There are certain guys that most marshals want to ride with. G-Man is one such angler. Gerald Swindle is a great fisherman, but between he and his wife, LeAnn, they can give PT Barnum a run for his money when it comes to promotions. If you follow the sport and have Internet access, there's no doubt you've probably befriended the Swindles in the last few years and been entertained with the endless stream of comedic videos. More than once I've thought Gerald has a second career waiting in the wings as one of the Blue Comedy crew with Larry the Cable Guy or Jeff Foxworthy. In fact, when I got the text message that I'd drawn the G-Man, I texted him saying, “I won tickets to the Improv.” I was prepared for a day filled with humor, and I'm a Southern humorist fan. The CD collection in my pickup features southern humor icons Jerry Clower, Lewis Grizzard, Justin Wilson and Tim Wilson.
As a matter of habit, I usually post who I've drawn on my Facebook page. I figured it would generate some excitement when people who knew me saw I would be out with Gerald Friday on Guntersville. One of my buddies told me to ask him about his Nova. Another one who is a policeman in Tennessee asked for a signed hat that said “To my favorite Pig.” I'm not sure what the joke was in that, but I think it involved a traffic ticket. According to the description of the Nova, I can see why he might have met my policeman friend. Gerald is one of those anglers with a large fan club, to put it mildly.
We met up about an hour later than planned as there was a blastoff delay due to severe weather in the area, and I realized very quickly that Gerald has two personalities. The humorist we've come to know through Facebook and YouTube, and the dead serious angler who knows he has to bring in a good bag today to get paid. As much as some might want to think fishing tournaments at the professional level is about some more lofty aspiration, in the end, the angler invested an entry fee, gas, motel room, food, baits, line and dozens of other expenses. Coming to the next tournament, buying the boss a new pair of shoes and eating involves taking home money when you can. I could clearly tell the chance to take home $10,000 vs. the chance to go home on a credit card trumps comedy.
Sure, the G-Man joked around with a few other anglers, played tunes on his horn as he exited the dock and popped off to a friend who'd walked over to give LuLu a hug. When he sat down on the first hole after blastoff, the jokester personality flipped upside down and the business-like personality of an angler on a mission came to the outside. To be frankly honest, the intensity displayed by G-Man's “Game Face Personality” reminded me very much of Kevin VanDam. I've said before, when Kevin called me to set up our trip on the Alabama River, I realized quickly that I was talking to a different sort of person. Most pros are pretty vague about the details. Kevin went down a checklist with me indicating he'd at least read through the marshal literature and knew the details of who was responsible for ice, time, life jackets and other items. By far, Kevin is the most detail-focused angler I've ridden with. That said, Gerald's on-the-water personality approaches Kevin's.
The expectation for Friday was that the low pressure front moving in would turn the fish on. Gerald weighed in over 19 pounds on Thursday and he thought he would need 22 pounds on Friday to put him in good shape to get paid. As the clock approached 9 a.m., opinions began to shift. Gerald caught two small keepers early in the morning. They would have weighed a little over 2 pounds each. He opted not to put either one in the livewell. After all, to reach 22 pounds, that's 4-plus pounds on average. Even if he lucked into an 8-pounder, to reach 22 pounds that would mean the other four would have to exceed 3.5 pounds on average.
Any of us that fish tournaments know how decisions like that will mess with your mind. Yesterday I rode with Fletcher Shryock and he did not score his fifth fish until around 2:20 p.m. The pressure not having a five-fish limit put on him throughout the day was incredible and very noticeable on the young angler. It was no different with the seasoned pro. I could tell that as the minutes ticked on, Gerald was getting more and more nervous thinking, I could have had two in the box but I have none. Finally he caught a third similar-sized fish and put it in the livewell. It could well be that one of the first two actually weighed more, but putting that first fish of the day in the livewell clearly took a load off Gerald's mind. Still, it was obvious he knew that to get paid he needed some serious weight.
This game is tough on a person's mind, I don't care what anyone else says. Things just aren't as simple as some people want to say they are. The decisions that have to be made are plentiful and the consequences drastic. Do you move, do you stay, do you fish for prespawn or postspawn fish, or do you bed fish? Anglers ask themselves those question time and time and time again. At the professional level, it turns most of their stomacs into knots as they bounce around scenarios in their heads throughout the day.
Personally, I have some experience on Guntersville. That said, most of the time I put in at Waterfront and fish from there up. I have very little experience below Guntersville itself. I was happy riding with Gerald that I got to see some stuff that I haven't spent a lot of time on. He spent about 35 percent of the day below Guntersville. The best fish of the day came sight fishing at around 10:35 a.m. Gerald started the assault on this fish just after 10 a.m. There were jigs, a shaky head and a craw involved. Finally, she surrendered, but not before shaking the patience of BASS's funniest angler.
As soon as Gerald got that 4-pounder in the boat he headed up river toward Goose Pond. On the way he stopped to fish a hump. I looked at the landmarks around it carefully and realized, this is the hump Zell Rowland was telling me about last night. Zell was recanting stories from his two Guntersville wins and how he'd used a Carolina rig on that particular hump to load the boat in order to take that win some years ago. On Gerald's third cast on that hump, he set the hook on a nice fish that would go over 3 pounds. At that point, he was at four fish and gaining a little confidence, although he thought he had around 11 or 12 pounds and had in his mind that he was well short of the 22 pounds he thought he might need to cash a check.
In any fishing deal, when the fish are coming slow, it keeps the fisherman nervous. The fun personality has to be kept locked up until business is done. It was afternoon before Gerald's fifth fish came in and he could let the air out and breathe a sigh of relief. Once you get the fifth fish, obviously the game plan changes. A 2-pounder is no longer desired. What you want to do is cull half a pound or a pound or more at time, increasing your total weight. There is quite a bit of difference in fishing for numbers and fishing for quality. Gerald made a run to a place where he'd caught several good fish in practice and went to work. In a few minutes he set the hook on a fish that he actually never turned its head. The big fish peeled line from his reel like it wasn't there, and G-Man made a good effort trying to turn it without breaking his line. It didn't work out. The fish pulled loose. If it was actually a bass, it was very likely double digits and would have solidified his bag and guaranteed him a check.
When the angler you are riding with loses a fish like that it hurts him and you hurt for him knowing what he had on the line. A fish that size may have put him a good bit further up in the standings and, in the end, meant more Angler of the Year points. I've been with others when they lost big fish. I've got photographic proof of Randall Tharp losing an 8-pounder at BASSfest last year that would have easily made him $15,000 more in the purse. Randy had his hand on that fish twic,e but unfortunately it got off. The same thing happened to Gerald. The fish just got off and it cost him. Maybe significant money, maybe not, but there's no doubt an 8-pound flip on his bag would have put him much higher in the standings and Angler of the Year race.
Shortly after losing that fish, it was time to head to weigh in. On the way, G-Man decided he had about 10 minutes and stopped once again on the hump. He made several casts with his Zoom craw until it was time to go. He said, “One more cast with the Carolina rig and we'll go.” He made the last cast, caught a fish that upgraded his sack a scant few ounces. It was then time to go. Gerald asked me what I thought he had. I'd plugged 15 pounds, 9 ounces into BASSTrakk and told him what I had. Gerald said, “I think it's 13 something, maybe 14.”
Back at Guntersville Landing anglers started filling the weigh-in bags. It was going to be tight, and Gerald was upset with himself thinking the lost big fish would likely cause him to go home without a check. I had some confidence in the values I put in BASSTrakk but BASSTrakk is more difficult than people think. You can't correct yourself, and most anglers don't weigh fish in the boat. You have to guess, and that's pretty difficult. Some years ago I had a friend whose wife wouldn't let him know what she weighed. He guessed her weight constantly. My buddy was a truck driver, and one day took his wife to the coal tipple with him and weighed her inside the truck. To say she was unhappy would have been an understatement. Unfortunately for BASSTrakk none of us have scales. Some get like my buddy's wife when the guess is wrong.
I know a lot of fine anglers went home last night and many of them I know or have ridden with. Still, when you ride with a guy for a day, he kind of becomes the home team to you. The one you pull for at that moment to be successful. Russ Lane, Brandon Palaniuk, Boyd Duckett, Randy Tharp and others I've ridden with, met, or somehow or other know on the circuit all went home tonight.
At the weigh in stage, G-Man resumed the humorist personality and before he got off stage, there was a side bet going on about dinner. Gerald lost the bet, but he made the cut and will cash a check at the end of the tournament.
Congratulations to Gerald on a good run and handling a tough day well.