“My late friend, Sam Ballou, went 38 years catching at least one bass every month consecutively. He caught one the month before he passed from cancer.”
— Skip Walden
(Currently at 13 years of a bass a month.)
Dateline: The dining room table
If you have never given it your all, you’ll never know how much all you’ve got to give.
You’ll never know how far you can reach.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
It’s the worry part, that little voice in the back of our mind that yells, “Can I, can I, can I …” and worse, “But what if I fail … fail … fail … fail.”
I believe that in all of us therein lies greatness.
But we must get out of the way, but we must listen for the whisper that says, “Yes.”
Until you try, you’ll never know how great you can be, you just have to step up to the plate. You can’t hit the ball that ain’t yet been pitched.
Take the chance, listen to your whispers.
And when your chance comes.
“The one of me in the blue hat was the first trip in my plywood Jon boat that my uncle built. It’s on Woods Creek Lake in Kentucky.” — Skip Walden
From now on it’s all Skip, I’ll tell you when it isn’t, once again, in their own words:
“I grew up in Williamsburg, Ky. I started college in Alabama at the University of Alabama because I liked fishing in Alabama. After an argument with an advisor who’d led me down a wrong path I dropped out and went to work. I worked my way back toward home to Knoxville. I enrolled at the University of Tennessee and completed my BS in Agriculture Business.
"I am an Agency Manager for Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance. Second Generation. My dad ran the agency in this county for 45 years until he retired. I worked with him from the time I graduated UT until his retirement. I’ve been here 27 years.
"I am a Mason, I’m a Deacon at Central Baptist Church in Corbin, I’m also a Sunday School teacher.
"My favorite sport is football as embarrassing as Tennessee is currently and has been for 15 years. Growing up, listening to the Knoxville Stations I grew up a Vol fan in Football. There was nothing like John Ward coming over the radio saying, 'Give him six.'
"Being a fan of and fisherman of the Tennessee River, my favorite band is Alabama with the song Tennessee River. Movie would be a tie between Smokey and the Bandit and Lonesome Dove.
"Favorite Book: the Bible. “
There you go, Skip Walden … in his own words.
“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”
— Bill Copeland
There is a moment where all things are possible, a moment where experience gives way to dreams.
It is the float moment, those few seconds while the fishing line hangs in the air, the lure on not yet wet, you’ve let it go and now all you can do is watch and wait.
Your gaze moves slowly down from the line, to the water, and then finally to the spot … the spot where-in the treasure hopefully lies.
It is the moment after the field goal kicker launches the ball towards the uprights.
It is the moment the crack of the bat rockets the ball upwards.
It is the sweet spot where coming out of turn four the racetrack is flat.
How easy it sounds, “To catch a fish.”
How hard it is, “To catch a fish.”
And to do, to stand alone on a boat, be it night, be it day, through rain, wind, sun and snow.
To catch a fish.
Month after month after month.
Year, after year after year.
How easy it sounds, how hard it is.
Meet: Robert Ballou.
“I started my bass a month quest after listening to Sam Ballou and his younger brother Robert talk about it for a few years. That’s me and Robert fishing together the other day. He currently has the longest streak of a bass a month, 42 years and counting currently.”
Forty-two years, Robert there started with his first bass of the month catch in … 1979.
Jimmy Carter was in office, the number one song was My Sharona by The Knack, the number one movie was Kramer vs. Kramer, ESPN launches a 24 hours sports network … the Dustbuster was invented along with the Walkman and the McDonald’s Happy Meal.
“In December of 2006 I was about to close in on five years, one month left, one fish but things went south pretty quick. December is a tough month, not fishing wise, but time wise. Every time you turn around someone has a Christmas play, party, diner, shindig, etc., and I got to go fishing one day that year that month.
"Now, I’m not sure what Sam and Robert’s qualifications are for their bass. Mine are as follows: 12-inch minimum, may be a largemouth, smallmouth, spot, Coosa, shoal, or sunshine bass. Must be caught on public waters, no farm ponds.
"That December in 2006, I caught a 3-inch long bass on the 31st.”
It was a cold day, windy, temp below freezing. Skip was five years into the Bass of the Month Club … 60 months of fishing in all types of weather, all types of things going on in his life.
And there he stood, alone on the front of his boat, the last day of the year, the line went tight, the rod bent some, a smile came over his face … the last day … the last bass of that year … and when he reeled it in …
His rules: “…12-inch minimum.”
… on his line was a 3-inch bass.
“I was cutting it close, and I knew it. I fished hard that day and truthfully on a tough body of water. I just left too many variables open for failure. Then I caught that little fingerling. I just got to thinking to myself there on the water, I can’t count this little bugger. It’s just not right. I just couldn’t bring myself to brag to anyone that this was my December 2006 bass.”
So he threw it back in, and with that splash went his five-year record of one bass a month, every month … including December.
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
— C.S. Lewis
“I have fished since I was 5 years old. I’m almost 53. I can count the times I’ve been checked by a warden on my fingers and have some left over. The long and short, in the outdoors, the ethics are what you do on your own. There are a lot of things sportsmen could cheat on in the outdoors and not get caught by the law, but then they have to sleep at night too. Since that miss in December 2006 I have managed to catch at least one bass a month on my current quest.”
Here’s his January 2021 catch:
Ethics matter, whether it’s outdoors, or indoors, ethics matter.
But the question remains this … why?
Why do this?
“It is more of a pride in my personal goal thing. We all chase goals. I’ve learned the necessity to adapt and make things work. Basically, I’ve learned where there is a will, there’s a way to get it done. You just have to hunt down that way.
"My end goal is to chase down the Ballou boys — Sam and Robert. I’ll probably never make it, but that’s the goal. I’ve said more than once in a goal’s session at work, an easy goal that you know you can make isn’t much of a goal.
"It’s the chase we need. I’m about certain that when that goal is achieved, yet another goal will come along. I’ve always heard the saying, 'Don’t rest on your laurels.' To be honest, I’m not sure what a laurel is but probably another word for achievements. I’ve done 14 years in this bass a month quest, working on 15, and I’m sure New Year’s Day 2022 I’ll be on the water somewhere beginning year 16.
"I guess the biggest thing that chases me in life is failure. I know where my grandparents and parents came from. They worked hard and achieved in life. I don’t want to be the one in the family tree that failed. I want the success they earned. Would I be a failure if I lost out one month on this quest? I don’t think so. I would only be a failure if I didn’t climb back on the horse and resume the chase.”
There sits at twilight one lonely boat bathed in the sunset and the lights of the steel and concrete bridge.
I stand on a rickety dock and I watch the fishing line fly, watch the tiny splash of the Connecticut River, watch the ripples of water slowly come my way.
The birds are quiet, no cars are crossing the bridge, the tiny boat just floats.
Tell me, is it about the fish, or is it about the person in the boat.
As I stand an watch, the boat drifts slowly past me. I can’t tell if it is a man or woman in the boat, can’t tell if the person is young, old or in-between … but as we know down deep inside, none of that really matters.
As I turn to join up with my wife in the parking lot I hear music carried softly by the river waves …
"Sing with me,
sing for the year,
sing for the laughter
and sing it for the tear….”
… and it coming from the small boat that is drifting by.
Aerosmith’s "Dream On" …
… and I smile knowing now that it is about the person in the boat.
May you too dream of great quests.
And may your dreams come true.