Several years ago I was roped into a bass tournament. Yep, a fast boat, plug slinging afair; something that is so far removed from me now that I have a hard time placing myself in the events that transpired. This could very well be one reason that I laid down the bait castors and spinning rigs for good.
Early Saturday morning. Watts Bar Lake in East Tennessee. Late Spring. I boarded a bass boat owned by a guy I worked with. Hale was kinda a quircky fellow that always seemed to be a little depressed. Only one or two people on staff really spoke to him much. He always seemed lonely to me so when he asked me to be his partner in a fishing tournament, I said yes in part because I kinda felt sorry for the guy. When I told people that I was fishing with him, they all said "oh" and changed the subject. I should have seen the warning signs right then and there.
I climbed aboard and sat down in the passenger seat of his big sleek bass boat. He picked up a rod he had just rigged up and proceeded to impail one of the treble hooks of his huge rattle trap into the sleeve of my brand new wind breaker. First time worn and he had in one fell swoop ripped a gash at least four inches long in the left arm. Hey, it could happen to anyone...right? Well...let me continue...
He said he was sorry and I begrudgingly said it was fine. We blast off at break neck speed across the lake, the whole time he is talking to me in a normal voice. The lips were moving, of that I was sure, but the sound had been ripped out of his mouth by the wind as quick as my sleeve had been ripped. I just smiled, nodded, and hoped he would slow down soon.
We pull into a cove, his fish finder showed a ton of little blips that he assured me were bass. He dropped the trolling moter and we started fishing. No more than ten casts and he says "they're not hitting, lets move" and jumps down into the driver seat and fires up the big black engine. I sit down and we take off...and when I say take off...I mean take off! He hammered it and the front end of the boat shot up as we were jettisoned out of the cove. Just as the boat started to plane out I noticed that the trolling motor had not been pulled up. I tried to get Hale's attention, but it was to late. The boat came down, the trolling motor was ripped of the deck, and the blade from it literally whistled not three feet from my head.
Hale...just a little to late...kills the engine, and proceeds to cuss and beat his fists against the steering wheel to the point that his hands were bleeding. I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing.
"We'll just have to fish without it.", he says, and I'm thinking "duh..." And as he did in the cove, he guns it.
With God as my witness, we had gone no more than twenty yars when he hit something in the water and ripped the prop off the engine. So...here we are, not an hour into the tourney and I have a ruined jacket, no trolling motor, and am sitting in the middle of the main channel of a huge lake in a boat with no engine. Not to mention this mad man who I am trapped out there with.
Hoping to try and glean something positive...I stand up and start casting a spinner bait...in 100 feet of water. Hope springs eternal I guess.
About an hour later this guy sees us and offers to tow us back to the ramp. He throws us a ski rope and we start the slow tug back home. It was then that we spotted a group of very large fish busting shad.
"Mind if we stop and fish?", the guy in the other boat called out.
And so we did. And I hooked into a huge Stripe bass that was tearing line out and giving me one heckuva struggle. I turned to Hale to ask him to pitch me the net when I notice that there is about six inches of water in the bottom of the boat. Instead of calling out for the net...all that could come out was "WE"RE SINKING!!!!". Evidently, the structure we hit ripped a hole into the hull of the boat. I lost the fish (I think that was the last hook up I have ever had on conventional tackle), we all reeled in and with just a little space to spare, we made it back to the ramp.
Hale loaded his beated and battered watercraft up onto its shiney trailor and headed home. I got a pinch of snuff, and sat there watching the others work the banks feverishly for a few minutes before heading home. I left a note on one of the guys wind shields that simply said..."you were right". I guessed they could figure out all the details. If not, they could fish out all the details at work on Monday.
I prayed a lot on the way home. And to this day, I have never, and will never, fish with conventional tackle again. A guy can get hurt that way ya know?.
A little blooper enjoyment to add to the story...