Okay, it was actually just outside Topeka, Kansas on Perry Reservoir. I was fishing the BASS Federation State Championship trying to qualify for my second time on the Kansas state team. To qualify you had to finish in the top 6 with the tournament having well over 125 other competitors…all the top bass fishermen in the state. As a member of the 6-man team you got to represent Kansas in the World BASS Federation Team Championship competing against 36 other state teams and 3 foreign countries...!
After the first day of the two day tournament I was not in the top six. The first day I had lost enough fish at the boat to easily be in the top 6…if not leading. Although, as I recall, Cecil Kinsley (a great guy and incredible fisherman from Manhattan, KS.) was leading weighing is close to 25lbs! To make matters worse, if that was even possible, a tornado went through Topeka that night. In fact, we had just finished the first day weigh-in and it started to rain and hail. Fortunately, I had a boat slip at the marina (I always hated to get up early so by having a boat slip I could sleep a little longer!). It paid off that day because just as it started to rain and hail I pulled into my slip and ran to my hotel room.
When I awoke the next morning I found the lake had risen by 10-12 feet overnight…and…it looked like chocolate milk! It was a fisherman’s nightmare…particularly if you were not already in the top 6 qualifiers because catching fish on day two was clearly going to be impossible. That tornado destroyed a lot of property in Topeka that night and it appeared to have also destroyed my bid to become a two-time qualifier for the state team.
Digress: To me the big deal about qualifying again was that arguably anyone (well…maybe not “anyone”…take my buddy Jack for example!) could get lucky and qualify once either by just lucking into finding some fish or being lucky in who you drew that day as a boat partner. However, to qualify more than once you had to be good…no one was going to be that lucky twice. This was my third attempt in three years having qualified on my first attempt but coming up short by just a few ounces on my second attempt the year before. I was going for "2 out 3".
The next day found the storm gone and a bright blue sky with temperatures close to 100 degrees! It was going to be a long day.
It was tough. How tough you ask?
More than 50% of the best fishermen in Kansas called it quits, loaded their boats on their trailers and headed for home by 12:00 noon!
As for me…I never gave up.
My desire to make the team for a second time was so great that I just kept fishing…HARD…in fact, harder than I had ever fished before in my life. If you have never fished at a competitive level you won’t understand…if you have…you will. It was tough…it was hot, no breeze, high muddy water and (understandably) no one was catching fish.
Even today, after fishing tournaments 35-weekends a year for 7-years, I can honestly say it was my finest effort. Not because I won…I didn’t. But because it took all I had…all my deepest mental concentration, all my physical strength, all my focus and all my will power to keep at it…cast after cast after cast for hours and hours without a single bite. I watched people pull their boats out, I talked to many other competitors and they had no fish and I watch many others simply give up and take their shirts off to focus on enjoying the weather and getting a tan instead of fishing.
With less than 30-minutes to go in the tournament, frustration and anxiety had set in. I had actually caught some fish while most others had given up. But would it be enough? That’s always the question every tournament angler has. There are no scoreboards so you never know until the last man weighs in. I desperately needed one more fish.
I turned to the guy sharing my boat with me that day and made a simple statement…and I will never forget it. I said, “Seems like every guy in this tournament has caught a 5lb bass but me. It should be my turn”. Of course that wasn’t true…in fact, there are not many actual 5lb bass weighed in tournaments period. It was just a moment of high intensity pressure and frustration. The clock had about "ticked" out of time for me and my bid to become a two-time state qualifier.
At the exact moment I made that comment I flipped a large black 10” plastic worm into a flooded tree…got a bite (you couldn’t feel it, but I saw the line ‘jump’ just a small fraction)…I set the hook.
As I set the hook I knew I had to immediately force him out of the tree…I had less than 5ft line out and my flippin’ stick was 7ft long. You do the math!
The line instantly wrapped around a tree limb at eye level. Since I had 17lb line I just kept pulling…no reeling…just pulling. A split second later that fish was dangling four feet in the air at eye level and 3-feet from the side of the boat…with my line still wrapped around the limb…!
My boat partner had grabbed the net and, while the fish was still suspended in mid-air, slipped the net under him. I gave some slack to the line and the fish literally dropped into the net.
That 5lb.4oz bass was the largest bass caught in the BASS Federation Kansas state championship that year!!
Less than 30-minutes later I had qualified for the Kansas team a second time. While many have tried…not many can say they qualified once…much less twice. I was (am) blessed.My motto…and today’s lesson…NEVER GIVE UP even when those around you do!!
Footnote: Our Kansas team went on to compete in the World Championship that summer and finished in the top 10...! However, a much more important thing was occurring at the same time. An African country called Rhodesia had just experienced a military takeover. As a result Rhodesia no longer exists as a country. Today it's called Zimbabwe. A military uprising between waring factions led to thousands of deaths and eventually a complete overthrowing of the governement.
Those events occured at the same time of the World Championship and one of the teams was from the African nation of Rhodesia. These 6-men were given permission to come to the United States to fish the World Championship. What the governement didn't know was that these brave men smuggled a few items with the name "Rhodesia" still on them to the States...at great personal risk.
Why was it such a risk? Because had they been caught...they would have been killed...! These men from Rhodesia disobeyed the new government mandate to destroy anything (including money) that had the name "Rhodesia" on it. Anyone found with articles containing the name "Rhodesia" instead of "Zimbabwe" were immediately executed...!!!
I was extremely blessed to get to share a boat for three days with one of these brave men from Africa during the World Championship. Afterwords, he presented me with three articles from their now destroyed nation...a BASS Federation Label Pin...an Annual Fishing License label pin, and a One-day Fishing License label pin... ALL WITH THE NAME "RHODESIA" ON THEM...A COUNTRY THAT NO LONGER EXISTS TODAY...!!!
So by never giving up not only did I get my wish to qualify and fish my second World Championship...but more importantly I was blessed with one of the great experiences of my life...and I still have the three historical Rhodesia label pins to help bring back those great memories...!
Never Give Up on Your Dreams...NEVER...even when others do...even when things seem the darkest...even when others tell you to...even when you think you should...even when your current reality says you can't make it...NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS...EVER...!
Until next time…go fishing…keep some to eat…turn back the rest…check back in soon.
Web Site: http://www.KansasFisherman.com