By Tracy Dougan
I was sitting in my apartment on a Sunday afternoon, and I couldn’t help but reflect on the past week. It was so remarkable that I actually felt compelled to write about it.
But first, I think I should share some things to add a little context. One, I am an independent contractor, and my work, and thus pay, can vary greatly from day to day. Next, I am married to an incredible woman. She is Filipina and we are working on getting her immigrated here.
The week before I’d found myself to be really down and felt the weight of my daily stress. I was staring at some needed car repairs, work was particularly slow, and my wife and I were really feeling the frustration of the immigration process. It was the 4th of July, and I found myself staying at home most of the week trying to conserve money, but I was in desperate need for some water therapy.
On Thursday it was slow again at work and by noon I’d had enough. I went home, ate some lunch, and then went to get my kayak in order to fish a local DFW kayak fishing tournament known simply as the Thursday Night Working Man’s Tournament. To save money I chose my little ten-foot kayak because I’m able to throw it in my car and save money on gas. I only grabbed 2 combos and 3 Plano boxes. Honestly, although I had a bigger tournament coming up the following week, the North Texas Kayak Championship series (NTXKC), it wasn’t so much fishing I was looking forward to as much as my need to be on the water.
On the way to the tournament I stopped by Mariner Sails, a local kayak store and after taking care of some business, I started talking to Aris, the store owner, who allowed me to vent in a lighthearted way. I was already starting to feel better, and before leaving the store I remember mentioning to Aris that I thought I was going to do well at the upcoming NTXKC event on Lake Granbury.
I left Mariner Sails and headed to Marine Creek Lake, the site of that night’s tournament. I love this little lake so just the thought of getting on the water was making me feel a lot better. These tournaments provided an opportunity for comradery and fellowship with fellow kayak anglers, and they are a great way to make friends and get on the water for a few hours.
Before the tournament started I unloaded the kayak and then dove into the lake just to cool off. The stress seemed to wash off with the heat. At 6:00 PM it was time to fish, so I proceeded to a part of the lake that I’d had some success on. I spent the first few minutes on a video call with my wife where I was able to share with her the lake’s mirror-like surface.
After the call I tried making a few half-hearted casts. Within a few minutes a couple of buddies swung by and at times even tied up to my kayak. We spend some time laughing off life’s little stresses and telling stories way too tall to be completely true. When I was finally alone I spent as much time simply enjoying the time on the water as I did fishing. It was really hot and humid, but it made for some spectacular clouds and light shows in the distance. It was moments like this, I thought to myself, my so called “zen” moments, that kept me seeking the water.
Ask anyone who has ever fished with me, and they will tell you that I spend as much time enjoying the water as I do fishing. I’ve been known to find a shady spot, swim, and just soak up the environment, and it usually takes me back to my childhood when just seeing a river or a lake was something magical.
A few hours later, I had two bites and only one little spotted bass to show for my efforts. I noticed the time and decided to go try out my favorite stretch of reeds that just so happened to have nobody fishing it. The first pass I tried a frog because it is one of the baits I had already tied on the two rods I brought. No success, so I thought I’d try a different frog, but as luck would have it, while looking for the other frog, I saw a black and blue jig in my frog box. I must have put in there accidentally when re-tying. I cut off the frog and tied on the jig.
I only had 15 minutes to work this stretch of reeds on the way back to the ramp, and I have to be honest, I was snapping pictures of the sunset and just feeling immersed in my surroundings, when I made a fateful cast to one slightly isolated clump of reeds. I hate to admit it, but I was so lost in my enjoyment of the evening that I didn’t immediately notice the bite. When I did, I set the hook on what I was sure was a huge drum or catfish. This thing was pulling harder than any fish I had ever felt! I was very thankful for the 50 lb braided I was using because I was being taken for a little ride. It was then that the fish surfaced somewhat and I saw the tail. It looked like a freaking red fish, and I knew this was my bass of a lifetime. After what seemed like several minutes (but in reality was probably less than a minute), I was able to turn the fish and bring it up to the kayak. The mouth was monstrous and I was shaking hard; I reached down and lipped her and proceeded to pull in the largest bass I have ever had the pleasure of holding.
Needless to say, I let out what could only be described as a “feminine, childlike” scream and then just took a moment to admire the fish. Luckily gathered my wits enough to grab my measuring board and get a picture–25.5 inches, a true Marine Creek swamp donkey, laying there in my lap. I can’t explain that feeling. It was like I felt every cast that I had ever made over the last thirty years, and every single one of them I’d cast again just to get to this feeling once more.
By this time my elation did not go unnoticed by some fellow yakkers, and one in particular had made his way over to help me take pictures and video the release. He was almost as excited as I was. We both sat in awe for a split second as I let her go, right before I screamed again and yes probably cursed a little. I knew that fish would win the big bass prize, but that didn’t matter. I felt the universe had rewarded me for being a little part of such an incredible scene. I chose to let go of my stress. I became one with the water, and I could not be more thankful for that experience.
Needless to say, the talk at the boat ramp was of that monster bass. I was able to tell the story countless times and relived it with each telling. That fish even turned five bucks into $125 for the big bass pot, so I was extremely fortunate. Little did I know that the week still had more in store for me.
The next day, Friday, ended up being extremely busy. It made up for what had up to that point been a very slow week because of the 4th of July holiday. It also meant that I didn’t get home until almost nine on the night before the NTXKC event the next morning. Earlier in the week I told a friend that I was going to a part of the lake I had never seen and just fish things I felt comfortable around. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
The alarm went off at 2:00 AM and I made a little coffee before I headed to the storage unit to pick up my kayak. Got there, loaded up the gear, all of it this time, and I headed to Lake Granbury. I was really tired, but like any other tournament day I was also really anxious. The captains’ meeting went smoothly and a little after 5:00 AM we were released to go to our spots with 5:45 being the time for first cast. Well I got to the ramp after a little pit stop and I was seriously the only truck there, while across the cove there were at least 30 competitors using another ramp. I could not believe my luck so I took my time and leisurely unloaded all of my gear. I would later pay for that laziness.
I got unloaded and started my pedal across the lake to where I was going to start. By this time it was almost 5:45 but I was in no real hurry, not knowing what I would find when I got there. I got to the canal I chose to fish and immediately regretted my laissez-faire attitude in starting. I got no further than thirty yards into the canal and there are two docks not far from one another with underwater lights glowing like beacons. Of course I was drawn to them, like every other freaking animal in the water, and when I got close I could see the bait swirling in the lights like a whirlpool. I got way too excited and fished the first dock too long because I was getting bites. It took me a minute to then see the huge gar swimming around the halo of this particular light so I turned and cast to the other one. I must have cast right on one’s head because as that same black and blue jig hit the water, I got bit. I landed the fish and started the tournament with a solid 15-incher before 6:00 AM.
The sun started to rise at that point and that made the lights no longer a viable option, so I pedaled my way further into the canal towards a bridge I had seen on a map when scoping out the lake. I got to the bridge and on the other side of it one of the homeowners had built a dang waterfall! Are you kidding me? I am on a lake in Texas, in the summer with almost 90 degree water temps, in a canal with no current at all, and here before me is this Shangri-la for large mouth! I told myself that I was going to catch my limit right there. First cast towards the waterfall and my line immediately went tight. I set the hook and it was a tiny fish, but at least I knew there were some fish here. I was able to catch 2 more fish for a total of 4 before the bite slowed down a little.
I left the “falls” hoping it will reload and fished my way down the canals, one dock after another, and I couldn’t help but notice how kind the homeowners were being. So I stopped and talked to a few of them, told them thanks for letting me fish around their docks, and I even got invited inside for a cold drink by a couple of them! Even though I was in a tournament, I chose to let the day just happen and savored each moment. The lake and my surroundings were beautiful, and even though it was really hot, over all it was a nice day.
As I headed back to my spot I was looking around at other places I may want to try later. I didn’t want to chance another kayakker stumbling upon that magical spot and camp out on it. Little did I know that I wouldn’t see another competitor there the whole day. I got back to my spot knowing that I needed at least one more fish for a limit. I was only there 5 minutes when I cast on the edge of the falls and my bait gets hammered. I set the hook and after a really good fight, I was able to net my biggest fish up to that point an 18-incher. I tried the falls for a little longer but by this time I was losing my shade line. The bite stopped completely so I left to go fish some of the structure I had noticed earlier.
There was one break wall in particular I was interested in. It was located closer to the main lake so it had some current from the waves hitting it, and it was also a little longer than those around it.
When I got close to it, I started to notice the bait looked a little larger than what I had been seeing, and this made me grab a different combo that had a 6-inch Ocho tied on wacky style, wanting to try and match the larger bait I had seen.
I positioned my kayak parallel to the wall and made a cast. There was some brush under the water next to the wall and I got my hook snagged. As soon as I pulled it free I saw a swirl on my bait and I set the hook. This fish fought like it was possessed and I felt lucky to get it into the net. I was hoping it would be the kicker fish we all look for when tournament fishing, but it ended up being a really fat 18-incher. Still a great fish and I was now culling my smaller ones. I got that fish back in the water and made another cast, this one a little further down the same wall. My line went tight immediately and I was able to net another little15-inch fish that culled again. At this point I knew I had a chance to do well in this tournament.
Even though I was catching fish and doing pretty well, I was still finding myself just relaxing and enjoying the day. I kept visiting with dock owners along the way, took a few pictures, and I tried to enjoy every moment of being on the water. The bite had slowed down tremendously, and I was only able to catch a couple more small fish before it was time to head back to load up and take my chances.
I got to the awards meeting, grabbed something to eat, and sat down with a couple of guys that I don’t get to see near enough; this was one of my favorite things bout tournament kayak fishing. It’s a blast to have a cold beverage with your fishing buds and talk about the day that was.
After a few last minute updates, the tournament director got up before the crowd of anglers and started announcing the results. My stomach was in knots at this point. He first gave out fifth place, and then fourth, followed by third place, and my name still hadn’t been called. Man I have to say that I was going crazy inside, thinking I may have just won this bad boy! Well he announces second place, and it just happens to be yours truly.
Turns out the eventual winner caught a beautiful 20-incher late in the day to overtake my lead and obtain that beautiful first place trophy I coveted so much. I was still ecstatic with my finish; and it was my highest finish ever in one of the most prestigious trails in our area, so I was extremely happy.
Well, sitting here now, reflecting on the whole week, I can’t help but smile thinking what an incredible time it was. Going from catching my personal best to having my personal best finish in a tournament was more than I ever expected and exactly what I needed.
I couldn’t help but think about my attitude while fishing both tournaments, and I was thankful for the time I spent simply enjoying the moments and appreciating how fortunate I was just to be on the water. I think it’s precisely this feeling that needs to be held sacred and passed on to the generations that come after us, that magical feeling of just getting on the water and soaking up everything around you. Those tournaments were something I will never forget, and for that I couldn’t be more thankful. It is my sincere hope that everyone who reads this has something in their life that brings them as much joy and peace that fishing brought to me that week. Sometimes we spend too much time on regrets from our past, or worrying about the future; but the past is over and the future will take care of itself, so just enjoy the moment you are given.
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About the Author
Tracy “2fish” Dougan was born and raised in Arkansas, but has called Dallas home since 1995. He works as a contract courier and spends most of his time outdoors in, on, or near the water. A proud newlywed, he and his wife are currently in the process of immigrating her to the US. Tracy is also an ambassador for Mariner Sails and a member of the Hobie Fishing Team. He is the host of the upcoming “2Fish Outdoors” podcast coming soon.