A funny photo of "Boat Launching for Dummies" reminded me of a few stories of my own from Austin, Texas.
Back in 1987 and 1988, I went crazy. I lost my sanity, and decided to become a "professional" bass fisherman, without sponsorship! I resigned the comfy, high-paying, air-conditioned job at the engineering firm, and skipped gleefully out the door on my own to become the next Rick Clunn (a legend in the pro bass ranks).
After all, I had a boat, I had a fishing pole, and I had some sunblocker. What else do you need? How hard can this be? Let me just start catching those bass and making millions of dollars tomorrow! (This is why I need a wife; someone has to prevent me from destroying myself! Ha! It's not really as bad as that.)
Anyway, I have written before about Lake Edna. I fished a very large tournament down there, sleeping in my truck at night, and using the public showers at the State Park. Yeah, this is the way I lived for about 16 months.
I scored a zero on that tournament. I didn't weigh in a single fish! I caught numerous little "scrotes", as I call them, fish that are undersized by legal standards, according to state law. But, not a keeper all day did I catch. I attended the weigh-in anyway, just to see who won, and it was a local boy who I am willing to bet never even finished the third grade in school.
Yet, here is the mistake I made: Mr. Educated, know-it-all, big-time bass fisherman with his fancy bass boat and electronics gear goes to Lake Texana and competes in a bass tournament with guys in pirogues and paddle boats. Surely I had the advantage. Guess what? Those boys, even though they may have had only a third grade education, had been fishing and working the same waters since they were babies. They knew every seasonal change, they knew exactly where to find the big fish no matter what, and the fellow who won this particular tournament beat the second-place finisher by almost 15 pounds!
I later found out that the winner was a pro guide on the lake, and he had only one leg. Now, there are a lot of gators in Texana, and I can only wonder, inasmuch as he has been working that lake all his life, if the gators might be the reason he had just one leg! Hmmmm...
But, he took the $10,000 top money. The $5,000 second-place winner was also a local kid, and they were both fishing out of hand-rowed pirogues with no electronics whatsoever. Those guys will never know it, but they gave me some serious schooling on bass fishing that day. I began to learn, but sad to say, I didn't improve very much. But, back to Austin.
Lake Travis is a large and treacherous lake, located in the Highlands chain of central Texas. It runs for about 66 miles, twisting and winding its way through the central Texas hill country, from the dam at Marble Falls down to the dam at Town Lake. It is a very difficult water to navigate, and even harder to know, due to the size and extremely tricky bottom contour. The north end of the lake is the "shallow" end, and the south end, near the dam, is quite deep.
I have to begin with an amusing story. Once, in the early spring of 1988, there was a bass tournament on that lake, sponsored by a local marina and Champion Boats. I took a demo ride in a Champion, which qualified to pay my entry fee, and compete in this tournament. At this point, readers, please pay attention to the "disaster factors", which I will elaborate upon. After careful preparation the night before, I had my boat ready to go. All my rods were rigged with new line and the necessary tackle that I anticipated I would need, and the boat was hooked up to my truck. Man, I was ready! I settled into bed with the overhead fan on, and began to dream about how I was going to win that $25,000 purse. Dudes, I had it all together! I thought of how cool I would look as they slapped a cap on my dome, gave me the winner's T-shirt, which I would spread wide before the press, and then presented me with the oversized check! Or so I thought.
I was so deeply into contemplating my upcoming fame and glory, that I forgot to set my alarm clock. I awoke at 6:20 am. That's pretty early to be getting up to fish, except that launch time was 5:30 am. Whoa!
I leapt out of bed, and in mid-air grabbed my shirt and pulled it over my head, even as I was coming down from the ceiling! My feet were headed toward the floor, and I grabbed my britches and yanked them on in mid-air, as well. Luckily, my shoes were right by the bed, and I landed in them perfectly!
Before I realized it, I was already tying the knot on the second shoe, and since I had forward momentum from the ceiling-high leap, I simply staggered forward towards the front door, hands in my pockets reaching for the keys to my truck. I jumped in the truck, fired it up, and I am here to tell you, I broke speed limits into several surrounding counties on my way to the lake.
I arrived at the boat ramp in record time, then things got fun. I backed my rig around, and proceeded to get my boat in the water. Somehow, during all the commotion and panic, I had unclipped the strap which held the boat to the trailer. The moment I punched my boat into the water, it exited the trailer and proceeded to float off at the speed I had launched it, far into the lake.
I had no choice, I had to swim! I had to go catch my boatie. (Oh, I'm just getting started!) I caught my boat, and dragged my waterlogged, wet, rat-looking-ass aboard. I thought, "OK, I will just put in at the dock", since there was a small dock near the boat ramp. "Everything is cool, I can still recover from this poor start!"
Suddenly, I noticed that the transom was sinking very low into the water, and it occurred to me that my bilge plug was still on the driveway in front of the garage where I had put it the night before, during my supposedly masterful preparation for this outing. My boat was sinking.
I fired the boat back up (and thank God it fired) and took it for a quick spin to empty the bilge. I had no other option but to re-trailer it and locate a bilge plug. Now, you would think that on Lake Travis you could find a bilge plug. No, not at 9:30 on a Sunday morning, poppie! I had to drive back to my house to get my own bilge plug, a 28 mile round trip, and a loss of costly time.
I finally made it back to the boat ramp around 11:00 a.m., launched, and went to fishing furiously. Here is an important point about fishing. You can fish as hard and panic-driven as you want, but if the fish ain't biting, you're not going to make them eat. I didn't get out until late, and by then, the "catch" was over....lesson learned!
There are still other tales about Lake Travis. You see, I fell off my boat two different times into that lake. I know, I sound like an idiot, but this is a bass boat, basically a flat-topped raft! Waves come along and throw you off-balance, and surfaces are slick. It happens. That is why I always, without fail, wear a flotation device when bass fishing in the boat.
The first time I got "throwed" I was only in 33 feet of water, not more than 50 yards from shore. It was April, and the water wasn't too cold at the time, but I could have swum in from where I fell, and survived. The second time I got "throwed", I was way out off Devil's Cove. The water was rough as hell that day, right behind a cold front. It was February, as I recall, and it was cold! The water temperature was 45 degrees, since I had measured it with my thermometer, although it may have been a bit warmer further down, but that would have been the wrong direction to go!
I was in 136 feet of water, and damned if I didn't slip! I bounced off the side of the boat and went straight into the drink. Thank God I was wearing my flotation device. I didn't go down too far, but that water took the breath right out of me. And the wind was blowing, so my noble boatie began to move away from me. I swam like Michael Phelps. I'm pretty sure that there was a vapor trail behind me, the way I was splitting that water! It was my only hope. I was a good 3/4 mile from the nearest land, and I don't think I could have made that as cold as the water was. I went for the boatie. Praise God, I made it!
The final tale I want to share about Lake Travis is this:
In 1988, I fished the Grandy's Texas Tour, and you had to have a partner. I appreciated that rule because a pro from another lake could not just come in and eliminate you, like happened on Texana. My partner was from San Antonio, his name was Vince, and we finished 33rd in the field of 100. We were out of the money, but we had a damn good time. This will be a cherished memory for a lifetime. At the very least, I know that I am (was) in the top 1/3rd of bass fishermen from Texas. And the fact that I did it, that I experienced it, will always be with me. Never say never to a Polishman like me, because he damn sure will give it a go!
Anyway, the July tournament was held on Lake Travis, and it was a disaster. Of all the big lakes we fished that year, Travis was the only one where there was an accident. Unfortunately, on the north end of Travis, there are house-sized boulders right beneath the surface, and some cats went breezing through about 70 miles per hour. Then they found the rocks!
The passenger was ejected, and he fared fairly well, but the driver had to be airlifted to Brackenridge Hospital with severe facial lacerations, a broken jaw, and several broken ribs. He went right through the windshield. The accident tore the lower unit completely off the outboard motor and shattered the transom, and that boy was lucky to be alive!
Paraphrasing the great Joe Ely from a song he wrote called Me and Billy the Kid: "Me and Lake Travis, we just never got along..."