I have two sons and both have grown up fishing, hunting, and playing outdoors with their old man.
Devin, my oldest, is the gear head of the family. Even as a young boy he knew about boats, snowmobiles, and ATV’s like nobody’s business. It’s no surprise that he gravitated to being a mechanic, first working on aircraft and now on vehicles. Austin, my youngest, was less of a gear head than his brother but has always had a rare ability to catch the biggest bass or shoot the largest buck. He is that guy.
Austin, and his way with fish, has proven himself to be a very good tournament fishing partner. A little luck goes a long way when you need to put a big bass or two in the boat. Austin is both patient and good company. If you have ever been in a tournament situation with someone who does not have either of those traits, you know how painful it can be.
The first time I fished a tournament with Austin he was about 8 years old. It was a one day live release walleye fishing event and I had not done any pre-fishing. In fact, I’d never been on the lake. But it sounded like fun and little “Austin-mini” or “Mini” as he had been dubbed, was up for it. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Nipigon that featured a giant cinnamon bun for breakfast. Austin was a big fan and that bun fuelled him all day.
That first tournament with Austin was fascinating as he was cool as a cucumber. We both fished hard and when I hooked what would be our winning walleye right at the end of the tournament day, he netted it like he’d been doing it for decades. Not bad for someone who had just completed the third grade. When we were supposed to accept our first place prize, Austin was missing. A quick look around revealed he had decided to go for a swim with some other kids. That’s my boy. There have been quite a few events since, with some wins, and several that didn’t go quite as well.
I’ve become less involved with tournament fishing in recent years, due largely to work demands and guiding, but a few still get penciled in. Recently Austin and I fished the annual Shebandowan Smallmouth Showdown (SSS), a live-release bass event held on a chain of lakes northwest of Thunder Bay. This tournament is a lot of fun, and allowed my now grown son and I to have a little time together in a boat. As anyone who has grown-up kids knows, the time you get to spend together gets more precious as the years tick by.
Neither Austin nor I had any time to pre-fish, so we were going in blind. That was ok, as we just planned to go fishing. My expectations of what makes a successful tournament these days are quite different than they were 20 years ago. I certainly don’t mind cashing a cheque, but there are other elements to the experience. This year, as usual, Austin stuck mostly to his tried and true Senko and caught lots of bass. In their younger days, both Austin and Devin would join me on pre-fishing adventures on Rainy Lake, in Fort Frances. It was on Rainy that Austin developed his propensity for fishing a Senko. So Austin was dubbed “Senko kid” and that nick name has stuck as well.
This year’s SSS did not go all that well for Austin and I. We did ok fishing day one, and managed to land in the top 20. But we ran out of fish and day 2 was a parade of peanut-sized bass and one good one right at the end. So no cheque. Yet both of us had a very satisfying weekend. Beyond the bass fishing, we had a sauna, went for a swim, hung out with great people, enjoyed some giant steaks, and a couple of drinks.
I always feel lucky and grateful to be able to spend some time with my boys outdoors. Life does not get much better than that.