But it wasn’t yesterday – it was 25 years ago, and 3000 miles away. I chatted recently with my friend Eric about how time flies. Both transplants to California from the Midwest, I grew up fishing in Ohio, mostly for largemouth, big blue gill and crappie. Eric chased about every type of fish Minnesota had to offer, from catfish to musky. We lamented how life’s ever-growing “to-do lists” steal the hours once spent angling – hours that we enjoyed so much.
For nearly four years, Eric and I threatened to end our drought and take a bass trip together, but our words had amounted to all talk, no action. Though neither of us had wetted lines in search of California bass, we were well aware that some of the best fishing in the country was all around us.
Recently, Eric was able to parlay a mid-week business trip into a free weekend in the Bay Area, and we didn’t miss our chance. As our plan developed, we considered renting a boat and going it alone, but found an advertisement on the internet for a guide named Dean Sault. After one conversation with Dean, two things became clear: Dean loves to fish, and he’s passionate about sharing his love and knowledge of the sport with others. It was an easy decision to sign on with him for a July all-nighter at Clear Lake.
Once our outing was officially on the calendar, our excitement for fishing that had been held back for so long cut loose, and the credit cards started flying. Our MasterCards were being swiped at tackle shops, camping stores, groceries – I’m surprised we didn’t get a thank you card from Alan Greenspan himself. With each purchase, my visions grew of setting the hook on a “toad” (a term Dean taught us to describe a big bass whose eyes seem to have migrated from the side of its head to the top, looking similar to the eyes of a toad). We amassed enough gear and grub for 2 weeks in the wilderness, though our schedule allowed us only two days.
We headed out from San Francisco mid-afternoon to make the beautiful drive up through wine country. We knew mid-summer was not the ideal time of year for big bass, but we both had the optimism of a child. Both being competitive guys, it didn’t take many miles in the car before the trash-talking started. The banter mostly boiled down to who would catch the most, the first, and the biggest, and in the end, results would determine who was buying breakfast.
Despite all the spinner baits and beef jerky we’d bought, somewhere in our trip planning, Eric and I made a couple of novice miscalculations. Number one: it is tough to allow enough extra time for Friday driving during rush hour traffic. And number two: you can go fishing in California without bug spray (I’m still amazed at the lack of mosquitoes vs. Ohio), but not without a fishing license.
Although Dean sounded like a nice guy on the phone, showing up late and unlicensed was not a great way start things off on our part. Nonetheless, when I called Dean, he was completely patient and cordial. He helped us with some directions to a nearby Wal-Mart that was still open, and said he would be ready and waiting when we got to the lake. “We picked a good guy,” we thought.
We were three miles away from our meeting spot when near-disaster struck on the road. We were nearly stopped to make a right-hand turn, and were crashed into from behind by a pick-up truck going nearly 60 miles per hour. The driver was drinking and never even touched the brakes. Our car was catapulted off the road into an old orchard, and although the rear end was demolished and the tires were no longer able to rotate, we skidded nearly 200 feet. Luckily, our path sent us rocketing right between all the trees dotting the field, not hitting any of them.
When we finally came to rest, my first thought was: “Are we ok?” Eric and I looked at one another in disbelief of what had just happened. Aside from some neck pain from the sudden jolt, we both seemed to be fine.
My second thought was: “I’m afraid to look back at the person who hit us – it could be really bad.” As we got out and looked back, we saw the driver stumbling out of his truck, his life likely saved by his seatbelt and airbag. The wreck left him with a badly cut and swollen eye, injured from his broken sunglasses. A partially full beer bottle still in his hand, he panicked and chucked it into the field in front of us. Some folks who lived nearby heard the collision and had immediately called the CHP. They had come outside in time to see the driver tossing the bottle onto their property, which they did not appreciate. The witness was waiting with the bottle in hand when the CHP officer arrived, less than 5 minutes after the crash.
Standing next to a totaled car, with four fishing poles broken in half, Eric and I felt extremely fortunate that we didn’t end up like the rods. We also realized that our big plans for a night of fishing suddenly seemed to be a distant memory. But sometimes, good things can come out of a bad situation. In this case, that happened for us thanks to Dean Sault.
I called Dean shortly after CHP had arrived informing him of what had happened. It was clear that Dean’s immediate concern was for our well-being. He immediately drove to the accident to offer help. Dean had arrived at our meeting place early, so at this point it was several hours after we had all hoped to be headed for the lake. Despite all the time involved, Dean’s actions and demeanor showed no signs that he felt the least bit inconvenienced. He seemed to naturally put our needs ahead of his own.
We learned through the CHP that there were only a handful of possible rental car options nearby, and none open at that hour. My car was about to be towed to a yard three hours from home, full of everything we had with us.
Dean offered without hesitation to help us load each and every item out of my car and into his truck. He also made a call to some terrific people who lived nearby, his long-time friends Bob and Dorothy Higgins, who own the Limit Out Tackle shop in nearby Clear Lake Oaks. Even though it was nearing 10 p.m. and they were home winding down for the night, they were kind enough to open up one of the rental cabins behind their store and provide us with a perfect landing spot.
Feeling much better after re-grouping at the cabin, Eric, Dean and I made the only decision three fishermen could have made after all that had happened: we decided it was time to go fishing.
Dean’s strategy for our night of angling had been compromised by the late hour and a very strong wind, but he never lost his terrific attitude. He ad-libbed so successfully that we boated 25 bass on a night when other groups we were reporting shut-outs. We had originally planned to be off the lake around 3 or 4 a.m., but Dean stayed out with us until past 9:00. As if that wasn’t enough, he and Bob then tried to help us find a nearby rental car to get home, and when none was available, he loaded us up again, and drove us two hours to the nearest location – the Sacramento airport.
The word “accommodating” does not adequately describe how pleasant, flexible and supportive Dean was throughout the entire experience. He switched gears with ease between being our fishing guide and our helping hand.
Dean taught me a lot that weekend, and not all of it was about fishing. An experience that could have been tragic was transformed into something positive. There are good people all around us that have a knack for offering a helping hand when we need it most.
Submitted sincerely by Todd Ledingham
Ps- Special thanks to Officer Curtis and the Kelseyville CHP. Check out Dean’s website at http://www.saultbass.com/. On top of everything else, Dean’s got one great boat!