by Gritter Griffin
I try really hard to be prepared. I work diligently to plan, and be ready for, any scenario I can possibly think of. I have contingency plans for my contingency plans. Sometimes, though, things happen that are not possible to think of, much less plan for. These are the kinds of things that shouldn’t happen, that just couldn’t happen. These are occurrences that are the stuff of nightmares – real life nightmares. This is tournament fishing.
We have all heard the old saying, “Sometimes it just doesn't pay to get outta bed”. Today began as one of those days.
But let me start at the beginning.
Yesterday was Day 1 of the Elite 40 Redfish Tour Gulfport Open. The wind blew hard and my fish were not cooperative. I had two pretty good fish and a little guy that I could never get out of the boat. I weighed in 20.22 lbs.
At the weigh-in, I dropped fish from the boat, at the bump station, and on the stage. I was feeling like a bumbling moron and was looking for a way to save the day. I was walking forward to present my fish to the crowd when Pat mentioned the AOY trophy at front and center of the stage. That was it! I knew what to do. I would pose with my fish and the Angler Of the Year trophy for the TV cameras and live stream video feed. But just as I was kneeling by the trophy preparing for a really great Pro Angler moment, my foot began slipping in the fish slime from the fish I had just dropped. I fell flat on my butt in a perfectly unplanned pratfall; still clinging to the scoundrel of a fish that had caused it all.
After I got over all the miscues from the weigh-in I set about evaluating my position in the tournament. I was over 4 lbs behind and in 15th place. My only chance was to hope for really bad weather conditions for everybody and a lucky big bag for me on day 2. That night and the next morning I was seriously considering changing my whole game plan and going after three 30 inch fish in Mississippi. Then, this morning, I spent too much time deciding what to do while standing at a Mississippi launch watching the lightning out over the water.
I ultimately got to the launch site late.
Everyone was gone and only Pat, Rob and the staff were there. The biting midges were swarming by the billions and everyone was taking shelter from the onslaught in their trucks. Pat offered his guys to help me launch but I said, “No thanks. I got this. I do it all the time by myself.” And, with that, the odyssey began.
I backed down the ramp and tied the boat off to the dock so I could float it off the trailer. I got in the truck and backed in a bit. The boat floated free – literally! The line I had tied to the boat gave way and the boat was floating freely on out past the dock. Oh crap!!
I threw the truck in park and jumped out hoping to catch it at the end of the short dock. But just as my feet hit the ground I realized that I had made a terrible mistake – the truck was in reverse!
I scrambled to get back in the cab but the truck was moving too fast. The door hit me in the back knocking me to my knees. This was about to be a genuine disaster. With visions of the ultimate boat launch screw-up in my mind I somehow grabbed on to the seat and pulled my way back in the cab.
The entire bed was submerged and the water was now sloshing into the door of the truck. Things were moving too fast to think. I just reacted. I hit the 4 wheel button, threw the shifter into drive and stomped it. Nothing happened. For that long moment I was filled with the dread of the unimaginable – sinking my truck at the launch.
It was too late. I could feel the rear tires dropping off the end of the concrete of the launch. I had lost my boat and drowned my truck. Then, just when I thought it was all over, the tires bit the edge of the drop off and I came out of the water and up the ramp in a cloud of smoking rubber and sloshing water like some raging denizen of the bayou. I was safe. I breathed a quick sigh of relief. And then I remembered the boat. Oh crapola, the boat!
This time I made sure the truck was in park, set the parking brake, and raced to the end of the dock. Too late. The boat was drifting free in the lagoon. In those first few seconds I thought of and rejected a hundred plans and scenarios to retrieve the boat. None seemed likely to work. Not a single person was around. No boat moored nearby. Nothing. I resigned myself to my fate and began taking off my clothes.
Now down to just my skivvies I stood at the end of that dock in the southernmost end-of-the-world bayou in Mississippi pondering just what might lay in those dark waters. It was the midges that urged me to my final decision. I felt like I had been buried in an ant hill. Fierce stings erupted over my entire body. They were in my eyes, deep in my ears, in my mouth, and in my hair. They were swarming everywhere and they were all biting flesh in a ravenous feast in which I was the main course.
I dove into the dark waters.
As I swam the short distance to the boat I conjured up images of alligators lying in wait for just such a stupid human. I thought of sharp rusting metal that would cut and maim the unsuspecting swimmer. I thought all sorts of dark thoughts but I reached the boat without incident. Clambering on board at the stern I quickly set about getting the boat to the dock. The midges had not left. The stinging was unimaginable. This torment, I thought perversely, was deserved.
I tied the boat securely and raced to the dock to retrieve my clothes. The cloud of biting things followed and became even more intense. They must have sensed their prey was escaping and all wanted just one last taste of blood. I quickly got into the cab of the truck, parked the trailer, dried off, and got into my clothes. It was time to go fishing.
I motored out of the bayou and onto Lake Bourgne. This lake is not a nice place in calm weather and it is an absolute beast when the wind blows. Today it was just a little beast.
But about 15 miles into my journey, as I was gleefully flying through the bumpy water at 55 mph, the platform of my tower came loose and went flying backwards right at me. Fortunately, it caught up against the console and stayed there while I came to a stop as quickly as one can on the water. I examined the platform and discovered that some of the screws had loosened on a previous, and very bumpy, ride through the Rigolets yesterday and now the remainder of the screws had surrendered. OK, no problem. I broke out the zip ties and was soon on my way again.
This lasted about 3 miles.
The zip ties all broke and I came to another abrupt halt. Now I was stumbling about in the rocking boat figuring how to secure the platform so I could get on with the day. Ropes! Yes. I have ropes. I got out two of my docking lines and fastened the platform securely to the base. It looked like it might have come from Red Sanford’s junk yard but it would hold.
Did I mention that I get deathly seasick when standing in a rocking boat?
It’s true and this time was no exception. My breakfast was quickly sent overboard as an offering to the gods of the sea. I confess that while in the throes of this contribution I did briefly wonder if this form of chumming might be effective for redfish. Nevertheless, I was soon on my way again.
The terrible weather I had both hoped for and dreaded did not appear. In fact, the bad weather completely missed the entire marsh area. It was a glorious day with a bluebird sky. Bright sun, low winds, crystal clear water. A sightcasters dream. Good for fishermen, bad for me. On this kind of day I would need a freakishly large bag of fish to catch up because there was nothing to impede those guys ahead of me from catching big weights again. I figured I would need 29 pounds to even have a chance at getting to the top 5. This was doable but would require some very specific fish and some very specific luck. And luck, of the good variety, had been in very short supply for me lately.
I made it to the first spot without further incident, got set up, and patiently started down the bank. The water was gin clear. I could see everything. Up ahead three bronzebacks slowly made their way around a bend. I pitched to the lead guy. He struck and missed. But the second fish grabbed the lure and it was on! I got the fish to the boat and onto the measuring board. At 26 ½ inches and 8.5 lbs this fish represented 1/3 of that freakish bag I was dreaming of. Now I just needed one more of those and a 29-30 incher that weighs 12 or more pounds and a Gritter comeback would be in the offing. I was pumped!
I passed on a couple of fish that looked like they were 6-7 lbs, smaller than I needed, and then hooked a 7.8 pounder that I put in the well just because I was getting nervous about not having three in there. Just as I climbed back up on the tower I saw a glorious sight. It was a very large red doing the “happy roll”. A happy roll is when a redfish saunters lazily along rolling this way and that. It is a sure sign that he is on the prowl and will eat just about any offering you put out there. I pitched. He ate. It was on again.
Oh glorious day, it was another 26 ½ inch fish that weighed 8.4 pounds. I now had 2/3 of that “impossible” bag. I just needed that 12 pounder now and the stage would be set.
I spent the next several hours looking at dozens of fish but pitching to none. I needed that one miracle fish but, at the end of the day, it was not to be. I had run out of area to fish. I had run out of time.
Before I set up for the long ride home I took a moment to sit down and contemplate the day, the weather, the events, tournament life, and, in general, just what the heck I was doing sitting in my boat so many miles from the launch.
I was suddenly tired. Really, really tired. The kind of bone-weary fatigue that sets in after too many hours and too many days of mental and physical strain. The kind of tired that makes you question your motivation and at the same time challenges you to go just one more step, just one more time, just……….
I stood slowly and opened the livewells. As I lifted each fish from the well I thanked them for their time with me today and gently placed them back into the Louisiana waters I love so much. I had not met my personal challenge for the day. I had not caught the freak bag I needed to make the improbable comeback. But I had battled and I had come close. Tournament fishing is a fickle sport. It is fraught with improbable events, unlikely occurrences, and close calls. The real challenge lies in the mind of the competitor – surrender or fight. On this day I chose to fight. I did not win this battle but I was satisfied, on a very personal level, that I had given my all to get there. At that moment not much else mattered.
I watched the three fish slowly swim away. As they vanished into the distance I stood looking out over the calm waters and realized that I had won something far more valuable.