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Bending Branches

"For The Love of the Sport"

By Jerry White

Between work and moving, the past few months have been a blur. Never enough hours in the day to get things done. A good day is measured not by how much you got accomplished, but by how much is left to do. But as I write this article, my eyes drift above the laptop screen and catch a glimpse of a boat headed out to Fort DeSoto, loaded with anglers. So, these past months have certainly been worth it. And, I'm catching a lot of fish in my new backyard. It ain't so bad after all.

But, it's left little time to get the kayaks out. Yes, I live on the water now, but it's a 7' drop from the seawall down to where I can launch. Water, water everywhere, but not a place to launch. Until I fabricate a launch solution, I still have to load the boats and take them somewhere to launch. That's a lame excuse for not going, because a great launch is less than ľ mile from home, and there are 3 dozen more on out in to the park.

We finally did manage to take the boats out a few weeks ago. The weather forecast called for clear skies but windy. I hate wind. My brother-in-law/sister-in-law (Sandy and Dan) were going with us. It's been a while since they had been kayaking, and they'd never kayaked Fort D, so we would get to be tour guides. Like I said, the forecast called for wind so I was dragging my heels about going. But, Fort DeSoto has lots of places to launch so you can escape the breeze, so we went. I still hate wind though.

THE LOAD UP / THE LAUNCH:
No problems there. Since we were only headed out for a little while, we were travelling light. Boats, paddles, PFD's, done. Dan opted not to take a rod, which made absolutely no sense to me. I took 1 rod (normally I have 3). As far as gear goes, I took 2 spare soft plastic baits just in case I lost the one I had tied on to that lone rod. That's all! It was very liberating. If you take less, that makes the launch process exponentially easier as well. We had 4 boats in the water and ready to go in a matter of minutes.

PEDDLE vs. PADDLE:
Iíve been peddling the Hobie for a good while now. My neck and back certainly have reaped the benefits. But today, Sandy would be taking my Hobie, and I'd paddle one of the Emotion kayaks. I was feeling pretty good, nothing aching or tingling today, so this would actually be fun. Dan and I paddled our boats over to a protected shoreline while the girls were peddling off in the distance. I must admit, it took a little while to get back in the groove of paddling, let alone paddling straight. Like riding a bicycle, that all came back pretty quickly. Of course it did - this is how it all began for most of us.

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE:
Keep in mind I only had 1 rod, and 2 spare soft baits with me. I honestly didn't expect to fish much, let alone catch much since the tide would be high and not moving much. Still, I made my share of casts. I had to get back in the groove of positioning the boat, placing the paddle somewhere, making the cast, working the lure, put the rod back in the holder, grab the paddle, reposition as needed - repeat. At one point I made a long distance cast that made me think of Tiger Woods. Yep, long on distance but missed the fairway by 20 yards. In my case, the (one and only) lure ended way back in a mangrove tree. It was a lousy cast, compounded by the wind. Normally I would have just broken the lure off if I was unable to flip it free. But, I did want to continue fishing, so in the woods I went. The wind blew me right in to the groves. The rod got tangled up in them as well. The paddle got knocked out of my lap. It was not pretty. But I got my lure back, and there was a small sense of pride in that.

FOR THE LOVE OF THIS SPORT:
Here's where I'm going with all this. The more our sport of paddle fishing changes to accommodate technology and the gimmick de jour, the more it ultimately stays the same. We recently talked about how SUP's (Stand Up Paddle Boards) are all the rage, and how they mimic the early surfboards fitted with rod holders. It all comes back to the basic boats, gear, and techniques that made us first pick up the sport in the first place. For a moment that day, I wasn't concerned with work, or packing/unpacking. I was pleasantly distracted by going above and beyond to save an inexpensive jig head in order to continue not catching fish, in the wind. That is what this sport is supposed to do for me. I just had to let it.

NFL = No Fans Left
One of the things that made me choose the topic for this article is the recent state of the National Football League. I love me some football. Well, I used to. I do remember watching pro football on TV when I was a young kid, and back then, there truly was a love of the sport. 40 years later, we find NFL players making more money than they can hide in their "foundation". But that's not enough. The owners can build a TV screen in their stadium that can be seen from the space station. But that's not enough. There seemed to be lots of concerns about player safety until the season/paychecks got cut short. Now, there's no problem playing an "abbreviated" season, fronted by "abbreviated" training camps for athletes that haven't been keeping in shape on their own. This is a recipe for horrific injuries. Between the post-score celebrations and the clean jerseys on the quarterbacks (can't touch this/them), I was already on the fence as to whether I would once again go crazy during football season. So, this lock-out really helped me decide. If the weather is nice on winter Sundays (and it almost always is), I won't be glued to the TV. I will be on the water, gladly pulling lures out of the mangrove trees.

College football, or "NFL Lite", isn't much better. So, how *do* they afford those nice cars anyway? These young men come from all over the country, to get prepped for the NFL. Sure, there is some school pride, absolutely. In some cases, there's even an education in the mix. But unfortunately we normally hear about the recruiting violations and the DUI's first. When a football career starts in that sort of light, there's not many ways to evolve past that. So, my Saturday's are already open.

High School football may be the final frontier of this sport. This is where it all starts for most, much like us with the paddle and the plastic boat. There IS school pride here. How could there not be? You have pep rallies. And let's talk about game day. The sun goes down, and there's the smell of popcorn and freshly mown grass. There's a band at halftime. There's something magic about a mediocre school band playing "The Horse" at halftime. For me, this may be my football outlet this year. I'm going to pick a high school close to home, and take in a few games. It will be a great way to wrap up my work week. I'll buy a program (because it helps the boosters), and I'll have one of those mystery meat hotdogs. And I'll cheer for some team I don't even know, because it matters to them.

My challenge to you. Simplify what you do when it comes to paddle fishing. The reasons are many, but the main one just may be to allow yourself to focus on nothing but the sport. Not the process, not the gear, not tide charts or solunar tables. Hopefully you too can find yourself happy to release that lure from the trees as you release the stress from your life. Love this sport.

See you out on the water...


"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after"
~ Henry David Thoreau


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