Virginia co-angler itching to get at Falcon Lake

Fabled fishery has non-boater preparing for bass of a lifetime

About the author

Pete Robbins

Pete Robbins

Veteran outdoor writer Pete Robbins provides a fan's perspective of B.A.S.S. complemented by an insider's knowledge of the sport. Follow him on Twitter @fishywriting

April 1, 2008

 In yesterday's haste to get to bed, I forgot to mention that I finally did get a ride. After asking around over and over and over, it seemed that everyone was jammed and Pete would be sitting on the bank Monday or else visiting some of Zapata's scenic landmarks.

 Luckily, I eventually got in touch with James Niggemeyer, who agreed to take me out, thereby breaking his typical policy of no riders on practice day. Thanks, James.

 For those of you who have never met him, he is one of the most kind, humble pros around. I've interviewed him several times in the past and this year at the Classic. I told him half-jokingly that he's too nice to be a pro bass angler.

 I arrived at his camper at 6:15 a.m., but he wasn't up yet, so I loaded my gear in the boat and hung out for a bit.

 He awoke, came outside and asked if I'd seen any of the rattlesnakes that are typically on the road at night. Not what I wanted to hear — thereafter I became a little more cautious when opening the storage compartments.

 We proceeded to the campground ramp — it had taken Chris Lake 20 minutes to get his boat launched there. Terribly pockmarked and shallow. After a few unsuccessful tries, we made it not too much the worse for wear.

 In deference to my practice and tournament partners, I'll save any info about the fishing until after the tournament is over. These guys work too hard to have me screw it up for them. We were on the water from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. James is an absolute machine and I really enjoyed chatting with him about all sorts of things.

 Without giving too much away, I can tell you the following:

  1. I caught my first Mexican bass;
  2. These are the hardest-fighting fish I've ever caught, bar none; and
  3. Gillnets suck. It would be a shame for them to ruin this great fishery.

 One other odd note — James mentioned what to do if we see killer bees. I thought he was joking. Apparently he was not. Matt Reed told him you'll see them coming (big black funnel cloud), and the key is to get low, and whatever you do, no matter how bad you want to, DON'T SWAT.

 Back at the room by 9, too tired to go out to eat, so we walked into the drive-in next door. Had something greasy, then Clark and I went over to the Holiday Inn to talk with Dave Wolak and Pat Golden. Got back to the room, showered, worked on my tackle a bit.

 Clark still doesn't have a room, so he's crashing on my floor. Yes, Clark Reehm, Elite Series pro, living the dream, using a boat cover as a mattress on the floor of the Falcon Executive Inn.

 He drove all night, fished all day — how does he have more energy than I do? I'm trying to sleep and he's yapping away about crankbaits.

 Thanks for reading. 11 p.m., lights out, Clark is still talking.

 P.S. Forgot to mention, I called Mike McClelland when I got back to the hotel to confirm that we'd be prefishing tomorrow. He said that he left a message middle of last week saying he couldn't, had a long-time friend coming down.

 It struck me as odd since we'd talked on Friday and he said it was fine. I guess there was a miscommunication somehow. He said he'd check with Jeff Reynolds and get back to me either way within an hour, but when he didn't, I had to scramble to get a partner for tomorrow. Luckily, Bryant ran into Marty Robinson, who he'd fished with last year at the Delta, and Marty agreed to take me.

 I thought I had done the boy scout thing and been prepared, but apparently the best laid plans of co-anglers can indeed go awry. I'm batting oh-for-two on prefishing partners, we'll see tomorrow night if it's three strikes and out.

 March 30, 2008

 Waking up was not a problem this morning. Out of bed before the alarm went off at 5 a.m., let the dogs out, cleaned myself up and we picked up Bill and Bryant shortly after 6 a.m.

 Ride to airport — no problem — a rarity for our traffic-congested area. For some reason the United line is super-long before 7 a.m. — and with our rod tubes and 800 pounds of tackle, it's a struggle to zigzag, but we make it to the front with relatively little stress, except for the idiots who ask us if we're traveling with bazookas. You don't joke about that in a DC area airport.

 We get to the gate and there's an announcement that they are kicking people off the plane and will announce who shortly. First time I've ever heard of that. Luckily, they get enough volunteers to get bumped that we're safe. One crisis averted and three hours later we're on the ground in San Antonio.

 Our luggage comes off the belt unscathed, and we head over to get our rental van … strike that, rental mini-van. Yes, we're rolling in a soccer mom mobile. Pretty weak.

 After a stop south of town for a barbecue sandwich (you don't order sushi in Rome, do you?), we're in Laredo two hours later. We buy licenses at Academy and head to Wal-Mart for supplies. Even though it was 77 in San Antonio, it's already 86 in Zapata and supposed to be upper 90s every day we're here.

 The last hour we're not quite sure that we're on the right road, but we roll in and the town is actually nicer than we expected. We zip right by the hotel and hit the two tackle shops in town to further weigh down our "Cadillac of Minivans."

 Oh yeah, we saw Steve Kennedy's contraption fishtailing down the road — motorhome towing a jeep towing a boat.

 Finally, we check in at the semi-spacious, semi-clean, more-than-tolerable Falcon Executive Inn (Executive?). My friend, rookie Elite Series pro Clark Reehm calls. He left Arkansas at 1 p.m., got a flat and somehow ended up in Oklahoma. He's running late, to say the least.

 As it turns out, he arrives at 6 a.m. the next day as I'm pulling out to go fish … which is another story altogether. I had lined up a ride a few weeks back but due to unforeseeable circumstances he has to cancel, so I'm scrambling to find someone else.

 Everyone either declines (do I really look that awful) or has someone with them. A decade ago, you could show up at the lake and get a ride, but due to tightened rules that has definitely changed.

 We go to Pizza Hut and after waiting at the table an hour, Bill and Bryant are served their pizza, but my ziti does not arrive. I hunt down the manager (couldn't find our server) and he tells me they've been out of ziti all day. I storm out to Mickey D's, eat my chicken in the car, and pick up Bryant and Bill as they walk out.

 I need bed. 11 a.m. lights out. Practice hasn't even started and I'm wiped.

 March 28, 2008

 I didn't have work Friday, but I had a bunch of errands to run and writing projects to catch up on, so it didn't really feel like a day off.

 One of those projects was an interview with KVD for the Professional Anglers Association. We traded messages and the end result is that we'll speak tomorrow when he's driving.

 That's one of the cool things about being an outdoor writer, I can still say "I traded messages with KVD" as if it's not a big deal … but it is.

 I also continued the packing and repacking process. I took my duffel out to the garage and added my tackle to the clothing inside. That put me way over the airline's 50 pound limit. How do I know? Because I brought the bathroom scale down, too.

 The problem with that methodology is that if you just put the bag on the scale, you can't see the readout, so I had to weigh myself first, then stand on the scale holding the bag and subtract out my own weight.

 The bottom line is that I'm about 20 pounds heavier than I was when I got married three years ago. I didn't really need to know that as I'm heading to a place where there probably aren't too many healthy things on the menu.

 Some guys can exercise when they're at a tournament site, but I'm definitely not one of them. In fact, my biggest struggle is usually making it past 8 p.m.

 I finally got the big bag down to just under 50 pounds (without losing any clothing) by moving all of my soft plastics into my carry-on. Lizards and brush hogs may not weigh much individually, but you'd be surprised how much a few gallon Ziploc bags full of them can weigh.

 Then I got nervous about the carry on rules. I know that they don't allow liquids or gels onboard in quantities greater than 3 ounces, but I'm not sure whether worms and such fall into either of those categories.

 I checked the TSA website and there was no mention of soft plastics, so I'm hoping I'm OK. It would be absolutely painful to have all of them confiscated at the X-ray machine.

 Fortunately, Bill Roberts, who's traveling with me, is a Federal judge, so I'm hoping that if they give us any trouble with our tackle he'll try to exert a little muscle on them. You'd never know he was a Federal judge when you first met him. He's more likely to talk about heavy metal than res judicata.

 It's pretty funny when he tells one of his fishing partners what he does, you can see them stiffen up immediately.

 Last year at the Delta he fished with Greg Hackney on the third day. While waiting to blast off, Denny Brauer and I idled over and when the topic of Bill's profession came up, Greg sort of got that googley-eyed look that you see on TV when he catches a big fish. Bill said that it actually broke the ice between them, so that was good.

 Since I was at home all day, I got a better insight into what my dogs do between the time I usually leave at 7 a.m. and the time I get home at 7 p.m. I always assume that they sleep a bit, get up, get a drink of water, and then find a new place to sleep.

 But we live on a busy street, and about every 15 minutes when a large truck or fire engine goes by, or some other noise occurs, they go crazy barking at nothing.

 The Australian Shepherd goes to whichever door is closer to the noise and growls, and the Pug follows her lead and hops around as if she could do anything other than lick an intruder to death.

 At about 5 p.m., Riley, the shepherd, kept up the barking for an unusually long time. When I went to check what was going on, it was my good friend the UPS man. I had ordered some line and other supplies from PRADCO last week, and had assumed that they wouldn't be here in time for Falcon, but they got here today.

 Now I have to unpack some of my big bag, take out the old line and replace it with the fresh stuff. I have a feeling this is going to continue until the last possible minute.

 March 27, 2008

 I managed to weasel my way into dinner with Alton Jones, Judy Wong and their families on Tuesday night.

 I work only two blocks from Old Ebbitt Grill, where they had a reservation, and my good friend Aaron Hobbs of the Congressional Sportsmens Foundation organized the dinner and invited me. Bassmaster editor James Hall and Sam Eifling (who works for some guy named Bowman) were also there.

 If I weren't already excited about Falcon, spending time with those two champions would have put me over the top.

 The only downside is we're in the off-limits period, so I couldn't talk to Alton at all about the fishery, which was frustrating. With gas near $3.20 a gallon around here, I did talk to Alton about what the pros are likely to expect from their co-anglers in terms of gas money.

 I certainly don't want to get labeled as the amateur who didn't properly compensate his partner. With five, maybe six days on the water, that means bringing a fair amount of cash.

 The whole gas thing really hit home for me on Monday when I decided I "needed" some last-minute supplies for the trip: It was actually cheaper to order the items from Bass Pro Shops with three-day shipping than driving the 90 miles roundtrip to the store to get them.

 Besides, there's nothing better than a visit from the UPS man or FedEx guy. That package will be there tomorrow.

 When I got home from the dinner, there was an extra-heavy Kistler flipping stick I'd ordered last week waiting for me. I had panicked that my regular heavy broomsticks wouldn't be able to handle some of the Falcon toads and decided it might be necessary to go big — or go to the scales fishless.

 Of course, each new purchase means more luggage. The folks at United only allow us one 50-pound bag in addition to the rod tube, so as I add new baits and terminal tackle, I'm starting to wonder if I can reduce the amount of clothing I can bring. I really need to start whittling down everything.

 March 21, 2008

 T minus a week and counting: That's when I'm heading to Zapata, Texas, and Falcon Lake for the Lone Star Shootout.

 I'm fishing the amateur side of the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. It'll be the sixth such BASS event I've fished — two on the California Delta, two on Toledo Bend and one on Guntersville.

 If you'll notice, none of those bodies of water are anywhere near my Virginia home. That's the great thing about fishing one of these events — I get to go to some of the crown jewel bass fisheries and fish with the best anglers in the world. Typically, they come before my local tournament season starts and it's a great way to jump-start the year. I've been pumped up about this all winter long.

 I've always been careful to avoid events that are likely to be primarily sight-fishing tournaments. I've heard that won't be the dominant paradigm at Falcon — keeping my fingers crossed on that front.

 Last year, I traveled to Stockton, Calif., with friends Bill Roberts and Bryant Copley and it was an amazing trip. While none of us threatened to win, we all made the cut.

 On the first day of his first-ever BASS event, Bryant drew out with Rick Clunn. Bill lipped two 10-pounders for Aaron Martens. I practiced three days with Kevin VanDam and drew some guy named Denny Brauer on Day Three of the tournament.

 Sure, it's a little pricey to get out there, but what would you have to pay on eBay for a trip like that?

 Bill and Bryant are much more accomplished anglers than I am, so that puts additional pressure on me to not make any mistakes. The two of them can catch fish out of parking lot mud puddles, so even with a good draw I need to be on my game.

 We're all aware tournament day is pretty much luck of the draw in one of these tournaments, so we've made a point of setting up pre-fishing opportunities with some great anglers. (More on that later in the week.)

 With five or possibly six days on the water, there's a good shot at least one or two of the days will be superlative: I hear they grow big down there and I'd like nothing more than to return home with sore thumbs, memories of big fish and possibly a check.

 Today, I spent about two hours sorting soft plastics, trying to figure out what I'll need. I have a whole wall of pegboard in the garage and it was painful to cull which baits go and which won't (I think I'll leave clothing at home before I get rid of some of my "must-haves").

 If I end up bringing just one bag of a staple — or leaving it out altogether — it'll mean scrambling to get some at the local tackle shop … if they have any.

 But who am I kidding? I'm going to spend plenty of time and money at the shop(s) down there, anyway — I'm an absolute sucker for new tackle.

 I also spooled up a bunch of braid. The only applications I use it for around here are throwing frogs and toads, or flipping the mats on the Potomac. I'll definitely need to get used to it for other techniques during the practice day.

 You don't want to be testing out new equipment and techniques when you have a chance at the bass of a lifetime.

 I've been to Texas a number of times, but never farther south than Austin. I have a feeling this journey to the Mexican border is going to have an element of culture shock that I haven't experienced at any of the other lakes.

 Real Mexican food, for one … the type we don't get up here in our area.

 But I plan to be pretty careful with that — I don't want to mess up some pro's day on the water because I need a trip to the bank to do my business.

 On top of that, I have a feeling the banks at Falcon are swarming with critters that bite and sting — having the potential for extreme discomfort (and embarrassment).

 Pete Robbins is a frustrated attorney who dreams of pursuing a full-time career in the fishing industry. In the meantime, he tries to satisfy his need to be around the tournament scene through a second career as a freelance outdoor writer. A self-described tournament junkie and tackle addict who calls the Potomac River his home water, he resides in Vienna, Va., with his very understanding wife Hanna and their two dogs, Riley and Cookie.

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