When my best friend from college, Marcia Darnell, called me a few months ago and said she was interested in being a Marshal at a Bassmaster Elite Series event this year, I immediately encouraged her to sign up for Lake Oahe in South Dakota.
Neither of us had ever been to the area, and we both wanted to see Mount Rushmore. I knew that spending the day watching a pro catch smallmouth would mean never a dull moment, and I also figured a June tournament in this part of the country would be gorgeous weather.
Marcia lives in Opelika, Alabama. We met when I was at Auburn University. Marcia had opened a restaurant while she was in college, and I worked for her. We’ve been fast friends ever since. I know her to be very smart, naturally curious and inquisitive, and extremely easy going—nothing ruffles this chick.
Marcia is adventurous and loves to travel. She graduated high school early so she could go live on a kibbutz in Israel for a year. She’s traveled to Greece, Australia, Panama, and a host of other countries, most recently Africa in February. She never uses a travel agent, never goes with a group and never uses a tour guide. She prefers to strike out on her own and find her own way.
Marcia knows that it’s the mishaps in travel that lead to the most interesting experiences. Good stories seldom come from an organized tour.
So in spite of the fact that she has never been in a bass boat and has never caught a bass, I knew being a Marshal would likely lead to a good story for her that could be told and retold for years to come.
The day before we were to travel Marcia called me to see if she needed to pack anything special. I asked her if she had a rain jacket, and she said, “Oh yea, of course I packed a raincoat.”
I tried to explain that there was a difference between a raincoat and a rain jacket, but she assured me her raincoat was fine. I said, “Marcia, if you bought your raincoat at a mall it’s not what you need. I have a rain suit with bibs I’ll pack it for you.”
But Marcia, being the easy going, low maintenance traveler she is, insisted I didn’t need to bother.
I also suggested bringing a warm layer, like a fleece or a hoodie. She said, “Have you looked at the forecast? It’s going to be in the high 80s! The weather will be incredible, I don’t think I’ll need that.”
I should have packed the bibs and the fleece, but I didn’t. I later felt guilty and lamented what a bad friend I was.
On the day of registration, we got up at 4 a.m. (good training for tournament take offs) and drove over to Mt Rushmore. It was a blue bird day, with a light breeze and about 72 degrees. Couldn't be more perfect.
This was going to be fantastic.
Marcia asked me lots of questions about what to expect. She studied the official Elite Series rules and had even researched many of the pros and knew their stories. She was excited to find out who she would be paired with and had a nervous energy about what tomorrow might bring.
When the pairings were sent out we excitedly read that Marcia had been paired with Gerald Spohrer, from Gonzalez, Louisiana. I didn’t know Spohrer personally, but had only heard great things about him. This is his sophomore year as an Elite angler, everyone who had worked with him had only the most positive things to say about him, and he had been fishing really well. It would be a great experience.
Marcia and I made a run to Walmart for water, and a PFD. I asked her if she had sunscreen and bug spray. I had heard the black flies were out up here and in spite of the fact that Marcia wasn’t concerned about bugs and said she never burned in the sun, I made her buy some.
I suggested we get some cheap sunglasses because I noticed she had brought her $900 prescription Tiffany shades with the iconic Tiffany blue trim. She was genuinely confused about why I would even ask. When I said, “You might lose them”, she blew off my concern. I could tell she was thinking, Geez, I guess I know how to not drop my sunglasses.
As we drove out to the ramp at 5am I ran through all of my advice for her again. Don’t talk to the pro too much, this is his job and he’s fishing for $100,000. If it were anywhere near possible that you’d have the opportunity, you wouldn't quiz Justin Verlander on why he was throwing a curveball in the middle of a game.
Don’t open his livewell. Don’t monkey with his equipment. If he has a fish on and starts coming toward the back of the boat, stay low and get out of his way. When you’re running, take your official B.A.S.S. Marshal hat off. And when you get in the boat, find the passenger seat handles and hold on.
One of the last things Marcia asked me before she jumped in the boat with Spohrer was, “Why does everyone keep telling me how to hang on?”
I waved goodbye from the dock like I was dropping my first kid off at preschool.
Cell service is spotty at Oahe and Spohrer fished in a spot with no service. So I couldn’t check on them all day. I refreshed BASSTrakk every 15 minutes hoping they had moved to a spot with coverage, but it never happened.
I watched the radar and was worried when a small storm blew across the lake. I knew that even if it’s 70 degrees, when you’re on a huge reservoir, the water temperature also cools the air and if you get wet, you’re liable to not dry out for hours and being cold and wet is no fun in any way.
I was backstage when my phone finally rang and Marcia let me know she was in the crowd. I told her where to meet me and rushed out into the crowd to find her.
There she stood, with her hair all over the place looking like she’d ridden out a hurricane. The Tiffany sunglasses were listing to one side and her cute leather handbag was water stained. She was sunburned, wind chapped and slightly slumped over.
Her first words to me were, ”It. Was. Brutal.”