who gives a duck……


I have been asked several times about the duck mounted on the Engel cooler I carry on back of my Hobie. So……….

2011 I married my Joy.

My Joy’s favorite holiday is Christmas.   Every year there is a stocking taller than Dishrag full of everything from silly putty to a new camera lens; from magic cards, jacks or x-ray glasses to an Ipad. It feels totally random to me, but each gift has meaning to her…has her in them.

One of those things was a duck float. It was a rubber duck that had a poker chip on the bottom and a ring for fishing line. The rubber duck in the picture. It was a really bad design for a float, so I decided it would never be used for that purpose.

I removed the chip, placed it on the front of my Jackson Tuna and fished my first tournament of this year. At that tournament, I saw a Hobie PA12 on sale, told her how cool it was…and she bought it; not because I asked, but that is who she is for me. Tell you the chuck Norris birthday story one day…..

My third tournament of the year was the KBF Open. That duck rode with me every day of the pre-fishing and on my journey to an 11th place finish. A tournament that she encouraged me to attend, a tournament that she encouraged me to do as well as I did.

Since then, the duck has ridden on the back (except for one day it fell off and was lost for an hour – but found….I won!) for every tournament, for every trip I have made in the kayak. From Kentucky Lake to Wheeler Lake; from Chickamauga to Center Hill; from first place to 28th; everywhere the kayak and I go.

It sits on the top of that Engel cooler I use for a tackle box – to keep my Joy close to me. To remind me that I have love in my life. I turn and see it when the fish are slow, and I smile knowing that I am blessed to have her in my life. That silly little duck is there when I lose a big fish, when I take a deep breath and hear her (not literally) reminding me that “it will be ok, you will catch another one”.

“Go get a game changa!”

Maybe you could say that duck is in some ways a security blanket…maybe you might say I have issues….maybe some think I just have a duck thing they wouldn’t understand….maybe it is what the duck?

But the reality is I have a wife who supports my desire to fish competitively, who loves me, who is there when I feel down. A woman who doesn’t always get me, but who knows the only place I am calm; the only place my mind is still, is on the water.

And that duck……is me making sure that I have a little bit of her with me on every trip; me keeping her as close as I can. It is a reminder that I am not alone in my journey….not for one second.

….dude…you can’t….

I had convinced myself that I should not fish the Hobie Open; a little voice in the back of my head telling me again and again, “you can’t fish on Ky Lake”.

“Dude, you don’t know how to ledge fish….you don’t know where to start fishing big water…you don’t know…”

“Shut up!”

“Well, you don’t…”

“yeah I know.”

So I was out.

Then I spoke with my Joy who told me that I should fish it.

“If you want to get better, you have to step out of your comfort zone!”

…then the little voice…

“dude….you are going to fail big time…you su…”

Then my Joy….

“You know how to catch fish, right? Isn’t it just fishing?”

In the end, it is fishing. And I have been doing that since I could remember. I want to compete at a different level, so I have to grow; become more versatile. I cannot be afraid of losing, because that is going to happen; it happens to us all.

Then I logged on and signed up before that voice could tell me how bad it was going to end.

At the Friday captains meeting I sat listening to all the guys who knew deep water, who knew ledges; electronics.

“Dude…you should go to Barkley and fish some small water, go where you belong. You do not fit here. In the Open, you fished the skinny end of Barkley so go where you know.”

There was no sleeping when I got home. I scoured maps, watched videos, reviewed FLW winners lure choices; tried to convince myself that I could fish there.

Saturday morning I had decided that I should go to Saline Creek. Shallow lily pads for me. Then I came to the turn off…and kept going to Ky Lake.

…………day one results……

I was in 50th place. I had caught over thirty small and largemouth bass; two sauger, three blue gill. It wasn’t in deep water, but I had found massive willow fly hatches so the fish were swarming. The only issue was that I had found little fish, only hooking one larger than 17 inches – who freed himself before I could measure him.

During the course of the day, I watched the only other kayak competitor as he fished off shore. I watched as he moved from spot to spot, and saw him searching with his head down facing his sonar. Before I slept, I again poured over the map to see what the guy had been fishing. What attracted him to the spots he chose during the first day.

………day two………

“dude take yourself to the lily pads, take yourself to Blue Creek or Bumpus Mills…go to somewhere you know!”

I again passed the turnoff. The odds of me winning were equal to the powerball ticket in my pocket being “the one”, so what did I have to lose. I would watch the guy from the day before and at least learn. I set a goal to make it to number 40…be in the top thirty percent. Stay competitive, don’t be in the last two thirds.

As I rounded the corner to the ramp, I was alone. No one was there but me.

I decide to bust the hatches again, get a limit and see where it took me. Fish one was larger than anything I had caught the day before, but still not large. Fish two, the same. Fish three came in a few minutes and I had a limit. A small limit. Several more fish as I backed off the point to try deeper.

Fish were hitting across the bay, so I pedaled over to give it a try. Larger smallmouth, small largemouth…giant carp sucked in my top water bait, another bluegill.

Moved to the back of the bay, thick brush and grass. Popped a frog a few times, three more fish.

Then they stopped. The whole place stopped. Normal day, load up and call it; the party was over. But I had several hours left in the day.

Still alone – electronics working – I moved to where I had seen the guy fishing the day before. It didn’t take me long to find the humps, the channels and the drop offs. I tied a crankbait to my line and dredged the spots, feeling rocks, wood, gravel; sensing it reach the drop off and come free.

So I finally understood. I got it. I had never looked at a map to find deep spots to fish; only to find shallow spots close to deep water.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t find, what I needed to find; fish. The fish had turned off around nine thirty and never came back.

….final results………

I had met some new guys, and shared some fish truths, some fish lies.

I had moved from 50th to 25th with my continued success at finding volumes of fish.

I had discovered what those guys fishing off shore knew.

So I was pleased.

I watched a guy I had fished with at other tournaments pull in an impressive 2nd place. Josh Stewart was going to travel with the Hobie group. That made me smile.

And then I silently thanked the winner, Jay Wallen, who had left the spot I was fishing and allowed me to learn. He had moved somewhere that produced larger fish but had taught an old dog how to hunt in a different way.

Congratulations to you both for the adventure to follow.



And now………..

I need to thank my Joy for supporting my need to fish. She understands I find peace, that my mind is quiet, on the water. She convinces me that if I keep pushing myself, trying new techniques, I can be a better angler….be a better person. She convinced me that I should try to do something, to believe in myself and the little voice was silent….she reminds me that I can.

Dude…I am fishing here…

I realize to you, I am just some other person in a little boat.

I realize I don’t appear to be as serious as you without a 20ft, 250 hp fiberglass boat.

I realize that you cannot see the hours I put in learning to fish the same patterns as you, to catch the same fish as you, to learn the same craft as you; that more than likely, I study the bass I search after more than you ever will.

I know there is no way that you could be aware that I have a boat in my garage but I choose to be in a kayak because I love the fellowship and competition; I love the purity of this form of fishing.

It seems obvious you are not aware that by placing high enough, we qualify for the chance at a $100,000 prize in the KBF National Championship.

Maybe you didn’t know I was fishing in the KBF tournament on Chickamauga Lake last weekend with 59 other kayakers?

But, you could see there were four other kayaks fishing the same area – because I could see them most of the day.

Five kayaks in a creek; five. I lost count of the number of you that passed, but it became a constant wave.

Not once (in all of the 8.5 hours I fished) did any of those kayakers cut off another kayak or boat, not once did they toss a lure at the back of a bass boat, not once did they cut off another person fishing; some even quietly carried kayaks off to the side to allow other boaters to have quick access to the ramps.

In that same 8.5 hours; I saw a boat come within 10 feet of one of us at full speed, had three lures chunked toward me, had a jet ski idle past in a narrow spot – only to immediately spin three times – within feet of me – before running off into the distance, had my path cut off twice….then sat after I pulled to the ramp only to have a ski boat back down and block my ability to leave while they tried to charge their battery.

Now, let me be very clear; many people shared the same courtesy we showed them. We respected each other’s right to fish, to boat; to just enjoy the day we were given. For a few seconds, with a simple head nod or a “catchin’ any” we connected and then moved on.

Like I said, I realize that maybe you don’t know how important fishing is to me and others who paddle or pedal across the same water as you…

…but I hope you will understand when one of us stands up in our kayak and reminds you that we are fishing here too……and we are only growing in numbers…and while we cannot out run your boat, some of us can definitely out fish you…so back up and respect that we have as much right to fish that dock as you.