Friday, 6 pm. My partner for this particular weekend club tournament was at the ramp, preparing to unload his boat. I, on the other hand, had just loaded mine, after a long 13-hour day—the fourth in a row.
And it was hot. Not just hot—hellishly hot.
A hundred-plus heat index every day, with more of the same on tap for competition.
Enduring this sort of misery?
What can I say? I like to win, and especially this tournament.
Why this one?
Because it’s taking place on a body of water the club’s “Big Sticks” know really well, and because there’s a certain smugness among them for that fact. Arrogance that seems to portend but one conclusion to this particular derby: one of them winning.
It’s a coronation I intended to, disrupt.
So here I am, sun-slapped and soggy from four days of practice in a hellish, outdoor steam room, and I’m watching my draw partner casually organize his gear for a few comparatively brief and more comfortable hours of early evening tournament prep. I had asked him to practice with me. He declined the offer, saying he had few chores to do around the house. Listing the chores, they all had the benefit of air-conditioning, interestingly.
“How many days did you practice?” he asked.
“Four days running,” I said.
He grinned. “So, you’ve got’em figured out.”
It was a statement—a greedy statement, not a question.
“It’s really tough,” I said. “But yes, we’re ready.”
And indeed, the fishing was agonizingly slow, literally as slow as molasses flows in wintertime. The river was extremely low, and miserably hot. There was no water movement. The bass were despondent. Nonetheless, I had found one dependable creek with fish willing to defy the conditions, albeit an extremely conservative defiance. The strategy was simple: hard work, supernatural focus and determination, and copious amounts of hope.
I explained all this to my partner.
“Well, don’t worry,” he said with a reassuring wink. “I know this river pretty good, have some spots of my own.”
And there it is—one of the great injustices of bass fishing competition.
My partner hadn’t prepared at all, had made no investment. Whereas I had not only endured four days in a hellish sauna, but emptied a couple tanks of gas running up creeks and rivers, trying to figure out what to do and not to do in order to win. Yet, now I have to split two, eight-hour fishing days with a guy who hasn’t applied himself, and forfeit control of the fishing to him half the time.
It hardly seems fair.
Correction: it isn’t fair.
And adding insult to injury, my partner isn’t the best fisherman. It’s a nice way of saying: he couldn’t find bass in a barrel. It’s not a knock against him. It’s just a repeatedly proven, and thus demonstrable fact. He’d never won a nickel in the club.
He lacks knowledge and skill, one. He doesn’t adequately prepare, two. And three, despite these handicaps, deficiencies he refuses to acknowledge, by the way, he forces experienced and prepared anglers to cede control of the fishing for half the day.
So, when he shot me the reassuring wink, basically informing me that I was headed for the loser’s bracket, I couldn’t resist the half-eyed stare I shot back.
Even so, I’m a team player. My partner and I talked it over that night. I managed to convince him of my strategy, which we executed the next day to second place in the standings, and to a $500 dollar “Big Fish” reward—my partner’s first check.
In light of our results, I felt even more confident about my area and my strategy. And sitting in second place, and with $500 dollars in his pocket, no less, one would think my partner would feel more confident, too, and that he would be willing to repeat the previous day’s strategy and events.
And he was, initially.
Two hours-in, however, he was complaining—
“It’s sooo hot!”
“Maybe the fish have moved.”
“I think this place is played out.”
The exasperated sighs, the discontent mumbling—it was irritating.
For the record: in four days of hellish practice I never sighed or mumbled once.
Anyway, by 9:30 I’d had it.
He wanted to fish “his water.” So, we fished “his water”—a 35 minute boat ride away, no less. And it was water he hadn’t prepared in, incidentally, and that I actually had, as it came to be known. In fact, I had abandoned “his water” in practice for it proving dead water.
It remained so upon our return.
Nevertheless, after wasting three biteless hours trolling around in “his water,” my partner finally admitted defeat: “Man, this place is dead.” Then, “I guess we might as well finish-up in your water; it seems better.”
I was already irritated. After the admission—now I was steaming. And after a prolonged and much necessary silence, I zipped up my life-vest and simply said:
“Might as well …”
What I was thinking was waaay less Christian.
Fishless, and squeezed by time, I resorted to one of my back-up spots closer by, rather than waste 35 minutes running to my/our primary creek, also known as our second place $500 dollar Big Fish creek. Luckily, I managed a single 4-pounder that, remarkably, won us the tournament—a testament to how tough the fishing was during this event.
Fishing my water a full eight hours, I’m certain I would have managed another 8 to 10 pounds, not that we needed it. Yet, the rules are the rules: equal time, equal control.
Nobody wants to talk about these competitive, draw format inequities—knowledge, skill, preparation—for it being impolite and unsportsmanlike. Yet, the inequities nonetheless exist. And along with equal time and control rules, they have a profound bearing on both individual performance and winning.
Asked how I handle it, my answer is: not very damn well!
And the fact is, these competitive imbalances and injustices are present at nearly every level of competitive fishing. And if it isn’t competitive imbalances and injustices, it’s ego.
So basically, if you’re skilled and prepared and willing to do whatever it takes to win, the draw format can be an obstacle.
Put another way, an angler can work his butt off, and yet have his destiny lay in the hands of someone less skilled, less prepared, less motivated, and ultimately less devoted. And it’s that reality that proved a major reason I didn’t pursue tournament fishing more seriously.
Nevertheless, to the extent of my competitive involvement, I determined there’s but one solution to this problem ultimately. That is: put in the time so you can make sure to catch fish during your time at the helm. Getting bit and swinging bass are rather persuasive eye candy to disagreeable partners less inclined and prepared, and the ability to do that is simply a result of putting in the work and time.
Given the outcome here, mine clearly isn’t a flawless system. However, doing what it takes—the extras, is what winners do. Winners—they’re the lighter than milk cream that rises to the top. In competitive bass fishing, they just have to be mentally tough and calculating to get there, and to avoid the draw partner blues.
Fish With Confidence!