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.