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An unexpected surprise!

My friend Jeremy called and asked me to join him on a tournament trail called the VA Elite 70. This was not the first trail Jeremy asked me to join him on and as usual, I had never heard of this trail but I didn’t know anything about the last trail Jeremy got us into either. After fishing tournaments in Suffolk, Virginia beach, Williamsburg and occasionally Bob’s fishing hole, I was used to being a donor but didn’t seem to be alone in that group and assumed this would be similar just with bigger boats and taller tales. All the lakes on the schedule were ones I’ve heard of but I had no idea they were the best lakes Virginia had to offer. The trail only had five tournaments, which agreed with my workload and my wife, so with the Admirals green light I informed Jeremy that I would be joining him to decorate the best trees on the best lakes in a most efficient manner.

Our first tournament was on Lake Anna. There were trucks, trailers, boats and people everywhere. Guys ‘n Gals stood huddled around in their social circles dressed in cold weather bib outfits telling stories and having a laugh. All the while I’m trying to figure out who’s coming and where I’m going. This was no time for amateur hour at the ramp either, a truck would back down and 2 seconds later it was gone. Every boat in the field looked to be outfitted with the latest electronics and anchoring systems. Jeremy’s busy tying on for the third time since we launched and boats are zigging and zagging in and around one another when through the hustle and bustle I hear a voice direct the crowd in a slow steady tone to a pier off to the side. Once we all gathered, he thanked everyone for joining him, expressed his gratitude and led the crowd through a Prayer. He thanked our Heavenly Father for the ability to come together and asked to keep us safe all the way home. We all ended with an “Amen” and he started to call out the numbers for blast off. On this day the temperature was riding at 45 degrees with a 3-5 mile per hour wind but at 65 mph it’s all just…..Freezing. Saveface mask was the most valuable tool for this bald guy on that day. While “the Dead Sea” as someone noted to me earlier, didn’t pan out for us, the tournament was won with a sack of 20 + lbs proving it’s got some more to give.

Our next tourney took us to the pristine waters of Smith Mountain Lake. This area is absolutely stunning, the landscape, greenery, clear water and mountains in the backdrop make it impossible to concentrate on anything. Jeremy and I had formulated our game plan. We strategized our sequence of areas and tied on a smorgasbord of hawg catching critters in order to nab only the healthiest of spawners. You’ll never believe this but we even found an entire cove littered with what would be the tournament winning bag. Cue the cold front and clouds. Just like that our little treasure trove was gone. Vacated, disappeared, mobilized, vanished, kaput, nada. We didn’t get so much as a sniff in our primary spot and admittedly didn’t spend enough time on a secondary plan which left us with the two hand plan. Two hand plan = reach back with both hands, grab your back pockets and pull, then hope something good comes out. All that being said with the struggle and the let down of moving fish, the staff and Leader moved everything along nicely and made the boat ramp and blast off very smooth transitions. I was beginning to see there was a level of proficiency about this group. I was even starting to be impressed. Herding cats is outstanding but herding anglers is equivalent to a three ring circus.

Our next stop was Buggs Island. By now the frosty temperatures that robbed your fingertips of feeling and dexterity had melted away and introduced a very welcoming warmth of Spring. One thing happened differently this tournament than did any other tournament we’ve ever fished. We found a good spot in practice, we went back post blast off and caught a limit by noon and had completely culled through the first five by 2 p.m. These fish lacked the size to get us a check but for the first time we were able to see what it was like to fish one area because it was the only fish we found. IT WAS EXASPERATING! To sit in one area and plow through 20 -30 fish and amazingly enough observe one spot reload that efficiently. Only to upgrade by ½ a pound or thereabouts. Don’t mistake my takeaway from this experience. I was thankful to find and catch a decent limit. It was also nice to make a plan, stick to it and get results. Going through that many fish without finding a kicker was a bit sour but hey, we did it! Practice, Plan, Execute, my military mind was overjoyed.

Now with our one properly planned and executed tournament out of the way, surely victory was within our grasp or at least one of those pesky hard to find checks was due to fall out of the sky! James River was a place we were familiar with but had always struggled to find the size needed to take it to the house. It was a beautiful day, we brought home 5 alive but we fell short. Four pounds from 1st place, I mean, one good fish and we’re poppin champagne and throwing around high fives at the scales. After the tourney, the staff was selling hotdogs, hamburgers, chips and some other angler delights. There was a raffle taking place for rods, reels, shirts and hats. They were also raising money for a friend going through her battle with cancer. As I start to look around I see kids, wives, husbands, friends, old, young, I hear laughter, conversation, fish stories, and secrets of the trade. I really start to see for the first time what Steve and his team are building. Right there on the side of their trailer for all to see “Faith, Family, Friends and Fish”. There’s a lot more going on here than I had given any thought to prior.

Our final opportunity to justify our wives rod collections is now upon us. Two days of mayhem and madness, slinging the kitchen sink and microwave, leaving it all on the field, Lake Gaston! Looking back I’m starting to see a pattern inside the gunnels of Jeremy’s boat. Practice day, you guessed it, we found ‘em and found ‘em good too. So much so, we left and developed……. A second plan! Admittedly plan “B” was junk fishing but nonetheless it was a solid, first ever plan “B”. Practice day saw nighttime lows of 48 degrees, game day arrived with 58 degrees overnight thus transporting our tournament winning fish onboard the USS Enterprise located 73 light years past Andromeda Galaxy. While Jeremy’s starts his junk fishing re-tie journey, I have switched into my “peel the stickers off the cube” mode, but fishing doesn’t work like that. No shortcuts, no quick and easy way to the win, your on or your off. If I remember correctly I think we finished a couple of spots away from a check but in the end it’s not about the money. The money’s nice, don't get me wrong, catching all the fish and collecting all the cash is “King for the day” material if I’ve ever heard of one.

As all anglers at every level do, we plan and struggle, we craft and execute, we toil and rest. Even after a single win, we go back out and try again. Whether it’s the beauty of the outdoors, the thrill of the catch or the drive of competition you continue to return for another round of “The Grind” and that’s what makes us Anglers. What I came away with after this experience is what Steve has shared with this trail. After serving with an elite group of service members for 24 years, I find a rare and familiar level of comfort in the community, camaraderie and character displayed by Steve, his team and the VA Elite 70 club members. I don’t know how long I’ll get to be around this group but I do know I’m better for having experienced them in their entirety. I encourage you to check them out on Facebook, Instagram, Google, the Ethernet or on whatever platform you can and stop by a tournament near you next year. Come out and join a great group of people for an afternoon, who knows what you’ll come away with. Godspeed!


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