Fishing with the “Boss”
It was a cool and misty morning on October 24, the morning of the River Bassin Trail National Championship. As Donald Corbett, Michael Holmes, and I sat at the launch site cutting up, swapping stories, and posting teaser pics of our launch, I was forcing myself to suppress my nervousness. As the newest addition to the 412 Bait Co. Fishing Team, in my mind this was my “big interview.” Add to that, Don and Mike were ranked in the top teams nationally, and Don was ranked in the top ten individually. Did I know my stuff or was I just another one of the internet pro-staffers? Would the spot I had been talking up for the previous months produce the quality fish that I knew were there? Was I putting them in a position to help their rankings, or would it drop them out of contention completely? Could I follow through on my promise to Mike that he was finally going to submit a fish? All of these distractions kept swirling through my head as we were standing there.
The time came to get down to business. I pulled my phone out, pulled up a map, and went over the game plan with Don and Mike one last time. The way the weather had been in the week prior, I knew the fish should have been concentrated in 3 small, distinct areas. I’m not a fiercely competitive person and had no real chance of increasing my standings, so I set them on a course to the good spot, while I headed downstream to a little deep hole that I thought would hold a few fish.
Well, my day started off in typical fashion. I had my limit within the first fifteen minutes. However, of the three I hooked up on, one 15” smallmouth came unbuttoned at the side of the kayak, and I had a 14” smallmouth slide off the Hawg Trough in slow motion right into the water when my kayak hit a rock in the middle of the river and tilted ever so slight slightly to the right. Of course, the beastly 8.5” smallie sat perfectly still on the board like it had been training for that photo op all of its life. I kept working that lower pool for about an hour. Then, I decided to make sure Don and Mike had made it to the spot I had showed them on the map. I kind of undersold them on the difficulty of making it to the spot where the bigger fish were going to be holding. Imagine a “Tough Mudder” course, complete with a climbing wall if you count the waterfall, while dragging a kayak loaded with fishing gear.
As I caught up with Mike, I could only imagine he was thinking he was being set up to re-enact a scene from Deliverance. At that point, he and Don were both on the board. A wave of relief came over me. I could relax and just enjoy myself for a while. I fished alongside Mike for a while, as we made our way to the “honey hole.” When we rounded the last bend before the good spot, we see Don throwing up hand signals for us to approach quietly. He was standing at the top of a shoal, sight fishing a pair of 18” largemouths with a 5” Tournament Series Free Minnow in Baby Bass. By the time we got to the bottom of the shoal, Don’s rod had doubled over and he was in a test of wills with an angry bass. Mike and I drug our kayaks into position and the three of us started fishing this spot that isn’t much bigger than a basketball court.
As Don and Mike worked the lower section, I quietly paddled up to the top, just below the waterfall. The pressure was on again, was I going to be able to put fish on the board in a spot that obviously holding the bass? I went with my go-to, never fail bait, a 3.75” Small Jaw Craw in River Raider. I tossed it up just below the waterfall and slowly drug it back. I caught six or seven in a short amount of time, all 14-15” range though. I couldn’t find that upgrade that I needed. But my checklist was complete. Everything that I had set out to do that day, I did. Put Mike and Don on some quality fish- check. Catch a limit for the tournament- check. Catch at least one fish in front of Don on River Raider craw- check.
My day was complete, but Mike was still searching to upgrade a couple of fish. So, I told them there was one more possible spot above the waterfall that should hold fish and off they went. I stayed behind dragging the banks of the lower section to try to pick up any bass they may have missed. Unfortunately for me, they had picked clean. Don and Mike had been gone for a while and the spot was just around the next bend. So I hopped up the waterfall to make sure they didn’t go too far. I caught up with them just after Mike pulled back to back 18”s out on a Baby Bass Free Minnow.
The rest of the day for me was just hanging out with new friends. On the way back, as we were dragging our kayaks through one of the many shallow sections, I spotted a crawfish. It was the only one I had seen all day. I quickly reached down and scooped it up, because I really wanted to show Don firsthand the inspiration behind the River Raider color. The crawfish, however, had other plans and it clamped down on the meat of my middle finger. Don laughed. I cried. The crawfish went flying. But I found it again and showed it to Don. I’d have to say he did a pretty spot on re-creation of the coloring.
As we were loading up to go to check-in, I felt good about how the day had turned out. Keep in mind, the three of us really only fished a spot an area totaling the size of a football field with all of it combined. Individually, Don finished 5th with 53.25”, Mike finished 9th with 50.25”, and I managed to stay in the top half with 39.25”. 412 Bait Co Team took 2nd with 103.5”. Don secured a top 5 finish for the year in the overall standings. However, what was most important to me was that I had the opportunity to share the water with two people I can now call friends. I hope they had as much fun as I did.