Falling off at the James

This was my second shot at a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River. I suffered another knockdown.

I don’t wish to relive my James River disaster with a blow-by-blow account of everything I did wrong. I’m still feeling a little punchy. Let’s just say that the James River has my number and not the other way around.

I’d rather focus on the good stuff, the silver linings that exist even when you bomb while fishing a Bassmaster Open.

One silver lining at the James was the rocket I picked up at the Phoenix Boats plant in Tennessee on the way to Virginia. It’s a Phoenix 721 ProXP powered by a 250-horsepower Mercury Optimax Pro XS. (See it in my photo gallery.)

I’m not a speed demon; I’d be perfectly content if all bass boats were limited to 65 mph.

But if I’m riding a horse that has wings, I’m gonna let it fly.

My GPS clocked me at well over 77 mph while driving the Phoenix alone. It read as high as 75 mph during the tournament with two anglers and a full gas tank. No boat ever passed me when I had the hammer down.

On the second tournament morning, I passed boat after boat on the 30-mile run down the James to the Chickahominy.

I felt like jockey Ron Turcotte in the splendid family movie Secretariat.

In the movie’s final climatic race to win the Triple Crown, Secretariat is charging down home stretch more than 30 lengths ahead of his nemesis, Sham, and pulling away. An astonishing victory is inevitable. The stunned crowd oohs and screams in joyful wonderment.

This is when Secretariat's trainer, Lucien Laurin, overcome with excitement and disbelief at the impossible lead, shouts the movie’s most unforgettable line.

“Ronnie! Don’t fall off!”

I was that guy, Ronnie. My Secretariat was a Phoenix 721 ProXP.

I wasn’t counting how many boats I passed that morning. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get fishing. But my partner, Ronnie Daughtry, was counting. He told me we passed 14 boats.

The brightest silver lining at the James was that my daughter, Valerie, drove from Ohio to stay with me during the tournament. If you read my blog, you know that Valerie is now a registered nurse. She scheduled some of her vacation days to share the James River experience with me.

Valerie is my biggest supporter, and she truly loves everything about the Bassmaster Opens. It’s an amazing thing to have someone at a tournament that shares your hope, excitement and anticipation so deeply.

If you are fortunate enough to have this, count your blessings. It’s as good as life gets.

Since I’ve yet to come close to making the Top 12 cut at a Bassmaster Open, I stayed over and watched the final weigh-in at the Richmond Bass Pro Shops. I was looking for inspiration and a good time. I got both.

The inspiration came from our Wounded Warriors. They fished a tournament that morning. These veterans, who have given so much for our freedom, were taken fishing by anglers that didn’t make the final cut in the Northern Open.

I had offered to participate in the Wounded Warriors tournament, but they already had more than enough volunteers. I’m proud of our guys for stepping up.

The event was an opportunity for the veterans to fish a fun, competitive tournament. It also afforded us an opportunity to show them our respect and appreciation. The crowd gave the veterans plenty of both when they stepped on stage and weighed their bass.

It was uplifting and humbling to see the veterans enjoy the sport we love so dearly. None of this would exist without them.

Between the Wounded Warrior weigh-in and the Top 12 finale, Brian Schram entertained the crowd with raw, acoustic rock. Schram is a fishing guide on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair and a bass fanatic. He competed in the James River Open from a Nitro Z-8. It was his first Bassmaster Open tournament as a pro.

Schram’s repertoire included some of his original fishing songs, including, “Bassin’ USA,” “Takin’ my Girl Fishin’,” and “The Spot Stealing Song.”

The crowd’s enthusiasm peaked when the Top 12 pros weighed in. It got especially loud when Bassmaster veteran Woo Daves, a local favorite, weighed in. He made a strong bid for the title and finished in third place.

It reminded me why I compete. Maybe next time...

BoatUS Insurance

I signed up for BoatUS insurance at the pre-tournament meeting for the James River Open. Every boater should consider doing this.

Jeff Stoner, a friend from Pennsylvania, got BoatUS insurance last year before the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open out of Detroit. He had outboard failure in the middle of Lake Erie and was towed in my BoatUS at no charge.

Had Stoner been rescued by another commercial towing service, he would have been charged thousands of dollars.

“I totally love BoatUS,” Stoner said.

You will, too.

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