ZAPATA, Texas — What we were going to do on our day off was obvious after Thursday's weigh-in at the Bassmaster Elite Series Lone Star Shootout at Falcon Lake. It was as obvious as the 42-pound, five-bass limit Aaron Martens weighed in that day.
When Terry Scroggins caught another near record-breaking 44-4 limit Sunday, we were already deep into plans for our "Day on the Lake" Monday. The "we" in this case included ESPNOutdoors.com photographers James Overstreet, Larry Towell and yours truly.
Just after the last photos had been sized and cropped, and the last story written and filed late Sunday night, it sounded like a couple of big raccoons were going through the trash cans outside the rooms at the Oso Blanco Motel. Glass bottles tinkled across the concrete walkway amidst the general sound of scrounging.
Turns out it wasn't two coons but one dog — the Mad Dawg, a.k.a, Towell — proving that old adage about one man's trash being another man's treasure.
Towell had learned this trick while spending weekends during his youth on Greers Ferry Lake. With little money in his pocket and even less fishing tackle, Towell had discovered wherever there's a bass tournament, there is sure to be treasure in the trash cans.
We had tried to prevent this dumpster-diving by asking both Mike McClelland and Jeff Kriet to loan us some fishing tackle for a day. Since we were headed to Del Rio and Lake Amistad on Tuesday for the next Elite Series event, we could return it quickly.
Twice on the Elite Series weigh-in stage, McClelland had talked about how one of his sponsors — Falcon Rods — got its name from the lake that had produced unprecedented pounds of largemouth bass for the pros last week.
McClelland was coming off another $100,000 first-place finish in Florida last month — his third win in the two-plus seasons of the Elites Series. And each of these pros travels with enough tackle to stock the fishing aisles of a Wal-Mart SuperCenter.
Saturday, McClelland said, "No problem," on the fishing tackle request.
The Arkansas pro, with almost $1 million in BASS career prize money had completely forgotten about the common man and was already down the road to Del Rio, as was his roommate, Kriet.
Those boys must have never heard the Mark Twain quote, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel." In our case, it's "Internet traffic in the millions," but, word up, fellas — the general thought remains true.
So there we were, with the Dawg hot on the trail first, going through the trash of the Elite Series pros. Actually, I'd gotten a head start by grabbing a 7-foot, 4-inch Quantum Tour Edition PT rod Sunday afternoon, which had been left outside one pro's room as a 7-foot, 1 3/4ths-inch rod with the top guide broken off.
But the Dawg was diving deep at midnight Sunday. In no time, we had assembled a "plain-O" tackle box: A cardboard box that previously held a new DVD player was full of soft plastic lures and one decent spinnerbait. Mad Dawg's most precious treasure was the windshield from Timmy Horton's boat, which will soon be displayed on the Dawg's mantle at home, like a Bassmaster Classic trophy, or listed for sale on eBay.
You've heard the old joke about a redneck's last words, "Hold my beer and watch this," right?
There's a lot of truth in that joke, as both Dawg and I have survived jumps off bridges over major Arkansas impoundments — mine off the Narrows bridge at Greers Ferry Lake and Dawg's off the Highway 101 bridge over Norfork Lake.
(Towell barely survived his, by the way, leaving the lake on an ambulance "water stretcher.")
A post-tournament celebratory half-case of Lone Star beer (hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans do) primed us older, wiser rednecks into another version of that old joke, after the dump-jumping was done.
It was more like, "Hold my beer while I weld this." We started welding soft plastics together, creating new, unusual and very large fishing lures.
I was talking to Aaron Martens while assembling a story before Sunday morning's Day Four takeoff, when Ben Matsubu got Martens' attention by holding up the biggest Senko known to man.
"No," Martens said in disbelief to Matsubu. "Come on, dude."
"My (co-angler) partner had 30 pounds in the boat yesterday before I got tuned in," Matsubu said. "It's something they haven't seen before."
Matsubu noticed that his co-angler Saturday was using bigger-than-normal soft plastics and wacking bigger-than-usual bass, so he had taken two, fat Gary Yamamoto 7-inch Yamasenkos, cut a half-inch off the front end of each and welded them together with a cigarette lighter.
"I caught an 8-pounder, then a 9, and then a 7-pounder on the next cast," Matsubu said later. "Then I started gluing everything together."
The "street name" for this new creation refers to a specific part of a horse's anatomy. (The second word rhymes with "sock.") But in the interest of invention and formulating lure names that could be used on a family-friendly Web site, Overstreet, Towell and I started flicking our Bics and welding soft plastics. You know, "Hold my beer and watch this."
Thanks to our writer/friend Pete Robbins, who competed as a co-angler in the tournament, our plain-O tackle box included several packages of Senkos he donated to us three charity cases.
Two 7-inch Yamasenkos provided the chassis for each of our inventions. The results were: 1.) "the lobster," which featured a chartruese-tipped, green-pumpkin crawfish imitation added to one end of the 13-inch Yamasenko body; 2.) "the squid," featuring a fire orange-tipped tubebait welded on the chassis; and 3.) "the turkey foot," on which we made a diagonal slice in two discarded Yamasenko tips, then welded them like jet airplane wings on one end.
We then proclaimed ourselves geniuses and went to bed. In the absence of any direct help from the Elite Series pros, Overstreet had called up Women's Bassmaster Tour pro Debra Hengst of San Antonio, Texas, to hook us up with some help. It came in the form of Carlos Olivares, a guide on Falcon Lake and an accomplished local tournament angler, who also owns a lodge overlooking the lake.
We met Olivares at a Zapata convenience store just after 7 o'clock Monday morning. Olivares grew up in nearby Old Guerrero, Mexico. He speaks fluent English, which was good, because we wanted to make sure he understood that we didn't want him to function as a guide: Our purpose was to do a story about whether the average person could come to Falcon Lake, which the pros had just declared "the best bass fishery in the world," and catch fish, too.
All we had in terms of tackle was one rod-and-reel, thanks to the generosity of BassZone.com contributor and former pro Harold Allen, and, of course, our chock-full plain-O tackle box. It don't get any more average than us.
In fact, below-average would be a better description of the three yahoos Olivares was saddled with Monday.
In addition to owning a 20-foot Skeeter bass boat, a 200-horsepower Mercury motor and plenty of top-of-the-line All Star rods and Shimano reels, Olivares is one heckuva nice guy. He was more than willing to let Overstreet man the trolling motor, and see if we could apply what the pros had said about Falcon Lake and produce a successful day on the water.
We still needed one-day Texas non-resident fishing licenses ($15 each) and some tackle, like hooks, weights, swivels and beads, so we stopped at Robert's Fish N' Tackle on Highway 83 in Zapata. Owner Robert Amaya had enjoyed a big week of business thanks to the tournament; his supply of hooks and large soft plastics had been somewhat depleted, but we found everything we needed.
And we were encouraged about our chances when Amaya said, "I could take two 80-year-old men with Parkinson's to Falcon, and they'd catch fish."
We were on the lake by 8:30 a.m. and immediately motored to the opposite side of the cove from the Zapata County Public Boat Ramp, where the daily Lone Star Shootout weigh-ins took place.
The main tactic emphasized by the pros was stay off the bank, keep the boat in about 20 to 25 feet of water and probe 12- to 20-foot depths with Carolina- or Texas-rigged soft plastics.
Overstreet landed a 3-pounder on a Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hawg shortly after we started. I found out why the pros lost so many bass in the submerged trees during the tournament, as the first fish I set the hook on wrapped me in a tree and escaped.
In the next hour we'd all landed a fish and found a fish-catching rhythm in Falcon. Whether with a Texas rig or Carolina rig, you want to be able to feel the rock on the bottom. The fish were stacked up near rock dropoffs or benches, as we call them in the Ozarks. When you found one that dropped from 12 to 20 feet, you were almost certain to find fish.
Four people slinging lead in a 20-foot boat isn't the ideal bass fishing situation. But it's good enough for Falcon Lake.
Most of the morning we threw 10-inch Zoom lizards (watermelon/red and watermelon seed), Zoom Brush Hawgs (watermelon/red), 10-inch Berkley Power Worms (watermelon/red) and Yamamoto 7-inch Yamasenkos (watermelon/red and black) with good success.
Our biggest bass was in the 6-pound range. It didn't take long to realize the fighting ability of Falcon Lake bass, which the pros had raved about all week long.
"I've never seen such a volatile fish in my life," said Paul Elias, who won the event with a new BASS four-day total-weight record of 132-8.
"They fight like a smallmouth (bass)," said Martens, who led for three days before finishing fourth with 129-7.
At high noon, I deemed it time to break out the big guns. On my fourth cast with "the lobster," which measured 15 inches long, I caught a bass that had to be under the 14-inch minimum length limit at Falcon Lake. We weren't keeping fish, but we would have measured it if we hadn't been so caught up in the fact that a bass that small would eat a lure that big.
We'd only burned a couple gallons of gas in going from the launching ramp to a cove located within sight of the Oso Blanco Motel. At 1:30, we decided to motor back to that first stop, fish for another hour and call it a day. The three amigos didn't have much spunk left in them after four days of tournament coverage.
What we did have left was quickly exhausted by Falcon Lake's hard-fighting fish.
It was in the spirit of the scientific method that I decided to finish my day by Carolina-rigging "the squid." After about 10 lobs with this monster rig, it was "fish on."
Carlos Olivares is a great resource for a day of bass fishing on Falcon Lake. He owns the Falcon Heights Motel in addition to the Hascienda Los Olivos Lodge, where he can house anglers for a fishing trip and/or hunters seeking doves, ducks and deer.
You can reach him at (512) 848-5695. Or visit his Web site, haciendalosolivos.com.mx
We were all laughing so hard we almost fell out of the boat before I lipped the 6 1/2-pounder that chomped on "the squid." It should be noted that Olivares was in no danger of falling out of the boat, as he had taken a seat behind the dashboard, safely tucked below the gobs of soft plastic and 1-ounce slip sinkers flying through the air.
Shortly afterward, Overstreet landed the biggest bass of the day — a 7-pounder, which escaped being landed after it came unhooked while Overstreet was trying to get it to jump again for the photographer, Towell.
If you counted that fish, and we did, since we proclaimed it "a gimme" if not for the photography factor, we caught about 30 bass in five hours. They would have given us a best-five weighing about 26 pounds.
"I feel like I've got to catch a minimum of 32 (pounds) to have a shot," said Mark Davis on Sunday morning in assessing his chances for winning the Lone Star Shootout, "because 25 is pretty easy to come up with here."
Yep, so easy three rednecks from Arkansas can do it.
The last time Overstreet, Towell and I had a day to kill between tournaments occurred a month ago in Florida: We spent it by photographing a 2:28 a.m. space shuttle Endeavor launch from Titusville.
With apologies to Neil Armstrong, consider Monday as, "One Bic flick by man. One giant lure for mankind."
When actually on the clock, Steve Wright, James Overstreet and Larry Towell help provide ESPNOutdoors.com with story coverage and photography.