It’s even worse if you fish for a living. I’d like to take a poll of the 100-plus Elite Series pros and find out how many births, weddings, graduations and other family events they’ve missed. The number would astound you. I’m sure each of them has an estranged friend or family member who resents that they “couldn’t just miss one little tournament” to come to little Susie’s ballet recital or cousin Bubba’s third wedding, but at this level there are no mulligans, no TV time outs, no injured reserve list. Yes, you can take a year off for a demonstrated medical hardship, but unlike in the other major sports, that comes with a salary of approximately zero.
Earlier this year, there was much gnashing of teeth over the decision of New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy to take time away from the team to attend the birth of his first child. No matter which side of the issue you come down on, the bottom line is that the Mets had another infielder to take his place during the gap. If a pro angler’s wife were giving birth during an Elite Series event and he wanted to be there, he can’t just call up the Lane family and see if they have another brother willing to step in for the week. You have to make your choices and live with them.
A few years ago, I spent a practice day on the Potomac River with an FLW pro. In the early afternoon, he asked if I’d mind coming off the water a little early so he could head home to North Carolina for his daughter’s high school graduation that evening. I asked if it bothered him that he’d have to miss the next day of practice. “I’m not missing it,” he replied. The plan was to drive the six hours home, attend the ceremony and the party, then hop in the truck before the seat got cold and drive back to Maryland, just in time to launch the boat. At the time, it seemed like a selfless, Solomonic decision, but I’m not sure I’d feel the same way about it if he’d fallen asleep at the wheel and seriously hurt himself or others.
I don’t know what the solution is to this conundrum. No one forced the anglers to pursue this as their profession – they all knew what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line. B.A.S.S. used to allow for a “drop” tournament over the course of a tour season, but that created certain perverse incentives that meant that the best anglers weren’t always competing at the end of the year.
Short is currently 44th in the Toyota Angler of the Year race, coming up on a portion of the schedule that you’d expect to treat him well. In particular, looking ahead to Dardanelle, if there are any Elite pros who’ve fished there more than K-Pink, you can count them on one hand. He needs to get back to the Classic. He needs to get to the postseason event in Escanaba. More than that, though, he needs to get the foundations of his life in order and make sure that his property is shored up and his 80-something-year-old father is in the best possible shape. Even if Short returns to Toledo Bend this week to fish, it will likely be with a heavy heart and concerns other than what size slip sinker will provide the best rate of fall.
As I write about fishing week-to-week, it’s easy to see the on-the-water decisions and critique them as brilliant, baffling or chokeworthy. What’s hard to see is the external factors that influence those decisions, the family matters and life issues that may complicate or cloud the process. I hope that going forward I am able to separate the two, writing knowledgeably about fishing strategy and tactics, while also recognizing that these are real live human beings with feelings and motivations that aren’t always abundantly obvious.
Most of all, I hope that my friends Kevin and Kerry Short get things in order and remember that the fishing community is there for them. Every one of us – whether it’s a fellow Elite pro, a pro angler’s wife, or just a weekend club-level duffer – knows the sacrifices that they make to be out there. When it’s good, it’s very good, but there’s lots of slogging through the rough to get to those occasional clear spots.