The emotional roller coaster of tournaments is something people enjoy or loathe. Personally, I like the pressure, the anxiety, the frustration, and the gratification of competing. You will loose more than you win. You will kick yourself for decisions you made. A tournament is like a little microcosm of life . . . all with in a span of 7 hours.
And on May 17th at our Otisco Lake event, I was a total train wreck.
The week prior to the Otisco event, my new kayak was delivered. Life got in the way of spending sufficient time rigging and familiarizing myself with how it handles or fishes. In fact, I only had it on the water for an hour the night before our tournament. It was 2am by the time I was done rigging the rod holders and graph. Not the best decision . . . a reoccurring theme for this event. But I had a new toy and I was determined to use it.
The turn out was great. We had a total of 16 anglers registered for our first official Kayak Anglers of Central NY event. A few new faces, familiar faces, and a fellow kayak-angler member from PA that made the trip. After our captains meeting, everyone had the choice of launching at the south end of the lake (thanks to our event sponsor, Otisco Lake Campground and Marina) or driving to the north end and launching at the county park. I choose to head north because I knew of more spots near the dam and felt more comfortable up there. Not the best decision.
Let the train wreck begin. By the time I helped clean up our gear from registration, drove up north, dragged the kayak to the water, loaded all my gear, and launched . . . it was 8:15 or so. Part of being a director, last one's on and first one's off.
I knew the narrows and the dam area would be filled with boats and kayaks because it is a well know spawning area. I started on a under water point that is a prime staging area for big females. In fact I saw one the night before on my brief trip with the new yak. I wasn't shocked to see a bass boat working the same point because I knew who it was, my brother. He was fishing the "paper" tournament and they had been fishing since 7am. After a had made a few casts, another bass boat came down off plane and nestled into my back pocket. Literally, about 10 yards behind me. They dropped the trolling motor and started fishing. I was a little rattled by the lack of curtesy.
As this bass boat slowing cut between me and the shoreline, the vibrations of my crankbait went slack and I set the hook on a feisty 13" largemouth. I reeled him in, hooked him up to my fish grips and placed him back in the water. I grabbed my hawg-trough, unhooked my identifier from my lanyard, and took out my phone which had a life-proof case. I laid the hawg-trough across my knees, put the identifier between my teeth, and went to put the phone on the seat between my legs. But I paused. The seat was different from my other kayak, it was shorter. I was afraid it would fall onto the deck of the kayak and possibly get wet. So I put the phone on my right thigh. Bad decision.
I was ready to take a pic of my meager catch. I reached over unhooked the bass from the fish grips. Placed the fish on the board and held it with my left hand. I used my right hand to take the identifier out of my mouth and place it in my left hand to be seen in the pic. As I went to grab my phone, I was aware of a feeling. Some what of a familiar feeling. Something sliding off my right leg. I looked down to see "it" ker-plop into the water. Oh no.
Suddenly I was aware I still had the bass in my left hand. I released him back into the water and used my graph to put a way point on my position. For some reason, I had thrown my video camera and my old phone into my kayak. The thought was to document some of my fishing and the tournament. But I never video during tournaments because I never feel like wasting the time to set it all up. But I had my old phone. It had a camera. I could still take pictures and upload them at the end of the day. It looked like my day wasn't done. I decided to fish and come back later of the day to see if I could find my phone. Maybe the water would clear? Maybe I'd take a swim?
I tried to fish but my brain was mush. I rotated between a crankbait, chatterbait, and a chigger craw but I couldn't get bit. Doubt began to grow. To make matters worse, my brother decided to stop by to inform me of all the fish he had caught earlier that morning. Including a couple in the 18-19" range, exactly the size I needed. I got to share and relive the story of my phone swimming with the fishes. He took off and I was left with the whole point to myself.
The clouds had disappeared and the sun was beating down. My instincts told me to head to the docks on the opposite shore. Surely some bass would be positioned in the shade under those docks. Of course there would be fish there, I thought but "quit calling my Shirley" was my only reply. I headed towards the dam. Bad decision.
All my little spots along the way were being fished and as I made my way into the area by the dam, I saw a horrific sight. I saw no one. There wasn't a single boat or kayak and I knew this area had been beat up. Pounded and picked through, bad. I started to fish in 3-6ft where the bass should be but I couldn't get bit. It was already 12:30 and I knew I needed to be packed up and driving to the campground by 3pm. I was beyond panic mode, it was more like self pity. Just going through the motions.
A fish jumped along the bank, close to shore, in about 1ft of water. I knew what it was. I had seen them all day. Swimming around the kayak. Jumping in the distance. The life of a carp is interesting to say the least. I knew it was a carp but I headed in shallow anyway. Yup, they were carp. Pity turned to anger. I picked up a chatterbait, threw it up on shore and burned it back to the kayak to relieve some aggression. It felt good. I did it again. And again. It was pointless but I couldn't stop. Bad decision?
I headed back to the point where I struggled earlier. The new game plan was to fish shallow and burn that chatterbait until the blade fell off. Or I passed out, either one. As I set up on the first dock, I saw a fellow kayaker who seemed to appear from nowhere. Not wanting to cut him off, I went around behind him. Again fishing water that had been used already. Hope turned to confirmation. The confirmation that this decision was bad. Time to call it a day.
At 2:14 pm, I put my tail between my legs and headed to my waypoint to see if I could find my phone. At the bottom on the lake. But wait. What's that I see? A bass boat headed in my direction carrying my brother and his partner. They have come to talk, to reaffirm what a struggle they have had too, right? NOPE. Salt in the wound. Turns out after they left me on the under water barren point, they decided to head across the lake and fish a section of docks. Well wouldn't you know there were bass all over them, some on beds you could actually see! They crushed them catching and releasing 17's, 18's, and 19 inch fish. Smallmouths and largemouths. My blood began to boil with the thought of it AND the icing on the cake . . . he was going to call me but knew I didn't have my phone! Oh the irony.
Enough was enough. I needed to be put out of my misery. I headed back to the launch only to realize, I was behind schedule and had to hurry. I'm not the most physically fit individual and in 88 degree heat, I was struggling. I got to the launch. Dragged my kayak back to the truck. Drove back to the measure-in. Some how got my 47.25 inches submitted to the leaderboard. Told my tale to the guys. Listened to the laughter. Congratulated the winners. Handed out the prizes. Took some group pictures. Loaded up all the gear. Headed home. Exhausted. Mentally and physically.
A total train wreck from start to finish. As my daughter would put it, a "hot mess". I can laugh about it now. And as I reflect on all the different emotions that swept over me on that glorious day, I smile. It's the good and bad days that I love so much about this sport. I know I will have more days like the Otisco train wreck but it won't stop me from coming back! Thanks for reading.