Wednesday, July 1, 2015

You’ve Got to Know When to Hold’em, Know When to Fold’em

To a fisherman, planning a fishing trip is no easy task. You need to plan the target species, what body of water, the logistics of how to get there and where to launch. You need to have your boat and all your gear in top form, know what structure to fish, where to find it, and have multiple presentations ready to cast. That’s a lot of planning- and don’t forget hydration and food for energy. Despite that good work, in the end, you are at the mercy of the weather, which is why a dedicated angler is like the postman of old- “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change……. but you need to apply a reasonable dose of reality. Sure, you can pack your rain gear, extra layers for warmth, have the best sunglasses, even remember your sun protection, but that won’t help you if the wind is howlin’ and the swells are making it difficult to maintain your balance on deck.

My schedule does not allow a lot of advanced planning. Often times when I make the call to Marcel Veenstra or Kevin Long, I know they will be booked. But the fishing network is extensive, and these guys know guys, and they want to preserve their reputations, make sure they are the “first call” every time, guys on which customers can depend. Yes, Marcel was booked but he told me he would line up Ryan Said to take me out.  Ryan is Marcel’s “guy” .  From our talk on the phone, I knew Ryan would be a good guide- I just had no idea HOW good and HOW MUCH we would have in common.

Roll back to last Saturday. it’s pouring rain and we launched at 6:00 AM onto Lake St. Clair.  The wind was strong from the northeast, but, we were fishing, and our conversation began. Ryan was an engineer at Chrysler. He specialized in steering systems and knew a lot about steering wheels- and steering wheel leather. Wow, I thought, a guide who knows automotive leather- my career for the last 16 years. Small world. He had visited the tannery of one of our Mexican competitors and he knew about the Schmidts- Feldbach and Wollsdorf- and that Wollsdorf specialized in steering wheel leather. He is the first member of any fishing community I have met that knows automotive leather. Score one for Ryan. “But you are not in that business now?”, I aksed. “No, he said, “I left Chrysler to fish the B.A.S.S. Elite Series. I fished the Classic in 2011.”  WHAT? Back the Truck Up! Elite Series? Classic? Leather was cool, but now he really had my attention! Ryan Said lived the dream!

Now most guides have great people skills, they are confident, but modest- it’s a people business driven by repeat customers. Ryan is no exception, super guy, very modest. So I had to pry it out of him. Yes, he had top ten finishes. Yes, he had won some money. Definitely yes, he had met great people and had great experiences. But put that story on pause. I caught the first fish. A nice fighting Smallie but not a St. Clair bruiser. Didn’t really need the net except, for the first time, almost as if it was happening in slow motion, I witnessed how a bass uses the waves, the slack in the line, and their jumping ability to throw the hook. We were drop shotting- needed the 3/8ths oz. weight to keep in contact with the bottom. We were fishing the same Poor Boy paddle tailed, zipper-like, pumpkin green grubs I had used the first time I fished St. Clair with Kevin Long. Some things are staples.  I was using a Dobyns SS 702SF rod and Shimano Sedona reel. Nice combo. Really liked the feel of the rod in my hand and the ease with which it cast and allowed me to work the rig- even under tough conditions.  I caught the second fish too. A Largemouth this time, my first on St. Clair. I didn’t really expect to catch a largemouth in that part of St. Clair. It seems like from the MetroPark all the way south to Grosse Point is one long flat gravely bottom section of the lake. Patches of zebra mussel shoals, some rockier areas and some grassy patches break up the sameness, all at a depth varying from 7-8 ft.  to 12-13 ft.  The Smallies seem to always be there but this one was green with a black/green lateral line- Largie.  I caught the third fish as well- a Muskie- a wild jumping, wriggling, maybe 24 inch muskie. It threw the hook so close to the boat I thought the fish would end up on the deck at my feet.  Ryan hooked a Smallie, but the waves were increasing in frequency and height and that was advantage Smallie. Did not make it close enough to the boat to count. Then Ryan caught two red-eyed Rocky Balboas. The wind increased, the waves increased, the rain pelted us harder. The bite shutdown. Gordon Lightfoot was playing in my head.
Ryan was working hard to set up drifts to waypoints he knew held fish. He worked even harder to keep the boat positioned with the trolling motor against the forces of wind and wave. The conversation continued. We talked about Michigan’s own fishing legend KVD, a friend of Ryan’s. We spoke of some of the lakes and waterways he had fished in B.A.S.S. Northern Open Series- the platform he used to qualify for the Classic and the Elite Series. Of particular interest to me was Lake Champlain- a lake I hope to fish in August. We talked about the pressure, the long trips, the early mornings, the great people he met and about sponsors. As Will Shakespeare wrote, ah there’s the rub. Sponsors. Ryan’s major sponsor that dream season of 2011 was Ram Truck. He also wore the badges of Dobyns Rods, Lews Reels, Poor Boy Baits, and Minn Kota/Humminbird. It takes money to fish in the Big League.  The boat and motor, the truck and trailer, all the gear. The motels, the meals, insurance, gas money for the truck and boat…….make that a lot of money. You are the rookie, the new kid on the block. Everyone is going to be nice to you but hardly anyone is going to make it easier for you. They have their own bills to pay, mouths to feed, problems to solve.

The Dream Year really started the year before. Ryan, still a fresh-faced engineer from Wixom, Michigan,  was fishing his third season on the B.A.S.S. Northern Open tour- the AAA of fishing to us baseball fans. After twelve years of fishing tournaments across the Midwest and the northern tier of states, he still had the passion for fishing but it was just darn expensive. He had pretty much arrived where so many have- that point of saying if not this year, I’m done. As it turned out, Ryan caught lightning in a bottle by placing in the money at each tourney stop and by earning a 2nd and a 3rd place at tournaments on Lake Champlain and his  “home” Detroit River. These strong finishes set him up to win the Northern Series points title. Just that quickly, he had qualified for “THE SHOW”. It was a unique opportunity.

The wind was really whipping up, it had been a while since either of us had a bite. “So if I may ask, what happened?”.  Ryan was very easy and confident in the decision he had made. Ryan said he was adamant from the start that  he would only commit to Elite fishing if he had adequate sponsorship.  He had seen guys put everything on the line to live the dream and wind up deep in debt, so deep that it created financial hardship for years after. He did not want that. I had heard similar stories from guys who had taken on too much of a financial burden.  And it was a struggle. His highest placing was 38th place on the St. Johns River in Florida. He placed 98th overall in the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year standings and did receive an invitation to fish the 2012 Elite Series. As with many things in life, when that “honeymoon” period is over, reality sets in. Ram did not repeat as the main sponsor. Ryan marketed himself to a large number of potential sponsors, but in the end  there wasn’t enough sponsorship to guarantee that he  would not end up with the serious financial burden he had worked so hard to avoid.

Top 100. In my book, I was fishing with an Elite angler. He was tens of thousands above where I would ever be. We took another run back into the wind and waves to set up another pass. Waves crashed over the side and into our faces. I was pretty sure I would really struggle getting back up to the rear deck seat post. The boat shot almost straight up and slammed down again. I looked at Ryan and gave the cut sign. We had been at it for about four hours. I said, “I don’t see any hero medals waiting for us today”, so we headed in.  After we trailered the boat we started the dry-out process at McDonalds with breakfast. Ryan talked with excitement about getting me out again on a better day. He also spoke with passion about his off season job” as a high school math teacher. Now THAT is an ELITE position, one that takes great skill, finese, different presentations for different situations. Two things I know for sure. One, I will fish with Ryan Said again. Two, he is definitely a fisherman who knows when to hold’em, and knows when to fold’em.  Thanks Ryan (and Kenny Rogers)! <click here :-)

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