by: Bo Snider
When I tell people what I do for a living, it usually takes longer than a fifteen second elevator pitch to describe my job as an outdoor television camera guy. Most people I come into contact with think it’s the coolest job a guy could ever want while others just don’t understand it at all. I’m sure some of them think I’m one of those techie guys that builds remote control cars and plays the latest video games while living in the downstairs of his parents’ home. That’s not true. I’m just an outdoor television guy who likes to spend as much time in the outdoors as possible.
In Galveston, Texas, my day began like most tournament days with the sound of my alarm at 4:30 a.m. I fought the temptation to reach over and hit the snooze button and, instead, I got up, stopped the incessant alarm, and turned on the coffee pot. Coffee is an essential ingredient and a top priority in the mornings. As I yawned and thought about why I was so tired I looked in the mirror and saw my sunburned face which quickly reminded me of the long day before. I sipped the scalding coffee and began going through my gear checklist of everything that I would need for a day on the water: camera, wireless mics, extra batteries, lens wipes, GoPro cameras, wireless remote for my GoPro, headphones, extra SD cards, and my camera case. Got it. Got everything I need for a day of “fishing”. I then began the ritual of applying a generous coat of sunscreen for another long day on the water under an unforgiving sun.
Once I arrived at the ramp, I was informed by the tournament director that I was going to be tagging along with Gritter Griffin who was sitting in second place after the first day of fishing. This was great news. I knew Gritter was accustomed to being filmed from his years of tournament fishing and it would be an easier day on the water than usual. On the other hand I was more than a little nervous. I wanted to work harder than the other camera guys he has had in his boat. I wanted to demonstrate a high level of professionalism because, well, this was Gritter!
I scanned the parking lot and located Gritter getting ready to launch his new Yellowfin boat. The humidity had just cleared up from my camera lens as I pressed the record button for the first time of the day. I pointed the camera at Gritter as he launched the boat and then at his truck pulling the empty trailer out of the water.
I went over to the dock to load my gear into the boat’s storage compartments. The first thing the man said to me was to take off my flip flops so I wouldn’t get any dirt onto his boat. “Great!” I thought, he’s one of those guys. But then I think to myself that I’d probably be the same way if I had a boat that nice. Bare feet or not, I knew I was in for a sweet ride that day.
I filmed some shots of Gritter getting his tackle prepped and then checked the coordinates on his electronics. I got all my gear strapped down to survive the long boat ride that was surely to come. Then I asked Gritter about the style of fishing that we would be doing. I’ve tagged along with many redfish tournament anglers in the marsh, and it’s the same story every time. We ride for at least an hour, sometimes two, and then bounce from pond to pond in the calm waters of the marsh. However, the style of fishing Gritter described was far from what I expected.
Some of the anglers were running over a hundred miles all the way to the Louisiana marsh. Others were making long runs and fishing around the Texas marsh. But we were not going to be doing either of those. We were going to be chasing huge schools of redfish around in the open water! I had never heard of this kind of fishing before and couldn’t wait to see how it was done.
We lined up in the number two slot behind the leader and idled out until we came to the end of the channel. “Hold on to your hat”, Gritter said as the 300 horsepower Mercury on the back of the Yellowfin roared to life.
I was expecting a really long run but after about ten miles Gritter began to slow. I was a little surprised and looked over at the SimRad. I could see his waypoints and tracks from the day before. It resembled a plate full of spaghetti noodles with intertwined tracks of different colors circling and running in all directions. And we were right at the edge of those noodles.
“This is where the fish were yesterday, and I hope they’re back here today”, Gritter told me. Then he explained that he is looking for oily spots on the water where the fish are pushing up towards the surface to feed creating what is known as a “slick” that is fresh only if you can smell fish oil in the air.
While we looked for these slick spots, six other tournament anglers joined in the hunt. Tournament rules prevent anglers from physically assisting each other in catching fish but with this style of fishing several boats are needed to corral the school in the open water. Even though they are competing with each other it is necessary for them to cooperate as a single unit for this type of fishing to be successful.
This strategy was far from what I had imagined for the day. We idled along in a stop and go pattern and looked for the fish for a couple hours before Gritter finally located the first slick spot of the day. Some of the anglers were running around more than we were but they were all coming back to the area that we were fishing. No one had found the schools yet. Gritter continued to patiently idle along looking and smelling for the schools. The clouds began to burn off as the sun rose higher and that’s when Gritter pointed. He had finally located the right spot. He gave a loud whistle, made his first cast, and suddenly boats were coming from every direction to circle the school. It was redfish mayhem!
Gritter’s heavy jig got snagged by a nice fat red and I recorded the catch as he popped the fish over the side of the boat and then onto the measuring board. Disappointment clouded Gritter’s face as he saw that the fish was over the slot limit of 28 inches.
I try not to take much time in getting the pics for the anglers because they’re trying to get their lines back into the water but I have to make sure I get a few good pics quickly. So, I made Gritter pause with the fish for a quick picture before he tossed the oversize fish back into the muddy water.
Gritter caught a few more oversized fish, and even a catfish, at this spot but none of them were the ones he was looking to catch. It was, however, several minutes of absolute madness. All around us anglers were hooked up and catching redfish of all sizes but mostly oversize. I got some great shots of other anglers hooking up with fish and, on occasion, even a keeper fish.
Casting into the schools is a risky tournament strategy involving more than a little luck as the anglers don’t know what size fish they're going to catch. Several of the anglers around us were boating keeper fish - but not us. All Gritter could do was keep casting and catching while looking and hoping for that fat redfish under 28 inches.
The sun was now far past noon and Gritter still doesn't have a fish in the live well. The time to fish is growing very short. Gritter is slightly disgruntled and talking aloud about how luck just wasn’t on his side today. I understand completely and try to keep up a conversation with him. A camera guy is there to capture the angler’s day on the water but we are also there to try to provide moral support for the frustrated angler.
After coming up empty through another thousand blind casts, Gritter decides that it is time to head back to the weigh-in with an empty live well. I listened as he talked about his years of tournament fishing and the many different situations, both good and bad, he has experienced. I began packing up all my gear for the boat ride back to land. The veteran angler was in obvious pain, tired, frustrated, discouraged, and talking about hanging it up after this season.
He was talking about how tournament fishing is a young man’s game and that the physical demands of this kind of fishing are growing more difficult for him by the year. I think I understood what he was saying and, although I’ve never fished a redfish tournament, I offered every word of encouragement that I could think to offer.
We climbed onto the raised console and, as we got set to take off, Gritter tuned the XM radio to the Jimmy Buffet radio station. Just as Gritter put his hand on the throttle to power up, the station came on and the iconic song “Don’t Worry be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin began. Gritter sat, unmoving, with his hand on the throttle. After a few seconds passed and we hadn’t throttled up, I looked over at Gritter. He had a huge smile on his face. He looked directly into my eyes and said, “Nah, I ain’t quitting”. We both laughed out loud as he shoved the throttle forward and we headed home.
I guess we both needed to hear that song after a tough day on the water as it reminded us that things could always be worse. We got to enjoy a day of fishing in the outdoors while pursuing a passion that we could only be dreaming about from our land locked homes.
As an outdoor camera guy, I’m blessed to work in the outdoors. A work environment that beats any land based day job I can think of. On my days off I can trade my camera for a fishing rod to go in search of slicks and huge redfish. It’s like the old saying goes: a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.
And, if you truly enjoy what you do, you will never work a day in your life.