the pond

It’s like this: one day you’re strolling down your driveway to take the littles to picnic and fish at the pond, untangling Mickey Mouse rods and reels, helping small hands to fashion daisy chains, and the next you’re motoring down the Blue Ridge Parkway with the last of the three kids to take in college visits and to cheer on your eldest’s college team in the 2012 BASS Carhartt College Series East Super Regional tournament.

A peek at the world of college anglers will have you curious.  I’m willing to guess that they are a misunderstood lot, imagined as not more than camouflaged and spitting and gassing up guzzling motors that belch exhaust.  My son is trying, as President of his Bass Fishing Team at Virginia Tech, to help promote the image of college fishing in a more positive light.  He’s working as a high school mentor, he’s writing and speaking when and wherever he can, all in an effort to share his passion and find support and recognition for a growing sport.  His dream is to be a Professional Bass Angler and if I worked as hard and as long as he does at this, I’d hope to be rewarded some day.  But the odds against the elements, the blessed science of fishing in itself and the fierce competition against excellent fishers nationwide makes it an extreme challenge, as well as the not-so-small matter of the required resources to support such an endeavor.  Attracting sponsors is nearly a full-time job to help keep you on the water, doing what you love.

I happen to have the distinct pleasure of being an insider, knowing the teammates on a personal level and learning about their finer traits.  They’re considerate and polite, helpful and conscientious.  They’re hard-working and intelligent, many of them working part to full-time jobs in addition to studying History, Economics, Pre-Med, Wildlife and Fisheries Science, and Environmental Science, among just a few of the disciplines they devote to when they’re not on the water.  They’re outdoorsman, all, and spend their time on the water, in the woods, kayaking, hiking, hunting, farming, building.

I had a babysitter come when Jody was 3 years old and my other two children were an infant and toddler, so that I could spend some one on one time with him and do something, just the two of us.  He only wanted to go outside and walk in the woods.  That told me everything I needed to know about what was special to him.

Abe doesn't mind an 11 hour car ride to see his boy fish!

When you’re following the tournaments, you’re up at 4a.m. scrambling eggs, pouring coffee, throwing sandwiches in sacks.  You arrive at the lake at 6a.m. to hold your hand over your heart with a hundred college kids doing the same while the “Star Spangled Banner” is broadcast across the marina.  You wave homemade signs and yell “Go Hokies!” as the boats “blast off” from the launch, heading out across the water for 8 hours of fishing.

devoted sister cheers the team on at 6a.m.

Evan and Mike usually kayak, but they rigged this aluminum boat up with a cooler for a live well, complete with aerator

as soon as dawn breaks, the launch begins

And it’s an old line, but an accurate line, when they say “it’s called ‘fishing’, not ‘catching!'” because after solidly casting for that long, these anglers are thrilled to have 4 or 5 fish in the boat in their live well.  The fish are in a LIVEwell, too, which means they are meant to be kept alive and well until after the weigh-in.  Then they are released back into the lake.  If the fish die, they lose points.  This conservation practice is important to the anglers and my son has been catching and releasing his entire life.

Weigh-ins are anxious times.  You’re looking to see that everyone got off the water safely.  You’re checking their expressions as they stand in a long line under a canopy with special bags for holding their fish. Your heart is in your throat while they’re at the staging, lifting their catch out to be scaled. You’re cheering for your team when they’ve done well, you’re disappointed for them when they’ve had a tough day.  You’re curious and intrigued to hear them as they’re interviewed. You’re excited for them when they’re posing with their ‘lunkers’ and grinning for the cameras.

coming in off the water on Day 2

Abe gets to jump on board at the end of the day while Jody & Pat take their fish out of the live well

lining up for the weigh in

Jody and his teammate Pat with their Day 1 bag

David & Mark for 2nd place

Nick & Clay for 3rd

After these regional events, the teams go on to national events where the competition is stiffer, the event is longer, and the winnings are bigger.  Last year they’d been represented by Jody and his teammate to fish in the FLW Nationals, another college bass fishing tournament sponsor, on Kentucky Lake. This year, running concurrently with the regional tournament, Virginia Tech was again represented and placed 5th overall!

Jody was 4 years old when we stopped at Dailey’s Pond in Shaftsbury, our home town, to fish for trout on a June afternoon.  This little pond is stocked by the gravel company strictly for kids 12 and under to fish in.  He prepared to cast his lure into the pond and an unfortunate backlash had a treble hook firmly entrenched in his little noggin.  I tried not to create too much of a fuss, though I was plenty concerned, and we dashed to the doctor’s.  It was Dr. Judy’s first fishing lure to remove and she ended up having to borrow pliers from the janitor!  Nurse Ellie gave Jody a nice shot of Novocaine in the top of his skull and that was more painful than anything for him.  It made for a great story, but from then on we instilled the “hats on for fishing” rule.  Ironically, when he was in Kentucky last year, within 15 minutes of setting out, his partner, Carson, promptly caught him in the side of the head with a full steam cast that knocked Jody to the deck of the boat, all caught on film from the camera boat riding alongside!  He saw some stars, that I recall, but in a few minutes, with a little Neosporin, he was back on his feet and the two of them brought in a bag large enough to place 4th that day.

What a pleasure it was for Charlotte and I to host some of the team over the past few days and then to get out on the lake with my son Jody & his tournament partner, Pat, for our own glimpse at some of their favorite hot spots from the 2 day event.  There is nothing quite like drifting about serenely when the temperatures are in the 80s and the breeze and water keep things comfortable.  The guys kept us entertained as they coaxed their fin-ny friends out of the beds and stumps and onto their hooks and into the boat.  I cannot even begin to write technically about the art and sport of bass fishing, never mind angling in general, but I have learned a lot through the years and Jody puts it all out there in writing for his blog following on Jody White Fishing.  He and Pat had a tough tournament, personally, though the team was represented really well with two Virginia Tech duos placing second and third for this particular event.

Being a fan of my kids means that I find myself in concert halls, hockey rinks and mountain lakes a mere 11-14 hours away, by car.  It means chaperoning in South Africa and Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.  It means hours spent over the cookstove, frozen feet on winter ponds for ice-fishing birthday parties, road-trips to pick up pet hedgehogs,…I am a blessed mom and though I don’t always know the answers to parenting, I have never regretted my vocation.  Let the good times roll!

Two great fishermen, Jody White & Pat Snellings, President & V.P. of the Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team on Smith Mountain Lake

The bass were fairly flying into the boat on the day that we went out just for the fun of it!

Pat with a good-sized largemouth on one of his first casts.

Just a few of the tools of the trade.

Osprey nests were everywhere at Smith Mountain Lake. It was so much fun to watch them fishing, too!

Jody & Pat, showing us where the lunkers were hiding.