Never Say Die!

We’ve all heard them, those silly little clichés in bass fishing about never giving up: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings”, “When the going gets tough the tough get going”, “Never say die”, and so on. And for some, these clichés always seems to come true. You know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about “those guys”. Those guys who ALWAYS seem to catch a fish on their last cast of the tournament day. I know that Mike Folkestad is one of those guys; I watched him do it once during a U.S. Open many years ago. I know that Don Iovino is one of those guys. I know that Gary Dobyns is one of those guys. I know that Steve Sapp and Andy “Cooch” Cuccia are a couple of those guys. But me? No way. I have NEVER been one of those guys.

It was Friday, December 14, 2007, just two days before the 2008 season opener for Region-7 of the California Bass Federation. I had an opportunity to get in a day of pre-fishing before the Sunday tournament, only to find that Castaic Lake was going through a major transition. The acres of busting bait fish and chasing bass that had been the mainstay for the past four months had come to an abrupt end due to a series of cold winter storms that had pounded Southern California. It became very apparent very quickly that the Federation season opener on December 16th was going to be a tough tournament.

During my pre-fishing, I managed just two small keepers; one on a jerkbait and one on a spoon. (How’s that for opposite ends of the bass fishing spectrum?). This pretty much told me that if I really wanted to win this tournament, I would have to do something that few (or perhaps no one else) would be doing under such difficult conditions. For me, that “something” is throwing swimbaits.

I put all of my “sissy sticks” away and pulled out my two Dobyns swimbait rods and started slinging Hudds and Ospreys. To my surprise, I ended up getting three bites, although I was unable to get a hook into any of them. (Not necessarily a bad thing while throwing swimbaits during pre-fishing, if you know what I mean). This pretty much told me all that I needed to know for the pending tournament – I knew that I would be throwing swimbaits all day long.

As luck would have it, my draw partner for the tournament was my very good friend Jamie Faulconer, whom I have drawn more times than any other person during my six years of fishing the Federation. “Man, we’ve drawn each other so many times we ought to start fishing team tournaments together,” Jamie kidded me. Jamie had also pre-fished for this tournament and he, too, was aware of the busting fish thing that had been going on for several months. He was also aware that this bite was quickly fading and that the lake was fishing very tough right now.

Hoping against hope, Jamie and I agreed to spend the first hour of the tournament in one of the areas where the fish had been busting for the past few months. Unfortunately, we drew out in the middle of the pack and there was another competitor’s boat right where we wanted to start, so we had to settle for second best. What made this even more painful is that we watched one of the anglers in the other boat land two of those busting fish in the first five minutes of the tournament. Regardless, Jamie and I stayed in this area until the sun was on it, which is when this bite normally ended.

I had told Jamie about my three swimbait bites during my pre-fishing and when I suggest that we give it a try, he said “Let’s do it!” And we did – all day long. Sure, we would occasionally pick up a different rod when the situation called for it, but zero, zilch, nada.

Without so much as a bump all day long and with less than two hours remaining in the tournament, we decided to check out an area where Jamie caught a dropshot fish during his pre-fishing. We spent an hour dropshotting and splitshotting this area very thoroughly and, again, we never got bit.

We now had about forty-five minutes until our 2:45 PM weigh-in time and I said to Jamie “If I’m going down, I’m going to ‘swing for the fence’” (cliché).

I told Jamie that I had one little area where I have “pulled a rabbit out of a hat” (cliché) on more than one occasion over the years, and we decided to finish up the day there. When we arrived, we began fishing this area very thoroughly; Jamie with his dropshot and splitshot, and me with my Huddleston swimbait. With each cast, our hopes of catching that one keeper that we both needed to collect those valuable Federation points would fade just a little bit more.

I found myself looking at my watch with every cast and, before long, it read 2:39 PM. Yikes! Just six minutes to go. “Oh well, it looks like a blank for me and Jamie,” I told myself. “I’ll just make this one last cast and then we have to head in. I’ll make it a good one. I’ll throw right across that little point right there about two yards off of the bank”. With that, I fired off my Huddleston and it landed perfectly, about five yards beyond the little point. I slowly began to reel it in, knowing that I would have to bring it up and over the point. As my swimbait reached the point, I could feel it bumping the rocks on top of the point. I slowly raised my rod tip up to “steer” my swimbait up and over the point; you know, right over the “sweet spot”. As I did so, I felt my bait and line get a little tight. “Oh great. My last cast of the day and I pick up a wad of grass on my swimbait,” I thought to myself. WRONG! At that moment and with my rod tip high in the air, I felt an almost unperceivable tug and realized that I was bit. I couldn’t set the hook straight up because I was already there! Instead, I turned my body 90 degrees to the left and set the hook sideways. It worked. The next thing I knew, the fish was jumping out of the water, but I could not see how big it was because I was looking directly into the sun’s reflection on the water. It really didn’t matter how big it was because I knew that it was a keeper if it ate a Huddleston. As I always do with swimbait fish, I horsed it right to the boat, and in a matter of seconds, Jamie had it in the net. It was 2:40 PM. “Let’s go!” I yelled to Jamie. “We’re out of time!”

Courtesy photo: Roger Nelson

As we pulled up to the drive-up weigh-in, I was asked if I needed a weigh bag, and I proudly said “yes”. Hearing this, Ray Leyerly, the Region-7 tournament director, said “Ah oh, Ron needs a bag. I saw him throwing a Huddleston all day long today. This could get interesting”. With that, I pulled my fish out of the livewell, put it in the weigh bag, and walked up to the scales. When Ray dumped the fish into the tub, he said “This looks like it might be Big Fish of the tournament”. What? Are you crazy? A three and a half pounder Big Fish of the tournament? No way. Way. My fish weighed 3.63 pounds and it WAS the Big Fish of the tournament and it landed me in eleventh place and earned me almost $800. But more importantly, finally, after 27 years of tournament bass fishing, I had caught a bass on my very last cast of the tournament day. I had finally become one of “those guys”.

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings”, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, “Never say die” - Clichés to live and fish by.

Thanks for your time and always remember: “The shortest distance between two points is a reef!”