The Tournament 
by Ken Nance.

 

      Itís Saturday morning, the day of your tournament. The smell of outboard exhaust fills your nose as the cold morning air wraps you causing you to subconsciously you tug your Guide Wear hood a little tighter in an almost nervous fashion. Your rods have been spooled with the perfect line ended with the perfect baits, and laid out on the front deck of your boat like a surgeons instruments. As you idle around looking for your take off position you make idle chit chat with other competitors. Some guy on a pontoon boat announces the final time check with a bullhorn and calls boat 1. Your ready, you have pre-fished, everything is perfect and you are ready to go win this event. As you creep closer to the pontoon boat you see guys drilling those big olí 225 Mercs, Evinrudes, and Yamahas and seem to silently disappear into a monstrous white beast of boiling water that eats any boat that ventures into it. You are now within a few meters of the pontoon boat, as your boat is rocked back and forth from the waves of your competitors, you do a quick scan of the gauges and watch as your co-angler situates himself in his seat, as he knows what is in store for him. The guy with the bullhorn shouts your number reminding you to keep it off the pad until you pass him, as you idle by the pontoon you wave your hand to signal your take off position and then push the hotfoot thru the floor. That huge Mercury roars to life and you feel the g-forces of the motor push you back into your seat.  You hit the trim and start trimming the motor up, up and up and you hit the first of what seems like a million waves that are going to try to knock the fillings out of your teeth. In an almost catatonic stance you get off the trim, bump your jackplate up and when your RPM gauge hits 5800 and water pressure hits 17 you sit back and start grinning. You hear nothing but the sound of the water being ripped to shreds by the Vortex hull under you while the wind whistles around your head. You pass several boats thinking to yourself that is already a few guys who are not going to be on your hole when you get there. Suddenly you realize you need to begin to work on your mental game and relax the grip on the steering wheel and begin to think about your game plan and what you plan to do when the one-hour boat ride is over. You scan the horizon looking for floating debris or any other hazards and then do a quick glance of the gauges in your dash, all the time keeping an eye on the GPS to make sure you are running the exact course you have run in practice. The water has now smoothed out and the boat is really alive. You feel every little ripple of the water as the sun begins to warm your face. You see a group of Mallards take off to your right and are briefly mesmerized as they fly between you and the brilliant sun rise. Is this not the coolest job in the world? When you drift back in from la la land you notice that you are closing in on the waypoint of where you have located your fish. As you near your tournament waters you realize the most horrible possibility of your game plan may already be happening, there is already 2 boats in the area you have located fish. You let off the hotfoot and the big olí Merc grumbles and groans as she wants to eat water and spit fire not wanting to quit. All in one motion you turn off the key, remove your life jacket, stand and step onto the front deck picking up your rod as you let down the trolling motor. A sigh of relief escapes you as you notice the boats in the area are anchored fishing and not competition boats. With the trolling motor on low you edge toward where you know these fish are holding. The boat rocks a little as your co-angler gets up and begins to prepare himself for the assault you are getting ready to unleash on the fish population here.

       Your first cast is exactly how you wanted it to be. You bring a 3/8-ounce Nichols Blue Shad Buzzbait across a small secondary point that has some grass on it. Your not surprised that you have no takers and breathe a sigh of relief as youíve always heard it is bad luck to catch a fish on the first cast. You make several fan casts over the submerged secondary point and are not the least bit discouraged by not having the buzzbait sucked under. In your mind you know that those fish are at the bases of the buck brush that is now about 40 yard in front of you. After making a few more cast with the Buzzbait you are almost in position to where you know these fish are. You pick up your pitching stick and quickly squirt your jig with some Kick-n-Bass Crawfish scent. The buck brush is now about 10 yards in front of you, you tense, and with a reflex action the bait is flying through the air and lands perfectly and precisely where it is supposed to. As you feed some line to allow the jig to fall straight to the bottom of the buck brush you notice your line kick. You engage the reel, pull back, feel pressure and notice your line has moved to the right about 4 inches. You reel down and hit the fish with everything you have. The 20-pound P-line doesnít stretch and a nice 3-pound fish rolls to the surface on the hook set. Three seconds later the fish is in the bottom of the boat. You close your eyes and thank the lord for the gift he has given you, unhook the fish and put it in the livewell. Your partner for the day slaps you on the back and commends you for a job well done. You thank him and think to yourself, one down four to go. In the next 2 hours this scene plays itself out several times and when number 5 slides into the livewell you begin to think you are in contention to do well in this event. You hear a fish break as soon as your spinnerbait hits the water beside the boat dock you know has been seeded with brush piles and look over your shoulder to search out what and where it was. As you begin to look back to where you just cast the spinnerbait you notice a huge silver flash near where the bait was and your rod loads up. Instantly you realize that the fish on the other end of the line is what you have been looking for all morning. You drop to your knee and beg your co-angler to grab the net and come help. As the fish dances across the surface, shaking its head trying to free itself from the shad it just ate, everything seems to go into slow motion. Every move the fish makes in expected and dealt with, you move the rod with subtle adjustments to the left and right to ensure you stay hooked up. Now the fish decides to lunge to the bottom, rooting around in the mud looking for any twig it can wrap you up in and saw the line in half. This guy has done this before. Heís not a rookie and heís counting on you being one, all the time looking for the first mistake you make that he can capitalize on. He knows if he can root around, find a stump, or twist violently enough he can dislodge whatever is stuck in his jaw causing him to swim somewhere he doesnít want to. The fish makes an unexpected trip to the surface and with a quick hit of the trolling motor on your part he is beside the boat and just like you have seen a thousand times on TV, the fish is in the net! A stream of adrenaline pulses through your veins. You know in your heart you now have enough weight to be in contention for the win. You unhook the fish and admire how beautiful it is. Glistening in the morning sunlight, the green scales along its back look almost holographic as drops of water roll from its dorsal fin down along the sharply contrasted lateral line. You make a quick guess that the fish will push 8 pounds and gently slip her into the livewell. As you dump some more please release me in the livewell, you grab the red float knowing the 2-pounder attached to the other end is going to be looking for a new place to live in about 5 seconds. After gently slipping your cull fish back into the lake you sit on the front deck and begin to re-tie your bait. What seems like a few minutes pass and itís time for the hour-long boat ride back to the weigh in site. The big ol Merc grumbles to life and begins to claw and screech her way to the surface, not happy until again she is eating water and spitting fire. The trip back seems to take 5 minutes as your head is filled with what has possibly happened today. Has everyone been on fish like this today? Did all of my pre-fishing pay off and help me make the right decisions today? Should I have left and went to where I feel there are some larger fish?

       You see the pontoon boat with the guy on the front deck screaming through the bullhorn again. You idle up and shout your boat number and request 2 weigh in bags. You notice a buddy of yours and he gives you the normal palms up. You hold up 5 fingers and he returns the gesture with 3 fingers. You slide the boat onto the bank and turn to your co-angler. He is beaming with confidence, as this is his first limit he has ever weighed. As several anglers walk by carrying bags of fish you strain to see how many fish they have and what size they are. It looks like singles and a few doubles. Now your stomach is a huge twisted knot. You reach for a weigh in bag and several of your buddies pull in beside you asking how youíve done. After telling them you have a limit they tell you how they have faired for the day, a few singles and doubles. Your co-angler begins to dig around in his livewell and puts him limit of fish in the bag and opens your livewell lid for you. After shoving the bag into the livewell and filling it with water you begin to lead your fish into it. When you feel the broad back of the monster you yanked off the dock swim into the bag a warm feeling surrounds you as you have been wondering if the fish was just a dream. As you pull the bag out of the livewell and do a quick scan of your weigh in bag doing a head count your buddies start cheering when they see your limit and kicker fish.

        You gather yourself up with some of your tournament buddies and begin to search out your father. As you make your way to the weigh in stage you would think a guy would be strutting like a gobbler in spring but your not. Youíre almost reluctant to take every step as you are afraid when they hit the scale someone else has already weighed in more weight. I notice my father coming off the weigh in stage and am glad to see that he has weighed some fish. You steer yourself towards him and smile as you make eye contact and watch as his gaze instantly turns to your bag. A huge smile erupts across his face as he looks at you with approval. This is the same look he gave when I caught my first Golden Trout sitting on a rock in the middle of the South Branch of the Potomac River some 26 years ago. Now your headed toward the holding tanks, father and co-angler in tow and are ready to face the world. Dad is assured you have enough weight to win the tournament and he is usually right. You drop your bag into a holding tank, grab a air hose and stick it into the bag and watch as your co-angler signs your weigh in slip and heads toward the stage. Its now my turn, I hand my sack of fish to the guy measuring them and he grins and puts them right into the laundry basket not having to measure a single fish. After signing my partners weigh in slip I step onto the stage and the full rush of the weigh in hits you. The announcer is excited and is anxiously trying to get peoples attention to watch the weight. The scales bounce around some as the weigh master wraps his arm around you and puts the microphone in your face asking you what you think. What do I think? I think Iím the most nervous I have ever been in my life. I think Iím going to pass out from the adrenaline running wide open through my veins! I think, no I know I donít want to say something stupid now or utter some incomprehensible sounds and look like an idiot! I think, Good God canít those scales already quit moving and weigh the fish! Oh, I see twenty pounds! Twenty two pounds! Eighteen Pounds! For the love of god weigh the fish!! I canít take this! Suddenly the weigh master screams twenty four pounds 5 ounces and everyone in the crowd goes nuts. I see my father off to the side of the stage cheering it up with some of the guys from the bass club and everything goes silent. I can see people talking and cheering but cant seem to hear or feel anything. I guess I have sensory overload from all the adrenaline and excitement. I hear the announcer say that I am the new leader by 7 pounds and have big fish so far! This is amazing! I have dreamed of this day since I was 14 years old fishing a club tournament with my dad and realized that I wanted to do this for a living like Roland Martin does. I remember thinking, ďRoland is old and someone will have to take over where he left off and that might as well be me!Ē My weigh in slip is stuffed in my hand and Iím ushered off the stage with explicit instructions to ďNot go farĒ. I meet up with my father again and give him a huge hug as we all settle down to watch the rest of the weigh in. It seems like an eternity for the last flight to weigh in and for the scores to be tallied. Iím pretty sure I didnít see anyone weigh in more fish than me but what about if they are sand bagging someone to make a huge grand finale at my expense. I fully expect to see some guy walk up any moment with a huge sack of fish. The gentleman that measured fish and one of the tournament directorís motions for me to come to them and as I stand I grab my fathers hand, making sure I have him with me for this. I walk up onto the stage and in an instant Iím handed a plaque and a check and announced the winner. At this point I would think that the adrenaline rush would hit again but I guess it has all been used up. After what seems like a full day of pictures, and hand shaking I am sitting in the seat of my boat again with the smell of outboard exhaust filling my nose. This is where I feel the most comfortable. This is my second home. I try to think of a way to explain in words how I am feeling inside and the only way to describe it would be that I am smiling inside. As I wait for my trailer to be backed into the water I get an empty feeling in my gut. I reach into my glove compartment and pull out some laminated pictures of my family. During the whole event this is what has been missing. I realize then how long I have been away from home and how much I would trade everything I have accomplished at that moment to be lying in my front yard with both of my kids on top of me and my wonderful wife sitting in the swing laughing at her three kids. As my trailer submerges I canít wait another second to feel the eye on the hull of my boat hit the roller and stop. I give a nod to pull out and shut off the engine and electronics. After quickly wiping down the boat and putting the cover on I am on my way home. Its dark now and my father is sleeping next to me in the truck. Iíve called my wife and told her the great news and instead of asking how much I won the only question on her mind was when would I be home. Of all of the experiences I had had this day the greatest was when I pulled into my driveway and saw my 5-year-old son standing in the doorway in his pajamas. He has made a deal with his mom to be able to stay up and wait for me and his part of it was cleaning up his room, Iíll gladly clean his room tomorrow. Everything makes sense now. I was home, with my family and they are safe. I sneak into my little girlís room and watch her as she sleeps in her crib. As beautiful as I thought that fish was this morning nothing compares to the beauty I have witnessed in the past 5 minutes.

      What I wanted to share with you in this article was one of the greatest moments of my life. I came to realize on this tournament that all the hard work I was doing, long hours away from my family, and expenses didnít really matter as much as what I was leaving every time my trailer left the garage. Donít get me wrong, I would love to do this as a full time career and will make the sacrifices to allow my family a better lifestyle. It was this day that I realized it was my family that was my drive. Not winning, it was my family. I am blessed to be able to chase my boy hood dream and spend the amount of time I do with my father. After this tournament season I am taking some time off and plan to spend some serious time in the South Branch of the Potomac, with my 2 children sitting on that same rock I did, searching for that same Golden Trout. It may take a lot of marshmallows being roasted in a camp fire to do it, but this is what life is all about. Tight lines, Ken.

    Ken Nance is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mason Dixon Marine and Polaris, Sliding Weight Company, Kick'n Bassģ Fish Attractants, Silverbuddy, Eat-em-up Bait Company, J.R.s Custom Rods, Caps Tackle, Susky Bugs, Bonzai Bait Company, Cabin Creek Bait Company and Nichols Bait Company.

All articles are re-printed with permission from Ken Nance from his web site