Well, every trip has to start with a fish and although we’d like that to be a six-pound slob of a largemouth that inhaled a Jitterbug, life rarely meets expectations. Let it be known that the first fish of Catch a Cure was this sad channel catfish (I think). It took a worm and had me stoked for about two and-a-half minutes before I saw its true colors at the shoreline.
On the one hand, you hope this is something you laugh at at the trip’s conclusion, after many a bass have been caught, documented and released… after many dollars have been raised for the MRF. On the other hand, you’re not laughing right now.
It was a brief reminder that a fish is a fish and you have to let the kid in you get excited sometimes, regardless. Or at least let him wipe away the adult tears you’re crying so you can see to unhook and release the thing.
It was a reminder, though, for me, of a time when saltwater catfish were as cool as anything you could imagine catching. I remember being six or seven, on vacation in Florida, telling and retelling the tale of a five-pound catfish that fought “for hours.”
If life’s about growing up to be young again, hell, this was some fun for a second. As a summer storm drenches my campsite here in Florida, the adult in me is nervous as hell about finding and catching enough fish to make this project work, to raise money for a good cause, to do the right thing and have the courage to keep plugging even when it’s difficult (and wet).
He’d be better off, as many of us would, listening to the kid in him that’s saying “Just go fishing dude!”
If road trips are about anything, they’re about being spontaneous. When we were kids, my cousin and I, when taking long, car-bound trips for family vacations, would call out “fish,” when we saw any body of water that we thought had even the most remote possibility of holding fish. I can only begin to wonder now how much anxiety-reducing medication my parents stocked up on prior to these trips, but I digress.
The problem with getting older is that you’re the one with your feet on the pedals and it’s so easy to hit the brake. I have a tendency to swing in churches when passing, in part to beg forgiveness for my many sins and in part to pray for, well… yes, fish. After the well-being of my family and friends of course.
Imagine my surprise when I swung in a church I happened to be passing and it had an empty, very fishy-looking pond right behind it. That, I was certain, was some offering from God.
Unfortunately I saw this church at roughly one in the afternoon, so needless to say the rest of the day was shot. I plied the shoreline with spinnerbaits, soft-plastics and the simple worm-and-bobber.
I was about to leave at about five o’clock when a man walked by. I asked him if the pond even had fish in it and he assured me that yes, it was stocked with bass. That did it, I was there until nightfall. I can’t blame God, she was trying her best.
Near the church was this cross made of PVC pipe. I can’t say for sure what it was marking and I won’t guess, but it’s a reminder that even the most ordinary things, with some thought, can be representative of something extraordinary. It gave me hope.
My best guess, and from bugging locals, is that these fish push deep in this hot weather, but if some stupid humans take road trips to Florida in July, there’s got to be a dumb fish or two hanging out in the shallows, I figured.
The T-shirts are going fast, so get ’em while you can. And yes, that means I’ve sold one so far online, but you never know when demand could spike.
If you know of any potion to stop the mosquitoes from eating you alive I’ll take all the help I can get. Or, if you know what these enormous Florida spiders are and how to avoid (I’ve been having nightmares about this) walking into one of their webs, that advice would be profoundly appreciated as well.
And lest it go without saying again, if you’re in Florida and want to fish for a good cause, shoot me a note at email@example.com.
I found myself a fish camp here for the night and will be back at it first thing in the morning.
Fishermen know that there are few problems in the fishing universe that can be fixed by buying new gear. Fishermen also know that we will try to fix most problems by buying new gear. It’s our nature. Your dog is going to sniff the same stuff in the yard even though little has changed, your mom is going to ask how you’re doing and we’re going to gear up when fishing’s not going our way. Some things you can’t change.
So with that in mind I hit up Bass Pro Shops here in Florida to see if I could add anything to my arsenal that would better my chances, as well as get some intel on the local lakes and places to fish them.
If any angler has ever walked into a tackle shop (especially one the size of a mall on steroids, like Bass Pro) needing one thing and walked out with only that one thing, then I haven’t heard about it. So I’m loaded for bear with soft-plastics, new spinnerbaits, PowerBait worms, a topwater soft-plastic frog and offset hooks for the worms. Will any of this matter? Highly unlikely. But if by chance something works I’ll have that purchase and the wisdom that went into it to thank.
What I didn’t count on was the tank full of bass that had me ogling for … well not hours, but a while. Talking with a staffer there I found that the bass are donated by anglers in the state who catch them. According to him, the Tallahassee Bass Pro has the only shoal bass in captivity in the state.
This BPS seemed to be geared more toward saltwater, which I understand, but it was a little frustrating in the most beloved bass state in the nation. Still, I got the gear I came for.
To cap off the night and hopefully meet some fishermen, I found a local dive bar. The name is what stopped me in my tracks. It was called “One More.”
My father, when asking me to do push-ups during commercial breaks if I was watching TV, always said: “Do as many as you can and then one more.” He used that phrase, ‘one more,’ in many aspects of his life. He always took one more client, earned one more dollar, and hung on one more year battling cancer. I talked about that approach to life in his eulogy and I have the words ‘one more’ tattooed on my right forearm.
And here I am, struggling to find fish, starting to lose faith, scrambling for gear that’ll make a difference, and out of nowhere appears a bar called “One More.”
My drinking days might be over but you still can’t beat a flavored bar crowd on a Friday night. I met more than a few fishermen and shared my story and got a few pats on the back.
This will sound corny and cliche and poke fun if you want, but it was a sorely needed pick-me-up that’s kept me going.
N.A. beer would show up in Florida? That’s divine intervention right there. Nothing like a taste of home to keep you going on the road. Genesee Beer, which, if legend serves, my grandfather used to drink by the gallon (not the N.A. it’s worth noting).
Florida wildlife never ceases to amaze a northerner.
When I stopped in the gas station to get bait, I met a man who asked not to be photographed who was in remission with stage IV melanoma. We talked and shook hands and I said I’d say a prayer for him. When you’re initially affected by the disease it’s shocking to find out how common it is. But every person you meet thereafter who you “have something in common with,” makes it harder. The toll it is and has taken on our families and loved ones doesn’t get easier to bear, hear about or encounter, no matter the frequency of those encounters.
When I first arrived here, I was undecided about where to stay and how. The last time I traveled, when I fished the country, I was being just enough to not die. I dropped about 50 pounds, slept in numerous crazy public places like Walmart and church parking lots and stayed within my “we-can’t-afford-a-funeral” budget.
This time I’m discovering a lighter side of life: Campgrounds. With a mesh tent and a black sky poked with the lovely light of Florida stars, I’m starting to think the couple bucks you spend on a space at a campground is worth the beauty, solitude and peace of mind. I don’t know if some people might accuse me of “growing up” or “maturing,” but that’d be nonsense.
Camping out is about as American as apple pie and pickup trucks and I’m starting to see why. Lake Talquin is certainly a beautiful place to start. A few locals gave me some inside intel, suggesting minnows over ‘crawlers for bait so I’m stocked for sunrise (bought both just in case).
And I should be the last one to give any kind of advice but I’ll tell you that whatever life piles on you, a tent under some stars might lighten your burden, if only for a few nights.
If you’re in Florida and want to recommend any places to camp, I’m all ears and would be more than grateful.
I’ve never caught a six-pound largemouth bass. I know that with some certainty because six is a lot of pounds of bass, especially to make up a story about. If you were to catch, say, a pretty damn big bass but didn’t bother to weigh it, the most you might get away with telling your story at the bar that night would be five pounds of faith from your friends. If you’ve got good friends and have been more or less honest throughout your life, they might take you at your word if you said you caught a five-pound bass.
If you add that extra pound, though, while they might not call you an honest-to-God liar, you’ll get that look the state trooper gives you when you say your speedometer’s broken: “I’m not going to call you a liar to your face but I’m not going to sit here like an idiot an believe you either.”
So I don’t know what, to be truthful, catching a six-pound bass feels like. I do know, however, know what if felt like this morning when I walked out of Rivers Bait and Tackle here in on Lake Talquin after inquiring about possibly getting on the water with any guides that might have the time. The young woman behind the counter came running out after I’d explained my mission. She was scampering so quickly I thought for sure I’d forgotten my keys or dropped a credit card.
I walked back and she reached out her hand with six dollars, a few from each of the men in the shop who had heard my mission.
I don’t remember what the first dollar I earned felt like, it was probably for mowing the lawn or umpiring a minor league baseball game. I’m sure it was saved, maybe overnight, until it was spent on a pack of cards.
And I don’t know what catching a six-pound bass feels like. But I do know that this trip, until this morning, had seemed like a hill getting steeper in front of me with each passing minute.
Until that woman handed me that six dollars. I must have stammered something like “Thank You,” I hope. If I live to be 1,000 I hope I never get used to someone handing me money.
And that’s not to say some gap in the clouds opened up revealing a magical light. I still need to find a way to catch fish. But I’m not at $0 anymore.
You can go ahead and laugh at what to some people might seem like chump change and it’s certainly a pittance compared to the mountain in front of me. But it’s a step, it’s a start and for me it’s a six-pound bass.
Like many life lessons, this one comes thank to a little bit of painful realization. Have you ever yelled the following:
“Hey! Hey get in here! It’s one of those commercials with the starving kids from a third-world country, grab your credit card!”
What? No? Huh. Me either. If it was a choice between watching those for an entire day and shooting the only television I owned, well… it’d be a toss-up. Not that I don’t feel bad, I wish we didn’t live in a world in which children could even be starving, but we do.
In 2010 I fished my way around the country through Outdoor Life Magazine. Truth be told I had a good job with tremendous people at On The Water Magazine, but was racked by anxiety and felt as though I’d get to some age, whatever age you arrive at without noticing time passing by, and regret not doing something absolutely ill-advised, dangerous and impulsive on a large scale. And at that point in my life I was so intensely nervous, that anything that happened to me out there seemed to be a risk worth taking.
Up to that point I’d lived life mostly by the book, straight-A high school student, triple-majored in college, worked just enough to feel like I’d earned something and settled into a good job. To this day I have no idea how I quit a full-time job at the age of 24. I’d beat that kid senseless if I could, but luckily he took care of that on his own, albeit in different ways.
Since then I’ve lost my Dad and a lot of other things and made enough mistakes so that if I stopped now, I’d still have met my quota for the rest of my life. But I still love writing and water. So here I am in Florida trying to use those two things to strike back at Cancer.
Except it’s not going as planned. People hate cancer but they hate a lot of things and there’s only so much we can do. And truthfully, when we’re not working to keep the lights on, it’s nice to have a little fun. But the people at Buff found the courage to get on board and pony up their hard-earned dollars. The guys at Outdoor Sportsman Group and Florida Sportsman got behind me, so this is the least I can do.
I looked back at a video of that 24-year-old kid before he quit his job to fish the country today, to see what the hell he was thinking. He said “I can’t tell you what I’ll catch or guarantee what I’ll find, but I promise that I’ll keep fishing and point the camera at as much cool stuff as I can.”
An uncle of mine is fond of the saying “Let ’em go while they’re young and still know everything.” I gather that it’s meant to be mostly sarcastic but in this instance, that 24-year-old guy knew more than the one writing this, who thought he’d just wave a wand and have people bring him to fish because his cause was worthy.
The world is full of worthy causes and you “especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously,” (Hemingway). “But when you get the damned hurt, don’t cheat with it.”
This might, when I’m finally obligated to return home for graduate school in the Fall, be a blog about “trying” to catch a cure and the many reasons it was harder than I thought it’d be. But to quote Good Will Hunting … “At least I won’t be unoriginal.” (Which yes, I know, is ironically unoriginal). Maybe it will be about why trying to find a cure is so hard, because cancer is depressing and it hides in the dark corners of our conversations.
It won’t be a collection of fish pictures and a generous donation from good sponsors that is forgotten in time, by me anyway. There is only one thing we can control about ourselves, although that can be easy to forget. Luckily it’s the only thing that matters. When God sent his Son he sent the way and the light, yes, but the first thing is what us writers cling to. It’ll be the truth.
Today, my father would have been 79. But this isn’t going to be some sappy tearful post about his attributes and accomplishments. The world if full of tremendous people and he was one of them. Rather, it’s about something he knew that it has taken me a while to learn. There are many wonderful things about being alive, and certainly we could all wax poetic on our particular favorites. But if life is undeniably about anything, it’s about work. (If you’re not of this mindset, try not working and see how long you’re still alive). I’ve been blessed to have this opportunity to raise money for a good cause, but it’ll take more work than I initially thought.
I did not, for example, know how drastically the Florida bass fishery changed in the summer, becoming an entirely different animal with lower water levels and soaring water temperatures. Finding and catching bass, or changing my approach, is going to take more work than I would have thought.
You know that moment when you first get in your vehicle in the summer and the internal temperature reading is some astronomical three-digit number because it has been sitting, baking in the sun? Then once you open the windows and get moving that number falls to something more accurate? In Florida in June… that number doesn’t fall.
And while fishermen and guides are sympathetic with my cause, everyone’s got a cause and sympathy is about the only thing that’s free. So rather than ramble on about the man, how he inspired and inspires me, I’ll do something he’d do in a difficult situation: get to work.
Family is a thing that, the older you grow, the more you appreciate it. When you’re young, the gang’s all there and there’s nothing to soak in or be grateful for. If anything, you’re miffed about having to wait for the bathroom or share the last slice of cake. But as years tick by you find that these people, who wouldn’t have any contact with you were it not for blood relation, are the heart and soul of your future.
So my first stop in Florida was to see my cousin, Chris Critelli. Chris, a few years younger than me, has been an avid outdoorsman his entire life. He has even gone as far as becoming a certified diver (now in training here in Jacksonville) so that he can spend even more time amongst fish than most of us anglers do.
Videos and pictures he has from dives all around the Southeast are incredible. Just seeing the sharks he comes into contact with up close on the screen is amazing. I’ll see if I can send along some videos to you guys going forward.
Without a boat, it was tough to dream up a scheme that’d find us bass fast up here, but it was good to have a place to land. I’ll be moving on from here, but that have that spot to land, that spot that never moves no matter where it travels, is a comforting feeling for anyone.
We talked about fish and Florida late into the night, with the occasional reference to some crazy incident in the past. But whenever you jump, it’s best to first make sure you have solid ground to land on, and I’m grateful I did.
One angler's attempt to strike back against skin cancer.