Sunday, May 22, 2011
This is it. Only a few more hours until I hook up the boat and make the 16 hour drive to Lake Lewisville for my last National Championship. This is the culmination of all this past year's hard work -- and a chance for redemption after last year's near miss.
At the 2010 National Championship, my partner Matt Henry and I were blessed with an 8th place finish. Top ten in the country is pretty dang good, but it's not good enough for me. People don't remember who finishes in the top ten. People remember the winners. We were so close last year we could taste it. We were on the fish to win the event. The guys who won, Ben Cleary and Bo Page from the University of Georgia, were fishing less than a hundred yards from us. We were in the lead the morning of the final day. We were on the right fish and we had the right bites. We just couldn't close the deal. There are no excuses. It simply wasn't meant to be.
This year's National Championship is the biggest event of my life. This is my last collegiate national championship, and likely my second-to-last collegiate tournament ever. After this, there will be no more fully-funded tournaments, no more gas reimbursement from the college, no more nothing. I am on my own. I will be thrown into the lion's cage with the big boys and will probably get the tar beat of out me for a while. But that's how I learn best. I learn from my failures and become increasingly determined with every bad tournament. I am a hard headed and determined son of a gun. Just ask anyone who knows me.
I'm swinging for the fences this year. It is going to take some big weights to win, and I am ready for the challenge. I am more than willing to gamble if necessary. I know what it's going to take. I've got a great partner in Zach Olson, and our other boat, Grant Kelly and Tyler Fiscus is full of talent. We may not be the biggest university, have the most funding, or be cruising around in $60,000 boats, but we are going to put our hearts and souls into every minute of the tournament. That is my only guarantee. I can barely sleep at night because I am so excited to get back to Texas and find some fish.
If the Good Lord were to bless us with a National Championship win, it would change my life in an infinite number of ways. Too many to name. If we're supposed to win, the Good Lord will see that it happens.
So at 2:30am Monday morning I will be hooking up the Skeeter and heading westward to do what I love in search of redemption. Only 200+ of the best collegiate anglers in the country stand in my way. No biggie, right?
Monday, February 28, 2011
As I've written about before, I am definitely no stranger to the odd looks and awkward moments when I tell people that I'm a fisherman. For whatever reason, many people have somewhat negative preconceived notions about my sport -- I guess it just comes with the territory. People tend to think of it as a 'redneck' sport, but they couldn't be any further from the truth. For me, the sport of fishing is about much more than catching fish. It has a much deeper, spiritual importance to me.
Growing up in Grayson, Georgia, there was never much to do. Back when Grayson was a small, sparsely populated town, I usually spent my time playing outside in the woods or fishing. I can remember baiting tiny hooks with bird seed and trying to catch minnows in the creek behind my house.
My dad has always been a very passionate fisherman, and from the time I could walk, I was begging him to take me fishing -- and thankfully, he did. A lot. All of my earliest memories revolve around fishing, and that is no exaggeration. Whether it was sitting on the tailgate of my dad's 1952 Chevrolet with my family watching bobbers on a farm pond, or catching largemouth bass with my dad on Lake Lanier, the sport of fishing is deeply ingrained into every fiber of my being. My parents even used to go fishing together on local farm ponds when they were teenagers.
Every time I'm blessed enough to see a sunrise or a sunset from the front deck of my bass boat, my mind is flooded with memories from my childhood -- when life was simple.
Catching fish is great, and there's nothing that I love more. However, even the slowest days of fishing can be the most therapeutic for me. When I fish, absolutely nothing else matters. I don't think about school, I don't think about sponsorships, and I don't think about money. I don't have to impress anyone or meet anyone's expectations. I'm in God's beautiful creation doing what I love to do. If I catch fish, it's just a welcomed bonus.
When I fish, my soul and mind are free, and I truly hope that everyone has experienced the same feeling at some point in their lives. My head feels clear, my breaths feel deeper, my feet feel lighter, and my eyes feel wider. I am at my purest form when I fish -- I am at home when I'm on the water. If you want to see the raw, unadulterated Walker Smith, come fishing with me. You will see another side of me.
Most importantly, I feel so much closer to the Good Lord when I fish. I've had some of the best talks with Him while I've been on the water. I feel close to Him when I'm in His creation, and it is a feeling unlike any other. I don't pray for fish, for bites, or any of that. Most of the time I'll talk to Him about issues totally unrelated to fishing. It's just me, Him, and His creation. It's a deep spiritual connection, and it makes me feel totally at ease. It cures whatever ails me.
I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a fisherman. This sport has gotten me through some of my hardest times -- it has always been there for me. When people let me down or do me wrong, fishing is there for me. Whenever life is moving too fast and I feel like I can't catch up, fishing is my still point in a turning world. It brings me back to what matters and above the mundane. It provides me with unbelievable opportunities to meet and fellowship with outstanding people, to see different parts of the country, and to be closer with our Creator.
A few brief paragraphs will never be able to accurately articulate the enormous impact that this sport has had on my life -- I could write a book about it, and who knows, maybe I will some day. However, I do hope that it sheds some light on why I will always be proud to call myself a fisherman.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
|1987 Ranger 374V|
Every bass fisherman remembers his first bass boat. While most of us share the humble beginnings of jon boats, plastic flat hull boats, or even canoes, we will never forget the sheer exhilaration of cranking our first outboard and feeling the undeniable freedom of the open water.
This is no different for me. When I was 19, I was absolutely itching to get my first bass boat. I knew I had what it took to succeed in competitive bass fishing -- everything but a boat, that is. I can vividly remember lying in bed at night dreaming of screaming down the lake at 70 miles per hour and turning the heads of jealous fisherman at every boat ramp. I was going to be hot stuff in my shiny, sparkly new bass boat -- watch out Brad Pitt.
Every evening I would set aside school work and scour the internet for the perfect bass boat. Did I want a Ranger? A Skeeter? A Triton? The possibilities were endless -- or so I thought. I soon came to the harsh realization that outlandish expectations and a $3,000 budget wouldn't get me very far. My bass boat bubble was busted.
Once I finally got my head out of the clouds and returned to Planet Earth, I continued my search, but on a (much) lesser scale. I soon found myself researching the intricacies of fiberglass repair, upholstery and carpet replacement, trailer wiring, and debating whether or not a boat with a "few leaks" would really be that bad. With my modest budget, I was going to need to know a thing or two about everything.
After months of searching, I finally ran across what I thought was my 'diamond in the rough' -- a red and cream color 1987 Ranger 374V with a bright white Johnson GT150 on the back. Maybe I was going to be lookin' good on the water after all. Heck, this boat even had a stainless steel prop. Talk about fancy! If I recall correctly, the Craigslist advertisement read as follows:
"1987 ranger 374v for sale. runs good, few bad spots on gell coat. stainless steal prop, live wells dont work. one fish finder, troling motor petal is stiff dont know why. 3500 o.b.o call ron"Okay, so maybe the guy has some trouble spelling, but who cares? Looks like I was going to test drive a boat.
To make a long story short, I test drove the boat, the engine skipped and stuttered like Porky the Pig, an 800 pound gorilla could stand on the trolling motor pedal and not move it, and you could grind diamonds on the gel coat. But I didn't care. It was a bass boat, and the only one without leaks I could find, so I bought it.
After months of spending money and trying to make my new boat 'do right', all I had was a headache and a huge financial burden on my hands. I was catching plenty of fish in it, but I only got to actually fish every third time I backed it into the water. If the engine was running well, the trolling motor wouldn't work. If the trolling motor was working, the boat wouldn't get on plane. And if, by some miraculous occurrence, both the engine and trolling motor were working, the trailer lights wouldn't come on. Talk about frustrating.
In every tournament I ever competed in, I was always the guy getting to the ramp an hour early just to make sure my boat would run. When she would finally crank, I'm pretty certain that everyone in the surrounding counties knew. I'm not sure what was more embarrassing -- the pathetic, high pitched screeching of my almost-dead engine, or the coughing of the bystanders suffocating from the thick, white smoke quickly engulfing the surrounding quarter mile radius of my boat. On a few occasions, I had people flat out laugh at me -- but I really didn't care. I was doing what I loved and chasing a dream, and was totally unapologetic about it. I would just give them a quick grin, a wave, and would (hopefully) be on my way fishing!
To make myself feel better, I would always tell myself that "the fish don't know what kind of boat you drive". While this is very true, I still had to be able to get to the fish first!
While it was monumentally aggravating at the time, a lot of funny things happened to that boat. I'll never forget the time when, with a simple tap of the trolling motor pedal, the entire trolling motor shaft fell into the water and I was forced to fish it out by the cables. Or the time I heard a horrible thumping in the floor of my boat during a tournament and found my fish flopping around in my livewells without a single drop of water. Or the time that the windshield almost decapitated me. And let us also not forget the fishing trip when my engine wouldn't stop mysteriously tilting up and down, leaving me with a dead battery. That boat had some bat voodoo!
The never-ending frustration and financial woes continued for roughly two years, until I was eventually in a position to be able to sell it and upgrade to my current boat. With as much animosity as I had towards that boat, it taught me a lot.
In many of life's adventures, we must earn our stripes and work our way up from the bottom. Things get tough and money gets tight, but if you want something bad enough, you have to make it work. There is no other option. Don't complain. Either accept your circumstances and move on, or make a conscious decision to take the initiative to improve your current situation. Sure, there were days that I wanted to sink that Ranger and make a new fish attractor out of it, but in the long run it helped me appreciate what I am blessed to have today. It also, in a way, helped me relax as a fisherman. I learned to laugh when I had problems with it, and when every boat in the tournament would speed past me at blast off. That's all I could do -- there was no sense in getting mad. I didn't have the money to make it perfect, so I just accepted it and concentrated on fishing.
I firmly believe that nothing worth having comes easy, and sometimes that means swallowing your pride, going a measly 40 miles per hour, having your trolling motor fall off, getting stranded in the middle of tournaments, and looking like a big fat goober for a while. Just keep on truckin' and don't ever let foolish pride get in the way of your wildest dreams -- I'm glad I didn't.
Monday, January 24, 2011
As I was sitting at a red light this afternoon, I happened to notice the annual log on my truck -- 41,540.7 miles within the last year. Not too shabby for a 22 year old college student. I started reminiscing on all of the tournaments and lakes that this truck has taken me to, and I couldn't help but smile. This truck could tell some stories.
This truck has seen it all. It has seen me at both my best and worst times, and with every revolution of its tires I have become one step closer to my dreams. It has been with me through many, many phone calls to companies, mentors, and editors. It has heard my frustration in dealing with once-potential sponsors, my question-rich dialogue with professional anglers, and both good and bad ideas being pitched to editors.
It has seen mechanical failures, boat keys flying off of my front deck into the road, my trailer bearings blowing out of the back of the hub, and dodged many a late-night deer. I would love to know how many times this truck has crossed the Georgia line.
When it comes to tournaments, this truck has had its steering wheel punched when I've gotten my rear end handed to me. It has felt my pain as I've paid my dues, and heard the disappointment and pain in my voice when I've called home to tell my family, "I just couldn't get 'em today".
It has also seen the "private" fist pumps and smiles when I've won tournaments. It has seen the anticipation I've exuded while fumbling for my cell phone to call my ever-supportive family, and heard the excitement in my voice and felt the trembling in my hands after I won my first major tournament. This truck could write a book.
This truck has been my home at the times when I've felt farthest from it. Its speakers have cranked out all genres of late night music to make sure my eyes have stayed open, and its windows have heard my ill-fated attempts to sing like my favorite country singers. This truck has heard the doubts attempting to cross my mind, and many late night calls to my buddies back home just to talk.
Most importantly, this truck has witnessed my development and maturation not only as an angler, but as a man. On its driver's side visor, a piece of paper with Matthew 6:33 scribbled onto it gives me hope and strength in my toughest, most trying times -- "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well".
I can only hope that the Good Lord allows me to put even more miles on my truck this upcoming year. I am a lucky man, and I won't stop driving until I reach my goals.
The weather is cold, the water temperatures are flirting with the 30's, and the fishing is slow. Oh, the joys of wintertime fishing. For those of us who view fishing as a lifestyle rather than a mere weekend hobby, this time of year is unavoidable. However, this is the perfect time of year to practice improvisation on the water.
All too often, anglers (myself included) are stubborn. Whether it is lure size, lure color, lure presentation, or even line type, we have all been there. We become so blinded by our confidence in a particular fishing style that we fail to use a large part of our bass fishing arsenal.
I was fishing a qualifying tournament last weekend on Lake Jackson with my collegiate team, and the bite was terrible. The water temperature was in the low 40's-high 30's, and the fish had lockjaw. I knew the fish were on rocky points, and I knew that I could catch them cranking. I threw almost every color of every crankbait I owned and couldn't get a bite. I started getting slaps on a shad-colored Bomber Flat A 2DFA, but they wouldn't eat it. After experimenting with various retrieve speeds, angles, and boat positions, I still couldn't make them eat.
I finally decided to try a little improvisation. The fish obviously liked something about this crankbait, and I wanted to give them a little something more to "zero in" on. To my disadvantage, I didn't have a lot of my lure customization gear in the boat. I did, however, have some of my trusty J.J.'s Magic, which is primarily meant for soft bait customization. After some thinking, I devised a plan: To tightly roll up a piece of toilet paper, dip it in the dye, and more or less "paint" the lure (see above picture).
I faded the chartreuse into the underside of the bait, and for added color, painted the edges of the crankbait's bill. To make a long story short, I caught one 3.4lber on this improvised crankbait and managed to finish third place in an extremely tough tournament.
While lure improvisation helped me at least get the proverbial "skunk" out of the boat, one fish is not a large enough testament to the benefits of on-the-go customizing. I've bitten trick worms in half, pulled appendages off of soft-plastic lizards, added gigantic, outlandish trailers to spinnerbaits and chatterbaits, and dropshotted things that should never be dropshotted -- and have caught some of the biggest, most important fish of my life on them.
Over time, I've learned that over-thinking is a bad thing. It may work for some, but not me. Sometimes the fish just want a Sammy instead of a Spook, a Bomber Flat A instead of a Bandit Flat Maxx -- the list could go on forever.
Just take the hints the fish are giving you, and give them what they want! Don't over-think things, and don't be afraid to try new things. You never know -- your next lure improvisation could quickly turn into your new secret bait!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
|A Recent Picture of a Lake Sinclair Sunset|
Throughout my college career I've met all kinds of people. I've come to know a lot of them quite well, while others are simply "school friends" -- the people who I talk to a lot on campus, but we never really hang out in our free time. Everyone has those types of friends. Those who know me are well aware of my career choice, while the others probably don't know. I don't really like to talk about myself, because I'd rather learn about other people. Surprisingly enough, I am pretty quiet until I get to know someone.
The awkward moment never fails: a "school friend", or even a professor, will ask me about my post-graduation plans and I just grin and plainly reply, "I want to fish and write about fishing". This is always followed by a seemingly eternal pause, an uncomfortable blank stare, and a reply, usually somewhere within the lines of "oh...um... well I'm sure you'll do great".
I always get a kick out of it. I think awkward moments are hilarious, and all I can do is laugh. If I were them, I probably wouldn't know what to say either. Some kid with a funny accent from Grayson, Georgia wants to fish for a living. That's not exactly something that you run across everyday! Many people just don't know much about the fishing or outdoor industries. I don't take offense to it at all, though. All I can do is smile and say "thanks".
Being a Business Management major, all of my classes revolve around the corporate world -- climbing to the top of the ladder, making a bunch of money, buying and selling stocks, analyzing firms' various financial reports, and so on. A lot of these people just don't understand, and probably never will. I'm totally fine with that, though. To each their own.
I just hope that everyone, regardless of their career path, has the opportunity to experience at least one time what I am fortunate enough to experience on a daily basis -- the fluorescent orange sunrise over calm water, the wildlife, the smell of a two cycle engine on a cold morning, the absence of road noise and blowing car horns, the warm summer air blowing while running 65+ miles per hour across a lake, and the incredible thrill of catching and safely releasing a largemouth bass. I truly believe, with everything that I am, that these things are good for the soul.
I've been doing this for a long time, and I've never seen someone not smile when experiencing these things for the first time. It's amazing what a day on the water can do for someone.
I don't want to be rich. I've personally seen money ruin a lot of good people. I don't want to climb a corporate ladder, work in a cubicle, or wear a suit and tie to work everyday. I just want to enjoy my life and career, and have the ability to give my future wife and kids the same things that I was blessed with. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.
We are only on this earth for a short time, and I have every intention to make the most of it. Why do the same thing as everyone else? Even if a career in the fishing/outdoor industry doesn't work out, I'll always be able to sleep at night because I know that I'm doing everything in my power to make my dreams come true. The rest is up to the Man Upstairs.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
|Photo (c) The Union-Recorder|
Well, the final semester of my college career has finally arrived. Before I know it, I'll be in the real world chasing down my lifelong dreams in professional fishing and outdoor sports writing. While it is equally as exciting as it is nerve wracking, I can't help but realize how blessed I am just to have a dream.
How many people can honestly say that they are chasing their dreams? Not as many as you would think. I have an outstanding family which fully supports my quest for a career in the outdoor industry, and excellent friends to match. I find great comfort knowing that, even if I fail miserably, I will always have fans and supporters. I cannot thank you all enough for that. It means the world to me. All of the supportive emails, Facebook messages, phone calls, and text messages are more than I have ever expected or deserved. Although I'm sometimes bad about responding promptly, each and every one of them puts a smile on my face.
As I continue down this long and winding road, I've realized how easy it is to get caught up in all of the work! While at home over the Christmas break, my wonderful mom shared a bit of her perpetual wisdom with me that really put things into perspective -- What's the point in getting to the finish line if you don't enjoy the journey? As usual, she's right. I am going to enjoy every second of this journey.
With that being said, I'm so excited to get back on the water and on the road this spring! My teammates are some of my very best friends (and, not to mention, some of the best collegiate fishermen in the country), and I always look forward to the fellowship we share over all of our long road trips. I'll be all over the southeast fishing my last collegiate season, and I hope to ride the momentum of our November Auburn Fall Classic win. I'll keep everyone updated on my tournament schedule as it is made known to me.
To wrap up the season, I'll be heading back to Lake Lewisville in Dallas, Texas to participate in the 2011 BoatUS National Championship. Should be a wild ride!
In between tournaments, I will be making appearances in various Walmarts in Georgia working as an FLW Ambassador. I will be assisting customers with fishing tackle selections and sharing my knowledge of bass fishing with the younger generation. Heck, I'll probably learn just as much as they will! As most of you know, I love meeting people and talking fishing, so this should be right up my alley!
I'll also be working hard to submit fishing articles to both local and national publications. I recently got a gig writing for About.com's Freshwater Fishing section and I am very thankful and excited for it! The editor, Ronnie Garrison, took a chance on me and has been very helpful in my development as a writer. I am learning from the best -- thanks Ronnie! Check out the site at About.com - Freshwater Fishing. I should also have an article in Georgia Outdoor Adventures next month.
In addition, I'm also looking forward to continuing my work with FLW Outdoors and possibly Georgia Outdoor News (GON) this spring.
Lastly, I hope this spring will also bring some sponsorship deals my way. I'm always working hard to reach out to good companies which I believe in. With everyone being effected by today's economic climate, it's been tough! I've come close to a few deals, but they have fallen through so far. I know that with enough hard work, the Lord will put me in touch with the right companies and products!
I really want to thank everyone for everything. This has been a crazy (and busy!) ride so far, and words can't accurately articulate my excitement for what's to come. I've still got a long way to go, but I am looking forward to the journey. The Lord has blessed me with the greatest family, friends, teammates, and mentors a fisherman could ask for.
My friend and professional fisherman, Shaye Baker, has been hugely helpful in my journey so far, and I couldn't be more thankful for that. Thanks brother!
In the meantime, I will continue to put my nose to the grindstone and be the hardest working guy out there. I won't stop 'til I get there, because I believe in my dream with every ounce of my being. Y'all are the best! Good Fishing!
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10 --"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"