Dateline: db/bb/rv 3:45am...Plattsburgh, N.Y.
My toes are wet.
Through my sneakers, the morning dew seeps in.
One eye is awake, the other has trouble focusing. Reading glasses no help. One side of my head is combed, the other still pillow pressed.
I've brushed, swished, and sprayed on stuff that smells better than me.
At this time of last night/next morning the answer to the question, "Sir would you like coffee," is ALWAYS this: "Yes please...ALL OF IT."
On good days, I mumble, you need 20/20 HEARING to know what I just said. This morning when asked something, even I didn't hear what I said.
The Plattsburgh Boat Basin is coming to life, everyone rushing about. Me, I'm stuck in molasses. I'm moving forward, the planet is pushing back in a perpetual non-motion attack.
I'm coming and going at the same time. Life in Last Call.
All I can see are little bobbing dots of red and green lights, and they are coming right at me.
An invasion...181 red and green lights. Underneath the lights, a rumble, coughing, spitting of powerful motors coming awake. Unlike me.
I'm leaning against a rail, the dock I'm on even less awake than I, it's still twisting and turning as it wakes for another launch, a stretch with every wake, a groan with every tie up.
Before me, 362 anglers, Pro's and Co's about to live their dream. Once again.
And I'm jealous.
Not about taking to the inland sea that is Lake Champlain. Might not be enough coffee in Plattsburgh for me to do that this morning.
But for their passion.
But for their desire.
But for their courage.
I'm jealous for all that.
Envious of those who don't have to hang on to the dock that is life.
Envious of those who don't hold the rail.
Scene's of those taking on the waves.
In this weekend's Bass Northern Open, this young man from Belleville, Ontario, Canada came into the tournament ranked Number 2.
When we talked at registration day he talked of confidence, of finally reaching his dream of becoming a "Pro Angler," an Elite.
Curtis finished in 115th place. The dream probably gone for yet another year.
As it will be for most of the guys fishing here this week. 181 dreams. Seven spots to move up to the next level.
A year of sleepless nights for 174. Restless-Bass-Syndrome.
In tournament play there is no place to hide, you get your bag, you stand in line, you walk up on stage for your dreams to be weighed.
Five bass...11 pounds, 7 ounces.
A two day total of 10 fish...22.8 pounds.
For the world to see, via a BASS camera and the internet.
Curtis Richardson stood strong on the stage, smiled, said all the right things, a cover-child for the sport, and then walked off with an empty bag, and hopes.
Waiting at the bottom of the stage, a reporter locked and loaded with pen and paper.
I think I asked all the questions I was supposed to, which basically came down to this: "What happened."
I wrote down some of what he said, "All week I have been following the bait fish because the Bass were all over them. The last two days, the bait fish where still where I marked them, the Bass...,"
Gone. As was the reality of making the Elites this year.
At the bottom of those stairs all I could do was ask questions, never answer them for Curtis, not my place to give rather than just take.
Now's my place.
Stand tall dude, forever tall, as you are doing what you love, what you may have been put here all along to do.
For you have let go of the rail.
Those still hanging on are envious of you, those still hanging on wish they were you.
115th place or not.
You are in the game, off the dock, chasin' not waitin'.
The Godspeed moments of your life.
I say this knowing that at some point in time we all will know this young man, because as he left the interview, he looked down at me, smiled, caught the swagger once again, and quoted an Elite. Mike Iaconelli:
"You know what Ike says, 'Never give up, NEVER give up."
And Ike is so right Curtis my friend.
Never Give Up.
Let go the rail.
An Elite Pro who has been fishing tournaments since he was eight, 37 years now. Charlie figures he's on the water 280 days a year fishing some 50 tournaments around the country.
"At home I've got this big map of the United States up on the wall and once I fish a lake I take a yellow highlight marker and color it in. Probably got a thousand lakes colored in by now."
And here's why I'm jealous of Charlie Hartley...this one thing he told me, I wrote it down so as to not mess it up.
"db, you know what, I love every bloody second of it, every one. Fishing, just love it."
You can tell, I have no idea how old Charlie is, probably at least as old as my creaks and pains, but it wasn't his chronological age talking, it was his Curtis age.
When Charlie spoke of fishing, he was young. Forever young.
To do what it is you love, is a gift, a gift of youth, of hope, of not holding on.
Early last night K-Pink came over to the db/bb/rv and we sat and talked across the slide-out, and I told him of both my conversations with Curtis and Charlie, and this is what K-Pink said:
"My daddy once told me that he didn't care what it was that I was going to do with my life as long as I loved what I did. If it was digging ditches or laying bricks, if I loved it, he would be happy for me, and I would be happy for it."
Wise man that Sr-Pink. And to my children, Ashley and Jimmy, if I have not told you that before, I'm telling it to you now.
Let go the rail my children.
Let go and go with what you love.
Things happen, and when they do, you usually end up in the service yard.
Turns out, it's the corner bar without the suds.
I spent about four hours in it wandering among the boats in various stages of fixin' all the time trying to figure out where I would find my next story.
Seems I was in it. The story was all around me. Duh!
The more I look for these things, the less I find them. My editors tend to cringe when I answer their question of, "So what's up, what are you working on."
Not exactly a confidence builder on the editoral desk, but I've come to learn, the least I plan, the better my planning turns out to be.
All around me guys from the Opens talking with the Elite Pros...and the Pro's were not only talking back,but giving tips, and in some cases actually climbing in the Open's boats and helping them fix things.
It was a 250hp backyard fence.
Woodstock without the music...or haze.
It was Fish Tales in the field. Most of which came from Charlie Hartley.
"db one time I was fishing and I tossed the bait in the water put the rod down for a second, and wouldn't you know it, bang, the fish hit the bait and took off complete with the rod and reel. I yelled to my boater to mark the spot and all he could grab was the anchor, so he throew that overboard.
So I'm thinking that's brand new equipment going under there, so I jump in, and the water is freezing, and I'm out like a flash. I tell the guy, dude pull up the anchor and we'll come back later, and as he does, up comes my rod and rell with the Bass still hooked.
The fish had fought so hard to get away that it tangled itself around the anchor line, so I got the equipment back, and the fish."
I wrote it down so I take that story to be pretty much fact based,
"My In-laws live down in Florida with some ponds nearby, and every night I go out and hammer the ponds, catch after catch. Well when me and Tracey (Charlie's wife) leave the last thing I do is go to a bait store and buy a couple buckets of real live shiners. I figure I've been teasing those fish in the ponds for so long with plastic bait, that I always just toss in a couple of buckets of real bait for them to feast on as a way of saying thanks…and fattening them up for the next time."
And the Fish Tales went on and on with tips and advice thrown out to Pro's and Open guys alike…."You might want to try a tube, worked for me." I knew that was important because a couple of Open guys standing there had that, Oh-My-Gosh-I-Just-Got-A-Real-Tip-From-A-Pro look on their face, and they didn't have to ask him to sign a hat, or pay money and wait in line at some convention center to get it.
In a field above the lake, Pro's and those hoping to be, stood together as bud's, givin', takin', learnin'.
In the sunrise of a day removed from the dock and the field of Bass Dreams, one thing, one phrase, stands out from all others. I was leaning up against Charlie Hartley's boat, and he was readying his bait for yet another day of, "at 'em."
Behind me, K2, K-Pinks wife was catching rays in the back of the pink truck. Next to her an Open guy was getting advice on how to fix something in his boat's cockpit, a Pro's feet the only thing I could see dangling in the air as half his body was stuffed under the dash trying to help the guy put his boat together.
Over beyond that, an Open guy was jacking up a boat trailer helping a Pro change a tire.
On his boat Charlie was telling me about how he usually prepares for the next day, "In a car wash...it's long enough for both my truck and boat and it's protected from the rain or the heat…works great, even some local guys come by and talk."
And as I start to write that down, Charlie stops putting his tackle together, pours a cup of coffee out of a well used thermos, opens a bag of chips, and from his perch looks around the field and out to the lake beyond.
"You know db, I've got to tell you, if I could be anywhere in the world…THIS is right where I would want to be. I just bloody love this."
Which is what happens when you let loose the rail.
See you at the Elite Post-Season
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.