Rookie Jitters – Lake Havasu
Dewey Kendrick, the B.A.S.S Tournament Director, walked into the Jasper High School gym and slammed the door telling one of his staff members to fine anyone else who walked through the door. It was 7pm and in B.A.S.S. you are fined for being late to the meetings. This was a pre-tournament meeting for the Texas Invitational at Sam Rayburn, February 12-17, 1996. There were over 300 hundred of us sitting with our eyes on Dewey waiting for him to start the show so that we could hear all of the rules of the tournament again and get our partner pairings for the next day(the first day of competition).
There is plenty of anxiety for the B.A.S.S. rookies in the house(like me at the time) and some of the other fisherman who are relatively new to fishing national tournaments. You are sitting in the same room with veteran aces like Rick Clunn, Gary Klein, Denny Brauer, Tommy Martin, Zell Rowland, Dion Hibdon, and Larry Nixon to name a few. Some of the anxiety stems from the fact that you could very easily draw one of these “big namers” for a day of fishing(only you cannot draw someone from your home state).
Dewey started reading off the pairings and in the third flight I heard my name called, I stood up and said “Yo” extremely loud, because if Dewey doesn’t here you say “Yo” he gets mad and makes a fool out of you, as I learned the hard way previously at the Arkansas Invitational. He looked up and found me, then looked back to his pairings and said “Larry Nixon”(no doubt, one of the biggest names in fishing). Larry and I left the gym and went outside where there were dozens of pairs of guys who had drawn each other for the following day. We were all huddled in pairs exchanging secret locations and baits quietly so that no other pair would hear.
Larry said he had fish in about the same area that I did and we agreed to go to the area and spend equal time on each other’s fish. We discussed tactics and baits so that I would know exactly what to bring. I could quickly tell by talking with Larry that he was a genuinely nice guy and sincere in everything that he said about his fish and the area.
We met the next morning and launched the boat with all of the other competitors and spectators and made our 3c flight out and headed up the lake. We pulled up to Larry’s area, a big flat with a creek running on one side of it and lots of timber. Larry had three keepers in the boat before I even had a bite, fifteen minutes later he had a limit. The fish in this area were “easy” Larry said. They were all two pound fish just as Larry had told me the night before. I finally scrambled up three of the two pounders by around 9am. We had been working the same area all morning, Larry was waiting for me to limit before we proceeded to an area that had bigger fish. “We’re not leaving this area until you limit”, Larry kept saying. Not many guys would have been as patient as Larry was, most would have gotten their limit and went on to bigger and better things. He knew that if he waited I would definitely limit which was extremely critical on the first day of a three day tournament. Larry continued catching two pound fish left and right, I could not get bit. We were standing shoulder to shoulder on the front of the boat. I was at no disadvantage except that maybe his twenty five years of B.A.S.S. tournament experience had kicked in. Larry was on another planet catching fish one after another and telling me everything he was doing. My confidence never lowered for an instant because I was so impressed just watching someone “smoke fish” the way he was.
At times I thought Larry wanted me to catch the rest of my limit worse than I did, he was doing everything in his power so that I would. He even stopped fishing at one point. Finally I told him that we could just head to the bigger fish and I would just act like I had a limit. He reluctantly agreed and we moved on through the timber flat to a spot we had both caught big fish in practice.
We pulled into an area and Larry said, “This is it, this is the spot. Flip over by that big stump.” I flipped in there three consecutive casts, nothing. I picked out the next stump and flipped over to it, Larry flipped into the stump I had just fished and set the hook. He wrestled about a five pounder to the boat. He culls a fish and joins me back on the front and we continued. He caught two more solid fish that culled and said, “We need to go back and fish that big stump.” We eased back over to the stump and he tells me to flip in there. I flip in there about eight times; on the sides of the stump, around back, and a couple of times to the front of the stump. Larry flips in behind me and sets the hook on a “horse”. He fights the fish around for a while and finally lips a giant. On his computerized culling system he weighs the fish, 9.15 pounds.
Words could not describe the show he was putting on, it was truly a work of art.
It was almost time for us to head out of the creek and timber and head down the lake to weigh in. I still had three fish. I quickly fished my way out of the timber as Larry sat behind the steering wheel eating a Mars Bar and drinking a Diet Coke. He looked up just at the edge of the timber and said, “Make sure you flip into that stump right up there.” I saw the one he was referring to and flipped into it, automatic hookup. The fish was small but a keeper anyway, and Larry had called it sitting down not even hardly paying attention.
We ran back to weigh in and we had about five minutes to spare. Larry suggested I make a few casts but he was going to remain seated behind the wheel. Without lowering the trolling motor I jumped on the front deck and hurled a rattle trap with the wind about fifty yards. I reeled it in radically trying to catch my fifth fish for a limit. I cast out again with no success. A small mudline was within reach near the bank, I had seen it but not thrown at it intentionally. Just as I was about to make my third and probably final cast Larry said to bring my bait through the mud line. All in one motion I adjusted my cast and sent my rattle trap into muddy water. As I got the line tight I could feel a fish on the other end. I was so amazed I could hardly turn the handle to reel the fish in. I got the fish to the boat which gave me my limit at the very last minute and we quickly entered weigh in. We bagged our fish and walked through the crowd. I weighed first, my five babies weighed 9.15, exactly what Larry’s big fish weighed. Larry weighed in, the scales registered over 24 pounds and the crowd went wild.
I walked over to part of tournament headquarters where the partner pairings for the next day were posted. I found my name, looked out beside it-Ken Cook…..that’s another story.
I still analyze that day and learn something new each time that I carefully think the whole day through. What I probably learned most from that day fishing with such a great fisherman was that there is absolutely nothing that can replace experience, especially the many years that Larry has put in. – Lake Havasu