Ever had one of those days on the water when you say to yourself, “I should have just stayed in bed.” Well that was exactly how I felt on the second day of a walleye tournament my dad and I were fishing in May of 2016. Let me start a few days earlier.
My father and I have been fishing the Washington State Walleye Circuit for nearly 20 years together with some pretty decent results. When I think back about how I caught this bug for catching the bug-eyes, I can put all the blame on my father. He, after all, took me out walleye fishing for the first time when I was about 8 years old – but it wasn’t just fishing. We were after that toothy critter and only that. We went out to a small local lake and jigged up a bunch of these tasty greenbacks and I have been hooked ever since (pun intended).
We had been pre-fishing for the tournament and found some spots that were producing fish. Not only producing, but we had a bead on some toads. It was one of the few times that both my dad and I were pretty confident going into a tournament. On the Friday before the tournament we went out to scout, just to make sure the areas we found the weekend before were still holding fish. Sure enough, we idled the boat around and damn, there they were in all their glory tight to the bottom just waiting to be plucked out and given a ride to the winning stage. I looked at my dad and said, “This is gonna be a good weekend.” If I had only known.
When the tournament morning rolls in, I am up and at ‘em - perkier than my dad at this hour. We launch the boat and hit blast off, making the 35-mile run up the reservoir to our “hot spot”. After setting the trolling motor to anchor we start casting our gulp minnows on a jig head to the jetty. It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes in when dad yells, “Fish on!” After a brief fight, we net a good 21” eye. Alright, things are looking good! We had landed a couple nice slot fish, when I hooked into the one we were looking for. Back-to-back casts, we land a nine-and-a-half pounder and an eight pounder. With five fish in the well we decide to leave this spot and head to another to fill out the basket and head for the weigh-in. What a great first day, we were sitting in 3rd place with a chance to finally win a tournament.
Now comes the part I still remember like it was yesterday. We make the long trip to the inlet and I start to position the boat, not realizing dad had jumped up to get his pole. As I get the boat where I want it I hear a thud. Dad had fallen over when I was turning the boat. I felt bad, but all was ok; he was no worse for wear and said, “Let’s get ‘em.” About that time another boat pulls up not 50 yards from us and is fishing the same jetty doing the exact same thing. Not a big deal I thought - we can make this work. I go to get my pole, but in the trip through some rough water they are all tangled up. It takes me 10 minutes to get the mess untangled before I can start casting. During that time I hear, “Fish on!” from the other boat and they land a good keeper. Now mind you, we are all casting within about 10 yards of each other. It couldn’t have been 5 minutes later when, “Got one!” comes from the other boat. Not good, but I think, ok at least we know they are here. Pretty soon dad is snagged and has to break off. From the other boat we hear, “Oh this is a good one!” as they land a monster. We both snag again. We watch them catch three more fish over the next hour and I look at dad and we both have the same look of frustration. “We need to move to catch some keepers, this is killing me,” I said. We move to another location and by now it’s extremely windy. Start fishing and we are catching small fish but keepers nonetheless. After missing several others and realizing the wind is getting stronger, we decide to make the long trip back, hoping to pick up a few more eyes along the way. The wind beats us up on the way back and we aren’t able to get the keepers we needed and let the tourney slip through our hands.
After the weigh-in, we start packing up camp to head home. I was pretty upset because I broke one of my own rules - never leave fish to find fish. Had we just brought in the limit we had, we wouldn’t have won but at least we would have finished 3rd (we ended up falling out of the top ten). After all the head banging and hand wringing I did, dad was still dad with a positive look on his face and words of wisdom, “Hey, we gave it our best and it just wasn’t our day.” Now at the time this was the last thing I wanted to hear. As I am pulling out from the camp spot I look in the mirror and see dad standing there looking at the sky as if to say, “Maybe we didn’t win but damn it’s good to be alive and enjoy this life while you can.” It reminded me of the shirt I got from Troy and Fish Face that said “Gone Thinking” with just the picture of a man standing there. It actually brought a tear to my eye because for all the bad luck we had that day, he was still the same positive lively soul he always is!
I reflected on that day all the way home and how fortunate I have been to not only be able to fish with my dad for so many years, but to also fish with my hero. Yeah, it was a letdown, and a lesson learned, but my dad, who has taught me so much through the years, was by my side. We faced it together then, and we face it together now. These days, there are so many people who get caught up in the rush of a busy life, may not have a father around anymore, or haven’t taken the time to tell their father how they feel. My dad has been such an amazing figure in my life and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him. We only have so much time with the ones we love so, make sure to tell them how you feel and enjoy your fathers, because they won’t be there forever. I can still picture him standing there, in my rear-view mirror and it always brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Thanks for everything Pa! Love ya! Happy Father’s day!!
Lonnie Craghead is the publisher of the podcast www.get-bitoutdoors.com
Lonnie is on the pro staff or a ambassador of Fish Face Goods, FX Custom Rods and Slimers Bait, Cinnetic and Carrot Stix