"What the heck am I doing out here? These guys are kicking my butt every time."
Those were the thoughts (at least the paraphrased version) going through my head about four hours into the six-hour drive home to Mississippi from the latest Bassmaster Open at Wheeler Lake in Alabama. I'd had a great practice — averaging about 70 to 80 bites a day — and when I checked them, a fair amount of the fish were in the 2 1/2- to 3-pound range. I had been as ready for an event as I had ever been, and here I am driving home on Friday night, again, after not making the cut.
"Man, I suck," was also running through my mind. Twelve seasons fishing the Opens and about all I've managed to prove is that I am definitely not KVD. OK, so maybe I had figured that out before today, but I definitely proved it this week.
Why do I do this to myself? What's wrong with me? Do I have a problem?
Too many questions; too few answers. I'm reminded of a questionnaire I had seen online to determine if you were an alcoholic and I went through a modified version of the questions in my head.
1. Have you ever tried to quit fishing and started back in a day or two?
2. Do you resent people telling you that you fish too much?
3. Do you have to have fishing to get started in the morning?
4. Have there been problems with your fishing in the past year?
5. Has your fishing caused problems within your household or with your spouse in the past year?
6. Do you miss days at work because of your fishing?
7. Do you ever feel that your life would improve without fishing?
Hmm, if I remember correctly, answering yes to four or more questions means you have a problem, so seven out of seven confirms it.
I have a definite problem. That last question — would your life improve without fishing? — is the one that intrigues me. What would life be without fishing?
Well, to start with, there might be some money left in the bank at the end of the year. Let's add it up — entry fees, tackle purchases, motels, fuel, boat payments ... on second thought, let's not add it up. After all, my wife will eventually read this, and a little mystery in a relationship is good, right?
Let's just say I'd certainly spend less money during the year. There'd also be a lot more time available for all those projects at the house I've been putting off for while. I could even use some of that available time for work, but let's not get carried away here.
I could travel some, but wait a minute, that's part of the problem with tournament fishing. I'm on the road all the time. I've already been to almost all of the places I'd ever wanted to go.
So what am I getting out of this deal, other than the constant confirmation that I don't have the abilities of KVD, Ike or a host of lesser names? Well, let's see. OK, there are the sponsorships. I get to run new equipment almost every year, although I do have to work for that — shows, sales and test rides. But, hey, that's talking about boats and fishing, and I do that every day for nothing anyway. And the people at those companies are great. BassCat really feels like a second family. Mercury and MotorGuide have always been there when I needed something. Lowrance makes you feel like they appreciate everything you do for them and Costa del Mar helps every year with door prizes for some of the events I work.
What else? OK, how about the great places I get to go. I've fished the clear water at the Thousand Islands in New York; seeing those huge smallmouth crush a big spinnerbait makes the 1,450-mile drive each way worth the trip. Then there's learning about tidal waters at the Potomac River, sight fishing at Santee Cooper, leading the second day at Sam Rayburn before falling to eighth on the final day. At Amistad I must have had 70 bites a day on topwater baits. At Lake of the Ozarks I wore out four buzzbaits in six days and fished in the worst snowstorm I've ever seen.
I'll never forget sitting out fog delays at Eufaula and Texoma by swapping fishing stories — mostly lies — with a group of fishermen. Toledo Bend, Table Rock, Harris Chain, Okeechobee, the St. Johns River, Ross Barnett, Red River, Seminole, Kentucky Lake, Norfolk, Guntersville, Texoma, Lanier, Pickwick, Ouachita — the river and the lake — Fort Gibson, Old Hickory, Arkansas River and Lake Martin are just a few of the places that tournament fishing has taken me. The list goes on and on. How many fishermen can say they've been to that many different lakes?
What else? Oh, yeah, the people I've met and become friends with. They range from pros who I fished with, back when BASS paired pro on pro, and co-anglers that have fished with me to a guy I met in a Louisiana Wal-Mart parking lot on the way home from a tournament who I talk to at least once a week now. I've got friends in South Dakota, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Louisiana and everywhere in between, none of whom I would have met without tournament fishing. My cell phone is filled with numbers that I can call to get a fishing partner for the day or for the week, most of whom share my addiction and all of whom I look forward to hearing from every time the phone rings.
Anything else? Well, I'm somewhat competitive. It doesn't matter what's going on — cards, board games, Jeopardy on TV, walking in the park or working out at the gym — I have to try and win. I don't always succeed (you can check out my tournament results to confirm this), but the competition drives me like nothing else I've ever done. Tournament fishing certainly fits that need, and although I'm still not a good loser (look back at the opening paragraph, if you don't believe me), this game has made me somewhat used to the feeling.
So what now? I've still got that two hours of driving left to do, and what else can I say but, "Hi, my name is Scott, and I'm a bassaholic."
And you know what? I can live with that.