I arrived at Don Pedro Lake, a lake that I am quite familiar with, like I had done hundreds of times before, that’s when all things familiar stopped and all I could think was “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” was a huge understatement. I pulled into the day use cabana area at Blue Oaks campground, made the right hand turn and started up the steep grade to the top of the hill only to be met head on, coming down the hill straight at me are two guys, side by side going flat out as fast as they could in wheel chairs, bashing into each other like some crazy stuntmen in some T.V. car chase! I stopped my truck and boat, having nowhere to go, and could not believe what I was seeing! These two guys were banging into each other so hard, one guy finally crashes, flies out of his chair, rolls on his side, road rashes his whole body on the asphalt and his chair goes flying all over the place! His buddy skids his chair to a stop and starts screaming at him to get his crippled butt back in his chair so they could continue their race! (This was my first lesson of the weekend, if you are physically challenged you can call your buddies crippled, if you are able bodied you better forget the “c” word) All I can think is what the hell did I get myself into!
They paired us up Friday night in a draw, so we met our partners and were told the format. Take your partner out Saturday and teach them to fish, bring in the biggest fish they caught by themselves, (you better not help), biggest fish on down would determine finishing places for day one. I drew a female angler with no fishing experience, we had a great day, and I got to watch her catch the biggest fish of her life, a 3 ? pound Florida bass. She was screaming and yelling like she had just won a million dollars, AND the Bassmasters Classic, and we still had not weighed in!
At the evening award ceremonies they gave away to our partners some amazing awards. First place was a $2,000.00 dollar titanium wheel chair, second place was a $1,000.00 dollar chair and third place was my lucky partner with a $500.00 chair. These people and their families went crazy! Hoot’n and holler’n, taking pictures and making bets for day two, this brought back memories of a time that I really missed when I first started tournament fishing, a time that I had all but forgotten.
Day two they were really looking forward to because both anglers could fish and they could bring in 5 fish, and were fishing for a check, our co-anglers were really pumped! A lot of our angling partners did not get much sleep that night.
Day two started the same as the first day, an amazing example of some tough logistics. Lining up two rows of trucks and bass boats next to two elevated ramps built to match the height needed to off load our partners from their wheel chairs to our bass boats. Don’t forget you now needed drivers to launch and park our rigs and control the keys so they could pick us up at the end of the day. We are talking lots of volunteers! We launched the boats and waited for blast off and you could feel the excitement in the air from our co-anglers, they were ready to go! For a guy that’s usually wound up like a cheap clock during a tournament, I was amazed how relaxed I was, it was like the old days, just out fishing for fun. I asked my partner if she would use her newly won chair from the day before and to my surprise she told me she was going to sell it! Come to find out my new fishing partner is a professional wheel chair tennis player and sponsored by a competitors chair! We had a great day on the water, caught a few fish, she tried to teach me about tennis, which I know nothing about, I tried to teach her the four three defense and tried to answer the question “why do you have to have eleven players on the field “. Try answering that one guys!
We caught a few more fish and it was off to weigh-ins. One of the amazing things about this event was the fact that most of our co-anglers had never been in a boat before, more less a 60 mph bass boat, and just running across the water was a huge thrill for most of them. So when we got a few hundred yards from the fives at weigh in I stopped my boat and slid my partner over behind the wheel and had her idle us in the last five hundred yards or so to the boat dock, (of course I had the kill switch in my hand). If you could have seen the look from the other anglers faces when she told them she drove us around all day, point hopping, looking for a kicker fish to round out our limit you would have died! After we were pulled out off the water and went through weigh in we all sat down for a great dinner and shared some great stories from the weekend. Then it was awards time again and I have to say, going across that stage and getting a check with my new fishing friend that night will be one awards ceremony I won’t soon forget.
The sincere thrill of participation in a bass tournament, something that a lot of our partners never dreamed of being able to do, and to get a check doing it, was more than they could fathom. This tournament started out as a invitational that had a tough time getting approximately 35 boats the first year, to after a few years had anglers trying to buy their way into on both angler and co-angler sides. They limited the entries to returning anglers only and most everyone returned each year. I met anglers that came as far as New York City to fish the event! It kind of put things in perspective for this admittedly over competitive angler, I realized once again…”There’s more to fishing a tournament than fishing a tournament”.