I was so pumped for my first bass fishing tournament that I could hardly sleep. I was 10 years old, and, after seeing a flier down at the local baitshop a few days prior, my father signed us up for the Ada Open.
I spent most of the day prior organizing my tackle box, changing the line on my reels and even tying pre-made Carolina rigs so I wouldn't waste time changing lures. I dreamed of that $1,000 grand prize and giant plastic trophy.
Before dawn the next morning, we were on our way to our favorite honey hole west of town. Suddenly I felt a lurch emanate from the floorboard of Dad’s normally trusty International Scout. I believe that somehow all people, regardless of age or cultural experience, innately know when the transmission of the automobile in which they are traveling drops out. This one dropped like a guillotine upon my boyhood dreams.
Being Saturday in the pre-cell-phone era, no mechanics were open and we had no way of calling a wrecker—or phoning a friend—even if they were. We spent most of the morning, and indeed the day, on the side of the road, trying to flag someone down to give us a lift. Evidently everyone was fishing in the tournament.
Everyone, that is, except us.
Fishing with my family does tend to be my bad-luck charm, somehow, against all odds.
For example, one day a couple of years after the failed Ada Open, my uncle Paul visited us from Memphis. Paul is the hardest worker imaginable, but he likely doesn’t get to fish as often as he’d like. We were in the boat, the sun was shining, and I had just motored us to a good spot on the water when I turned to Uncle Paul.
“What kind of reel do you want, Uncle Paul?” I asked him. Generally fishermen in the know will say, “A bait-caster and medium-heavy action,” or “A spinning reel, please,” or whatever they prefer. But Paul looked at me with a puzzled face.
“Do you want like … a Zebco?” I asked, “or something like mine?” I pointed down to my brand-new Ambassadeur 5500c reel and Berkley Lightning Rod that I’d received recently for my 12th birthday.
“Oh yeah, that’ll be fine,” he said.
“You mean this Ambassadeur?”
“Sure,” he said.
Now, dear reader, realize that this little conversation that just took place happens over bodies of water everywhere during the fishing season, and it’s always a touchy subject. Pride is on the line. Fish hang in the balance. You see, open-faced, bait-casting reels are tough to throw without know-how and practice, and worse yet, their incorrect usage has consequences. An incorrect cast can hopelessly backlash the line and render it useless until new line can be installed.
But most guys who haven’t used a bait-caster don’t realize this. They tend to figure that if a 12-year old kid can use it, then so can they.
Keep in mind that Uncle Paul is a jack-of-all-trades who’d proven himself capable of dang near anything. He never brags. For all I knew, he was like Indiana Jones with a rod and reel. So I handed him my beloved rig before I grabbed a spinning rod and cast my lure into the drink with a satisfying plop.
I turned to watch Paul as he reared back to give the rattletrap a mighty fling. His backcast was impressive indeed. With a windup not unlike Mariano Rivera’s, he flung the rod forward, whip-like, as if he were a stagecoach driver with a 20-head team. Only when he did, he failed to hold onto it. I watched as my new rod and reel sailed 20 feet into the lake, almost in slow motion, and landed with a most disgusting plop. The ripples on the water died moments after it sunk. And then there was silence.
I looked at Paul.
He looked at me.
Many apologies were spoken before leaving the lake—and my rod and reel at the bottom of it. I rib Uncle Paul about that to this day.