Back when I first started fishing professionally, I wasn't living very high on the hog. My boat was a well-worn 231V Ranger with an equally well-worn 115-horespower Mercury motor to push it along. My tow vehicle — as well as my hotel room, bed and kitchen — was an old, battered 2-door 1972 Pontiac.
In May of 1985, I fished my first BASS professional tournament on the Tennessee River. I couldn't have been more excited. There were cash prizes totaling over $100,000, not to mention a new Ranger bass boat waiting for the guy who caught the biggest bass.
On the first day of the tournament I started fishing where I knew I could catch a few keepers — nothing big, just something to keep me in the hunt. After a few casts, however, I hooked a really big fish. When I got it to the side of the boat I realized I had a giant on my line. The fish was at least 12 pounds — bigger than anything I'd ever dreamed of catching.
As I looked at her I was already dreaming about my new boat. Things were going to be different once I sold it. There'd be motel rooms, beds and private showers, as well as the occasional dinner in a nice restaurant.
Unfortunately, my dream didn't last long. As I reached down to lip my future, I watched the hook fall out of its mouth. I stared blankly into the water as that huge bass slipped quietly under the surface and slowly swam away.
I was devastated, completely unable to function. It would be one thing to have never hooked her. A guy can live with that. But to have her against the boat and then see her swim away is another matter. I actually got sick to my stomach.
Worse, I lost all confidence in my ability to fish. Without giving you all the gruesome details about the rest of the tournament, I will tell you I finished in a three-way tie for 114th place. That's a long way from a check and an even longer way from a motel room. It was "Pontiac, here I come."
I still think about that bass, 24 years later, and how much distance there is between then and now. I'm less than $15,000 away from the million dollar mark; I'm sponsored by companies like Early Times Kentucky Whiskey; I've traded my old Pontiac for a fancy truck; and I have a new Triton bass boat. Life is good.
Maybe best of all, I have a motel room and as much good food as I can eat. You'll hear no complaints from me. Still, if I'd boated that fish back in 1985, I'd have ...