Long list of bad choices

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Dalton Tumblin

It’s hard to pick just one. When you’ve made as many bad choices as I have on the water, picking the “baddest” is no easy feat. For the record, this is not a subject on which I dwell. Too much time spent considering my failures would require a level of introspection that is not only uncomfortable, but would likely conclude with a doctor-ordered mental health assessment. Still, I couldn’t help but ponder a couple of moments of my own that I’d like to redo.

Two years ago, I was the boat captain for my son, Austin, and his partner, Zach, for a high school bass tournament. We were running late to the launch, so I didn’t stop and get my traditional extra-large cup of coffee (cream, no sugar). When we arrived, all the other boats were in the water. I zipped around the launch; the kids jumped in the boat. I put the plug in, unhooked the nose from the trailer and dumped them in the lake. Man, it was smooth. Took all of 2 minutes, 15 seconds. No doubt the onlookers were impressed by our flawless execution.

Because of my tardiness, I had to park about a mile away from the ramp. So, it took a few minutes for me to get back to the kids. As I neared, I could hear my son screaming something that I couldn’t make out. “We are singing!” I thought I heard him yell. Good for you, little fella! I was just about to break out into a tune of my own when I heard him better: “We are sinking!”

I ran down closer to make sure I heard him properly. I did. There was already a couple of inches of water in the floor, and that measurement was increasing. So, I ran back to the truck, zipped back around and slid the trailer in the water. I jumped in the boat — water was up to my ankles — and put her back on the trailer. After I pulled the boat out of the water enough to start draining the hull, I realized my mistake. I put the plug in the hole for the livewell, not the drain. And all 200-plus boats waiting to blast off had front-row seats to my titanic mistake. So, if I could go back and do it all over, I’d make sure I stopped for that cup of coffee.

Back in 1999, I had the chance to fish Lake Fork with local legend Mark Pack. The first place we stopped, I got bit on my fourth cast. Seemed fairly insignificant. I set the hook, and the fish was coming in without fuss. “Do I need to get the net?” Pack asked. “Nah, little fellow,” I replied. As the fish surfaced next to the side of the boat (I can still picture it to this day), its mouth opened wide enough to put my head in. It jumped once, boatside. As Pack leapt from the front deck to get the net, I pulled the fish to the surface just long enough to watch the jig fall out. As it slowly swam away, Pack thrust the net towards the beast a moment too late. “Holy cow! That sucker was well over 13 pounds!” I simply sat down and quietly wept. If I could do it all over, I’d have pushed Pack into the lake for estimating its weight out loud.

Of course, there was the time in 2005 when I fished Lake El Salto and was in too big of a hurry to retie and watched a double-digit fish jump 20 yards away and break my line. The first time I fished Mille Lacs, I put too much pressure on what would easily have been my personal best smallmouth and ripped the little drop-shot hook out of its snout before getting my hands on it. In 2015, I flippantly declined a trip with smallmouth guide Chris Noffsinger out of Traverse City. He landed a 32-pound limit of brown bass that day. Unfortunately, I could go on. Instead, I’ll look up recommendations for a good therapist.