A bittersweet day

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I’m in Columbus. This is a bittersweet day for me. It’ll be sweet because it’s my first Tuesday Night tournament of the season. I’ve been fishing them for 30 years. They’re one of the strongest and sweetest fishing memories I have.

It’s bitter because for the first time in those three decades my friend Ray Patts won’t be there. I honestly can’t imagine what it’ll be like to pull up to the ramp and not see him. If he ever missed a tournament, I can’t remember when it was.

I first met him when I was 14 years old. My mother had just bought me a boat. I was fishing my first real tournament circuit. As far as I was concerned that was about as good as life could get. I can still remember seeing him that first Tuesday evening. He was standing on the ramp looking the part of a man in charge.

You see, Ray was a police officer at the time. He had closely cropped hair, was very neat and proper in his appearance, and spoke in short, to-the-point sentences. He was just what I needed — a no nonsense father figure who was capable of tough love. He ran the tournaments with military precision, always fair and never letting things get out of hand.

Every rule was enforced without regard to who you were, how much money you had or how good of a bass angler you were. He’d settle every dispute with a short pronouncement that we all knew not to challenge. But inside his tough exterior he had a soft heart. He took great pains to hide it, but it was there.

I remember when I qualified for my first state championship event. He came up to me and gave me two of his handmade buzzbaits. They were jewels. Every part was perfect. You could feel the love he had for them when you held one in your hand.

Ray made squeakers, not clackers. They were unique. I’ve never heard a sound quite like what they made as you pulled them across the water.  I have no idea how he got them to do that but I can tell you that when the buzzbait bite was on they were killers. (I wish I had some of them now.)

Those two, simple baits spoke volumes to me. Back in the day, information and secret baits were things that no one gave away. It didn’t happen, even among best friends. I knew we had a special bond when he did that, that he cared about me and that he cared about my fishing.

Now it’s different. There’s real money involved. That changes things. We all have sponsors. We’re paid to give up secrets. It’s a business. There’s more than ego on the line. Unless you lived and fished back in those days it’s hard to appreciate how different it was, or what he was saying when he handed me those two lures.

Advanced age has forced Ray out of fishing and tournament activities. That’s a shame. He was one of a kind. He will be missed.

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