Toho reflections

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. I normally bring a dozen roses to my wife, Debbi, at the office where she prepares taxes for H&R Block.

This year, I waltzed into her office during business hours with my guitar in hand. It was a first. I'm a closet guitar player. I strum with 10 thumbs and have a voice like a bullfrog with laryngitis.

Debbi was sitting behind her desk. When she saw me with my guitar, her jaw dropped from surprise, or maybe it was terror. Hard to tell. I stood before her and stumbled through my rendition of Bob Dylan's, "If Not For You."

Nobody ran out the door screaming, and Debbi wasn't fired, so I guess it could have been worse. My musicality is sorely lacking, but at least the lyrics ring true. They're at the end of this blog.

The bass waters near my Buckeye State home are still locked under ice, but warmer weather has finally melted the snow. I haven't picked up a rod since fishing the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open last month at Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga.

My next tournament, the second Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Norman, happens in late March. It seems an eternity away.

I've been thinking back on the Toho Open, which I fished as a co-angler. You can read about my Toho fishing experiences in my previous blog. But, there's much more to any tournament than what you did or didn't catch.

Every tournament is an adventure. And, since the Bassmaster Opens bounce around the country, each venue presents a vastly different backdrop. Shallow Florida lakes like Toho, with their fields of aquatic grasses, are unique.

I wish my daughter Valerie had been able make the trip with me to Florida. She would have enjoyed the balmy weather and the heady experience of seeing dozing alligators and zipping down boat lanes that cut through thick fields of Kissimmee grass.

Valerie couldn't come because she had started registered nursing classes. She recently passed the state exam to become an official LPN. Hip-hip-hooray!

The people you meet while fishing tournaments are a huge part of the experience, especially the anglers you share a boat with. We have our black sheep, but, overall, I can't think of a better group to hang with. We are brothers and sisters that share the same love of competitive bass fishing.

I was talking with my partner Mark Mauldin of Knoxville, Tenn., prior to takeoff on the first morning of the Toho tournament. He pointed to a fisherman named Ott Defoe in a nearby boat.

"He qualified for the Elite Series this year for the first time, Mauldin said of Defoe. "I expect he'll do well. He's one heck of a fisherman."

Defoe, from Knoxville, Tenn., spotted Mauldin and eased over to us with his electric motor. As he chatted with Mauldin, Defoe fetched a few baits from his boat locker and tied them on.

At age 25, Defoe is tall, lean, and agile. He moves about his boat with such ease and familiarity you get the feeling he practically lives there. He probably does.

I gave Defoe high marks for style. Although style trumps substance in the entertainment industry and with career politicians, it doesn't amount to much in sports.

Substance in our sport is green fish in the livewell. They weigh the same whether you catch them with the grace of a ballet dancer or rumble around your boat like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

Later that day, we came across Defoe while fishing an expansive field of Kissimmee grass with other vegetation mixed in. We were in a boat lane near the shoreline, Defoe was in another lane about 50 yards toward the main lake.

Defoe was slipping along slowly, perched on his front deck and peering into the water for bass beds. As he did so, he was casting ahead to the edge of the grass. His casting motion was deft, sure and effortless.

No question about it, Defoe has style. What about substance?

Defoe showed substance while fishing the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens last year. He qualified for the Elite Series by finishing 13th at Lake Okeechobee, 6th at Smith Lake and 34th at Lake Seminole.

When the smoke cleared after the Toho tournament, Defoe was in 4th place with 61-7 pounds. That's a whole lotta substance.

"If Not For You" by Bob Dylan

If not for you
Babe I couldn't even find the door
I could even see the floor
I'd be sad and blue
If not for you.

If not for you
The night would see me wide awake
The day would surely have to break
And it would not be new
If not for you

If not for you my sky would fall
The rain would gather too
If not for you I'd be nowhere at all
I'd be lost if not for you.

If not for you
The winter would hold no spring
You couldn't hear a robin sing
I just wouldn't have a clue
If not for you

If not for you


Editor's note: Mark Hicks is one of the country's most widely read and respected bass writers. He has penned countless articles for Bassmaster Magazine, B.A.S.S. Times and other publications.

Also By This Author