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The Top Basser Returns to Zip a Tournament

[From The Northwoods Call, September 11, 1974. The Snooker is Charles G. Snoek, a long time pal and bass fishing, deer hunting buddy from East Texas, transplanted to Michigan. It was Snooker who put us on the bass tournament trail for a while.]

My radial tires hummed in tune with Tom T. Hall as I raced along a ribbon of two-lane between Coldwater and Quincy. “Old dogs, children, and watermelon wine.” Wail that song, Tom T! I’m goin’ fishin’ and I don’t care who knows, who knows, who knows….”

Suddenly I was there. City limits. “No Parking on City Streets after 2 A.M.” I let up on the gas instinctively.Not too smart to blow through bug-of-a-burg, Farmtown USA, especially before breakfast on a saturday morning. Old Deputy Dawg might be hiding just around that next bend, drooling with anticipation, feeling up his ticket book.

I found my turn-off about three miles south of town, but hesitated when I saw the road was za damn sight worse than the Alcan Highway. “Oh reet, time to burst my bolts on Bottom-out Boulevard. “So –R-r-r-rough  th-I..it..al…most KNOCKed  my HUBCaps oF-f-f.

Then I saw that devil: Marble Lake Public Access, tucked neatly off to the side of a hairpin turn that would titilate old Evel K. “Hisself.”

Snooker looked like a caged gila monster, pacing back and forth in front of Bobby Elkins’s flashy bass rig with “Northern Bassman” painted on the side in green letters. I could see him checking his watch and cleaning his ear with the blunt end of his Bic pen. He was just finishing a chorus of “Me and Bobby McGee” when I slid into a parking space.

“Where yew bin?” he shouted.

“Streaking Coldwater.”

“Dang fool thang, yew’n me got some fishin’ ta dew. Yew kin take care of them monkey shanes later.”

“Felt the urge. Couldn’t help myself,” I told him.

“Yew bin messin…with…pills?”

“Hell no! You know I don’t mess with that stuff. Just Bud.”

“Bud n innythang else what’ll pour,” Snooker said. One thing you can say for him. He knows his fishing partner pretty well.

In case you don’t remember, Snooker is a Texan and, as such, he takes his bass fishing seriously. His language is what you and I might call…different. Tixan isn’t a pure tongue. Since before a bunch of good old Texas and Tennesse boys threw a party for Santa Anna, the language has been generously fertilized by French, Spanish, Cajun and pidgin English. Even so, it’s not even close to Michigan’ s  Futchansky (Finn+Dutch+Italian+Polish).

Well, to avoid further digression Snooker is not the easiest person to understand, especially when he’s excited, but this trait sometimes works to his advantage. A mystery man just drives the honeys bananas.

Snooker hefted most of my gear and started walking bow-legged across the parking lot moaning a chorus from “The City of New Orleans: Hello Mer-ca how are yew, donchu know ‘at ah’m yewer native son….”

I tried to catch up with him and at the same time juggle three cases of beer, assorted clothing, a Green Hornet lunch pail on temporary loan from one of my kids, and several fishing rods.

“Where’s the boat?” I called after him.

“Over’n that there mariner.”

All I could see were trees. “What mariner?” I mimicked.

He squinted over his shoulder at me. “Stop yewer jawin’, Already done cost us twinny fah dollar ta git into this thang.

I followed Snbooker through the woods to the marina where I finally got my first look at the boat and did the old-Tom-and Jerry-Protruding-Eyeball-Doubletake. What a rig! Paydirt! I couldn’t believe it.

The boat was a loaner provided by Gene Jackson of the NBAA, who borrowed it from a Chrysler boat dealer in Kazoo. It was long and sleek, solid white with fat blue cushioned seats on each end and a Foxy 55 lashed to the back: Pure unadulterated sex for hawg hunters.

Snooker quickly stowed the gear and looked over at me. “Yew bring inny san-wishes?”

“Six.”

“Gud. Now we got us eighteen a thim buggers.”

“Eighteen sandwiches? One-eight? A dozen and a half, three times six? Who’re we feeding, the Chicago Bears?”

Snicker-snicker went the Snooker. “Get own bored,” he snapped. “This here shindig’s a-fixing ta whup up raht smart in lessen fav minutes.”

As we roared out of the channel I checked our equapment: Depth-finder, rainsuites, plenty of beer (if we didn’t stay out too long), live-well, ten fishing rods, three tackle boxes the size of footlockers, flotation vests, one canoe paddle, sun tan lotion….

But only one solitary anchor.

“We got two anchors?” I asked respectfully.

“Nope, just won.”

“How we gonna worm with one anchor?”

“Figger it out later is how.”

“We’re gonna spin like a top in this wind,” I pointed out to no avail as he hunched down in the cockpit, concentrating on his driving — or whatever rust-pickers call steering a boat.

I almost fell off my seat when we hit big water. Boats, squatloads of them. I could imagine Sir Francis Drake’s lookout announcing, “Spanish armada l’arboard!” How many? Drake yells back. “Squatloads, comes the answer from the crow’s nest or revolving bar on top, or wherever.)

Squatloads was the only way to describe the gaggle of boats assembled. It looked like one  of those wire service photos of the Queen Mary steaming into New York surrounded by water-spouting tug boats, and bathtubs and anything else that would float.

As we closed on the fleet I realized that every eye was boring in on Snooker and me. “Why’re all those cats hawking us?”

“Cause we the faver-rights.”

“The what?”

“I guess ole Bobby (Elkins, the tournament director) done tol’ ’em w’es the team to beat.”

Wonderful. Our first bass tournament, we’re raw rookies with one anchor and we’ve been pegged as the favorites. Somehow, some way, Snooker always manages to get the fickle finger of fate aimed in our direction. Uncanny.

Crazed Start

Elkins was standing in a boat in the middle of the hawger armada, squawking something over his bullhorn. Suddenly the quiet morning exploded into a frenzy of activity. Whitewater, churning, boiling, rolling, waves crisscrossing. “Batten down the hootch me hearties — take care  a the bloody hatches later. First things first, argh.” Such brazen cries raced through my mindbut when my mouth moved, no sound came out.

There we were in the middle  of a pack of bass-crazed hawg rig jockeys with 150 hp voices. Thirty five teams slammed their throttles forward simultaneously and tore off in every direction save up.

Two guys in a brightly painted basser almost lopped off our bow as they sped north toward two hogbacks about a half-mile up-water. As the boat knifed by I could see “Toledo Bass Club” painted on the side. It  would not be the last time we’d see those low-down freaks from northern A-hy-ah.”

Blood and Guts

“Yowp!”

“What the hell?” Some of Snooker’s sounds were downright zoological, but this was a beaut — like a werewolf with a double hernia trying to wrestle the corpse of a Boone and Crockett elk into a rabbit hole.

“Got me a little hit over by that there scraggly lookin reed bed,” Snooker explained.

That was enough for me. I kicked the anchor over the side (in light of recent political rhetoric iIhestitate to use the term “deep six). Snookedr lofted another cast to the edge of the weeds, which stuck about four feet out of the water like magnified beard bristles in a close-up razor ad.

Thirty minutes later the reed bed resembled broken dry spaghetti. It had been shattered by orange, green, yellow, black and white spinners, not to mention several Rapalas, a chewed-up Jitterbug, a half-dozen badly bruised Rogers alphabet humpbacks and an empty Bud can Snooker threw in anguish after impaling my forearm.

“Dammit, you got ME, Snooker! Let up on your pole! Gimme some slack.”

“That so?” he seemed only slightly concerned.

The barb was imbedded deep, but the wound only superficial — which is to say not gaping with exposed layers of yellow fat like I once saw in a medical film and promptly departed the showing to puke. Not like that. I used pliers to pry the hook out but apparently I didn’t work fast enough for Snooker. While I winced and sweated, he grabbed my fishing pole and began casting feverishly.

“Hustle! Cain’t ketch no fish if’n yewer line ain’t wet.”

“Sorry to slow you up,” I said.

“S’okay. Just so’s yew git it out so’s I kin git it back in the watur.”

Finally the hook came out, followed by a steady flow of dark blood. Snooker immediately grabbed his rod and examined the spinner.

He was owl-eyed. “Yew bent mah hook!”

“You’re breaking my heart,” I replied, trying to stop the bleeding, considering a tourniquet.

“Don’ let it git ta yew ole buddy. I kin fix it with mah plars.” He worked quickly then grunted his approval. “All sit.”

Then he brightened. He held the spinner close to his face. “Hey, they’s blood on mah hook — that oughta git them loonkers all railed up!”

“Happy to have been of assistance,” I said.

“Tha’s why yewer mah podnah!”

With that, he was fishing again.

Whip. ZZZZZ. Thonk. Crank-crank. Whip. ZZZZZ. Thonk. Crank-crank-crank. Ad infinitum.

Tied for First

We pulled into the marina at five sharp. As we approached the weigh-in station Elkins yelled at us. “How’d you guys do?”

Snooker made a circle with his arms and raised it above his head.

“Big O.”

The crowd of tired fishermen, banana-breasted old ladies in short-shorts and scab-kneed adolescents roared and applauded. The rookie “favorites” had been skunked. But when I saw the scoreboard tacked on the side of the marina I felt better. Nobody had caught anything.

Snooker studied the board for a moment, and smiled.

“Hell Joe-boy, we’re tied for first.”

I suspect there are a lot of Texans in the statistics business.

About that time a pimply-faced Ohio fisherman came ambling up to the walk-way to the weigh-in station. He had one fish, a lunker. Elkins weighed it in at 6-13, a new lake record. That one fish put junior’s team in first place. But the kid’s glory was shortlived.

The two anglers from Toledo showed up dragging a stringer with five bass that topped the scales at more than 16 pounds. It was clear then that no team would get close to them and they strutted like banty roosters.

Snooker turned away and looked at me. “Jes fair.”

At the marina a pontoon craft had tied up behind us. There were three ladies on board — young with very scant bikinis and extensive tans. They smiled as we approached from dock-side.’

“Have a beer?” one of the women asked.

“Don’t manned if’n ah dew,” said the Snooker, jumping from dock to boat like Sterile Errol the Celuloid Swashbuckler.

“How’d the fishing go?” a slightly innebriated blond asked.

Super,” Snooker replied. he always stretches the truth a bit.

“Why don’t you fellas take us for a spin around the lake and show us how you catch fishies?”

“Love to, ma’am,” Snooker told the blond as he took the helm.

“We heard this morning that you two were the ones to beat,” a lanky brunette cooed. I don’t want you to get the idea she was naked but to my way of thinking three small Johnson & Johnson products were about all she had between her and an indecent exposure charge.

“Thet so?” said the Snooker. “Ah don’ wanna dew no braggin but me n Joe-boy here prob-ly know as much bout Old Buckemouthas innybody.”

“Git the beer, Joe. Les us se if’n we kin teach these pritty lil’ ladies somethin’ ’bout this here crazy sport.”

As I reached for the beer three male-type brutes emerged from the marina store and boarded the pontoon boat.

“Honey,” the blond said to one the biggest of the trio, “These fellas are gonna show us all how to bass fish.”

Snooker looked crushed. “Some other time,” he muttered, jumping from the boat to the dock. “We gotta be scootin.'”

Be Doggoned

Just outside Quincy I spoted the red light blinking in my rearview mirrow.  It figured. Everything else had gone wrong.

The cop was short, wiry, leather faced. He wobbled when he walked.I wondered if he kept a  bullet in his shirt pocket. “Is there a problem, officer?” I knew how to be humble.

“No, just wanted to tell you bass boys you’re welcome in this town any time.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

“Well, don’t thet beat all,” Snooker said with great glee. “Ah’d say are luck’s a changin.'”

I nodded,not really believing.

“…EVERY THIRD SONG TODAY IS A GOLDY OLDIE, A REBOUND SOUND FROM THE HEYDAY OF ROCK-N-ROLL. AND NOW…FROM THE GREAT RICK NELSON….”

Snooker cranked up the volume full-bore and sang along. What the hell, I thought, and joined in.

We wound our way west toward Coldwater wailing with Good Ole Ricky Nelson. The wind ripped through the open windows, cooling my sunburned flesh. It felt good.

Snooker suddenly turned the volumn down, leaned over, and looked me in the eye. He was squinting.

“Cheer up ole buddy, they’s more ta life thin ketchin loonkers.”


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