while ramping out of the new location, I noticed my rain suit bibs were missing. My gut was immediately in my throat. In them were my fishing license and credit card. A quick call to the credit card company revealed no unauthorized charges — a relief! — but I was still without a credit card and a long way from home. The company promised to overnight another card, and I replaced my license that evening.
So, with a pair of back-up bibs, I thought I was good to go.
I was wrong.
After a solid first day performance, I found myself in 20th place — knowing just one more keeper the next day would ensure a money finish. As fate would have it, though, I never caught another 14-inch fish. That cost me $10,000.
Even worse, the very next day, while driving to our second event in South Texas, my truck broke down in the middle of the desert. There I was, dead on the highway, 40 miles from the closest town. It took hours for a tow truck to show up. And after tallying the costs of towing and repairs, the bill was nearly $1,000.
So the next time you consider becoming a touring bass pro, think twice ... or maybe more.