Never forget the tough times

Fishing is not about the money. I have won the eighth-place bag of worms more than I would like to admit. Instead, fishing is about recognizing opportunity. Recognizing opportunities that most of you may not know are in front of you at some point in your life. The opportunities that can lead you to the biggest stage in bass fishing.

When we talked about the rodeo and the mental equivalencies to bass angling in my last column, I didn’t much think of the parallel between my days on the rodeo circuit and the day I decided to get back in a bass boat.

It was 1999 and the late Manuel Spencer, a legend on the St. Johns River, a B.A.S.S. winner and a Classic qualifier, called me and said he needed a partner for a local derby.

That bass boat I bought before I had a truck to pull it was under a tarp in the barn. It had been there for a little over a year. My rods were spooled with rotten line, rusty hooks and chewed up Devil’s Horses, but I knew I couldn’t pass up a day fishing with Manuel. It was an opportunity.

Matter of fact, I had taken a few years off the water, hence the rotten line. My rodeo roots took me to Sperry, Okla., after high school, where I went to horseshoeing school and learned the farrier’s trade. I did that for quite a few years but decided on that cold January morning I was getting back in the saddle … of the boat.

After taking the rotten line off the spools, trading it in for some fresh Seaguar and replacing my aged topwater plugs, I was ready to go. Manuel picked me up, and we headed down to Crystal Cove ramp and launched the boat.

The exhaust of 50 old 2-stroke engines was in the air — it just smelled like a tournament morning. My senses were tingling; it was the opportunity I had been waiting on. The boats began to launch, and I pulled my mask snug over my sunglasses to shield off the cold — readying for our number to be called.

“Boat 27,” the tournament director yelled, and we were off… Well — briefly. Right after the nose of the boat dropped, I found myself in the water.

The boat went right, I went straight. The steering column malfunctioned, and I was in the water, waiving frantically hoping not to get hit by oncoming boat traffic. As you probably could have predicted, the sunglasses and mask combination wasn’t very well thought out.

Thankfully, Manuel managed to stay in the boat and drag me out of the frigid water and back to dry land. You’d thought I would’ve had enough. But after all that time, I was not going to let up. I asked Manuel if he wanted to go back to my house and grab my boat and fish the rest of the day out of it. We did, and then my motor blew up.

After that day, I decided for some reason, “This is what I want to do.” I competed in local derbies for the next few years and after some success, I jumped in the B.A.S.S. Nation competitions in northeast Florida. I was fortunate enough to win the Northeast Florida Angler of the Year Title three years in a row, and I knew the opportunity to pursue my passion on the sport’s biggest stage was real.

An ideal opportunity? Probably not, but it is an experience I will never forget, and I haven’t left my bass boat since.