Ken Cook won the 21st Bassmaster Classic. George Bush and Dan Quayle were in the White House. Metallica's "Enter Sandman" was on the radio. I graduated from college and cut off my sweet, long, rockstar hair, knowing I was going to have to start thinking about a real job. It was 1991. A pretty girl named Julie had most of my attention. I say most because I also have a very distinct memory of staring at another face. I remember looking deep into her giant buggy eyes, studying her oversized, cavernous, bright red mouth. In stark contrast to the delicate, curvy Julie, this one was stick-straight and hard as nails. The first time I had seen her she was lunging and sashaying across my TV screen in a seductive dance that only she could do.
"I'll bet the boys are gonna love you," I thought. "And the big girls aren't going to be able to leave you alone!"
Suddenly she disappeared in a violent, frothy spray as a giant largemouth bass swallowed her whole to end the commercial.
Actually, I have a very specific memory of the first fish I caught on that old, bullfrog colored Chug Bug, and Julie was there. We were just dating at the time so she was still trying to impress me and agreed to join me fishing the shore of a small local pond. I was never terribly smooth with the ladies, so it hadn't occurred to me that this may not exactly be the best plan for a date. In any case, there we were – the three of us – me, Julie and my new Chug Bug.
Having seen the TV commercial dozens of times and not really understanding much about fishing, my confidence in this untested lure was high. I remember making a long cast to the far outside edge of the thick weeds that lined the shore of the entire pond. I remember being unsure how I was even going to work this bait. Fortunately, it didn't matter because the second it touched the surface, a 17-inch largemouth blasted it! It was magic! I remember in that magical moment that Julie smiled and congratulated me.
In the years since, Julie has stuck with me and so has that lure. I've come a long way as an angler. I've spent thousands of hours on the water and thousands more studying and refining my approach. I've collected and tested more topwater lures than I can name. And all the while, that Chug Bug – that exact Chug Bug – has remained in heavy rotation.
I, and many of my closest friends, now know that lure as the Money Chug. We called her the Money Chug because she earned more than her share of checks on otherwise slow tournament days. In fact, for the past several years, Money has been reserved for tournament days only in an effort to prolong the magic. I have owned dozens of other Chug Bugs, but none of them got the job done like Money.
Maybe there's something unique about the exact cup shape of its chugging mouth. Maybe the rattle or the shape of the rattle chamber emits a slightly different frequency than other similar models. I don't think it's the color, because as the years have rolled on, most of the paint has been sanded off by countless bass and their abrasive lips. I think the most likely explanation is that I'm comfortable and confident when I throw that lure. Money and I have made a lot of great memories together, starting with that first fish.
Now it's 2013. The sun is rising on a brisk September tournament morning as I race down the river with my 11-year-old daughter, Megan, in the passenger seat. It's her first tournament. I flash back to the shore of that little pond where I stood with her mother 22 years ago. Back then, I doubt I could have pictured my life in 2013 but now that I'm here I wouldn't change a thing. I can't adequately describe the rush of nostalgia, excitement and pride I feel as I hop to the front deck, deploy the trolling motor and grab my trusty topwater rod. Everything about this moment seems so right – just me, my girl and of course, my Money Chug.
I quickly survey the conditions, the current, the eddies and the shadows, then pick the spot for my first cast. But I remember I will need to coach my rookie partner. I'm eager to give her my attention and delighted that I have hers. I describe the shape of the wing dam and explain where and how a predator will use this spot to their advantage. For the next several minutes, I'm casting but most of my attention is on Megan's presentation. Luckily, the kid's a natural and soon she's casting like an old pro.
Confident that she's found her stride, I turn my attention back to my trusty topwater bait. But something isn't right. I flick my wrist like I've done a thousand times over the years but, instead of the sharp gurgle and spray I know so well, Money responds with a flat sounding splash. Have I picked up a weed? I snap it again to clear anything that may be clinging to her hooks but there's that sound again. That's weird. I reel in quickly, and after a visual inspection I fire out to the edge of the current break once again. I twitch, and Money just slushes ahead. I twitch harder. Slush. What in the world?
Then, as my precious topwater nears the boat, I realize it's not floating, but instead hanging neutrally buoyant, 2 to 3 inches below the surface. I swing the bait to my free hand for inspection but I already know what this means. Everything looks fine but somewhere along one of her seams, or maybe near one of the hook hangers, the hard plastic has worn thin over time, and she's filling with water. Money has fooled her last bass.
I hesitate briefly but it's tournament day and my new partner is counting on me. I snip the 14-pound-test monofilament and reach for my topwater box. I select a black Chug Bug that has been producing pretty well for me on non-tournament days. With more reverence and sentimentality than I normally allow myself to feel, I gently position my battle-scarred, bullfrog Money Chug in an open compartment of the Plano box, take one last look and snap the lid shut.
The logical part of my brain knows that I'll still catch plenty of fish. I've worked for a long time to become an effective, efficient, rational angler, and I don't believe the magic of a special lure deserves the credit for my successes. But I do give that lure credit for being part of my passion for this activity. As much as I enjoy the act of fishing, I love the memories, the stories, the legacies and the lore that fishing helps me create. The Money Chug is forever part of MY story. Will I miss it? Of course. Will I forget it? Never. I'll never forget standing on the shore with my future wife the day that lure became part of my fishing story. Time has taught me that these stories and memories are the real magic part of fishing. That was the magic of the Money Chug.
A short while later, the water just ahead of the boat erupts as a school of bass violently attacks a helpless school of shad. I fire into the heart of the commotion and snap the rod tip twice causing my black Chug Bug to lunge and splash seductively. Suddenly she disappears in a violent, frothy spray as a giant largemouth swallows her whole. Megan smiles and congratulates me and a new story begins.
Kurt Mazurek is the author of the bass tournament fishing novel, Personal Best: Fishing and Life. It's available as an eBook, a paperback and an audiobook on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and on his website http://www.personalbestfishingandlife.com.