Karl Boyd, Author & Storyteller

 

A True Competitor

A true competitor knows no boundaries. I found this out the hard way. The following story is true. It happened to me, and by the Grace of God, I am here to repeat the story to you.

My buddy, Frank and I were fishing again. If we had our way, we would be out on the water seven days a week. Our wives love to shop, so they don't miss our absence. We go fishing and they hit the stores. To them it appears an even trade.

The only way we could prevent our wives from spending their fair share is to nail their feet to the floor. Although Frank and I have seriously considered this alternative, in the end we always lay the hammer and nails aside. To follow though would cause more problems than it would solve - with nail holes in their feet, our wives would require a different style of shoe; and off they would go, shopping for them. Ergo, we fish and our wives shop.

Today, I have plenty of time to think of our wives. To this point, I've been skunked. Frank just landed his second fish of the day and I have landed exactly none.

We are anchored in our usual spot, approximately fifty feet from the bank of Cedar Bayou, on the edge of the deep channel which cuts through this portion of the bayou. The wind is light. The temperature hovers around 75 degrees. The sky is clear and bright. It is a beautiful day for fishing.

As usual, when we arrived at our final destination, we both removed our bulky, cumbersome life vests and placed them in the storage area under the bow of the boat. Before I stuffed the life jackets into the small space, I carefully removed our fish measuring board. Frank always reminds me to do that. We must measure every fish we boat. If somehow I manage to catch more fish than Frank, he can always point to the fact that he caught the one weighing the most.

Frank is the epitome of competitiveness. If you find that long winded word in the dictionary, underneath you'll find his picture. As he nets his latest catch, he lets me know, "That's two for me and none for you."

Today, Frank is using a closed faced reel, with a right hand crank. I am fishing with an open faced reel and have changed the handle to the left side of the reel. Although I am right handed, I prefer to reel with my left hand. Don't ask me why. It's just a quirk of mine. Frank doesn't approve of my quirk. We both have our different reels mounted on "Ugly Stick" rods. Frank's is seven feet long. Mine measures six feet in length. We are both using live shrimp for bait.

"No wonder you can't catch anything, with your reel reversed that way," he razes me.

I remain silent.

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Frank also has his own idea of the area on the water to which we are both entitled to use for fishing. He stands in the rear of the boat. I sit on my chair in the front of the boat. I call it my chair because with Frank's permission, I purchased and installed the chair for my comfort. Frank has been known to steal my chair periodically; especially if my area is producing more fish than his.

As far as I am concerned, my area should extend straight out, from the middle of the boat to the shore, and contain all the water to the right of that point. Frank has another concept. His area consists of the length to which he can cast to his right and the same to his left. There will be no cutting the area down the middle of the boat! What is left over belongs to me. He can see nothing unfair in this rationale.

If my cast should stray into his area; or if I am using a bobber, and the current or wind pushes it into his water, he has what I call a "tizzy fit".

"Can't stay out of my area, can you?" he asks. "What's wrong with yours? Are you jealous because I am catching fish and you aren't? I thought you liked being up front in your chair." He went on and on.

If I didn't hook something big soon, I would never live it down. Frank would tell everyone the final score.

Suddenly, I saw the end of my rod dip and felt a slight tug on the line. I slowly reeled in the slack and waited. The rod tip dipped again. As I felt the fish take my bait and run with it; I reared back in my seat to set the hook firmly.

As it broke from its pedestal, the seat must have made a noise. If it did, I never heard it. With the power from my own backward thrust, I fell headfirst, backward into the water. Instantly, I found myself underwater and disoriented as to which way was up.

It is amazing what the human brain does in times of stress. It sends out so many messages at the same time I sometimes find it difficult to believe. The first message I received in a microsecond was the memory of my Air Force flight training. It told me to open my eyes and look for air bubbles. Whichever way the bubbles were going was up.

At the same instant, my mind was saying a prayer of thanks to God that I chose not to wear my waders this morning. If I was wearing them now, they would be filled with water. With the weight of all that water pulling me downward, I would never be able to reach the surface. My fishing days would meet a watery end.

The second, (or was it the third, counting the prayer?), message arrived a microsecond later, or possibly at the same time. It told me to straighten my body so I was facing upwards. I did as I was told. My head was facing upward and my legs were bent beneath me. Then the third message arrived. It said, "Your feet must be close to the bottom. Push off and propel yourself upward."

When I completed the maneuver my brain asked me to accomplish, I discovered my brain lied to me. There was no bottom under my feet. All I found there was more deep, cold water. "What do I do now?" I screamed silently to my brain.

In another microsecond, my brain responded with a strange message. It said, "Don't let go of your rod." Until that moment, I didn't realize my right hand was firmly clutching my rod. Even underwater, I could feel the fish on the other end pulling against the reel. "Why shouldn't I?" I questioned my brain's command.

"Just shut up and listen," my brain shot back instantly.

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"Yes sir," I answered. Come hell or underwater, I was depending on him to get me out of this situation. Now my brain said, "Kick with your feet. Push downward with your hands. Swim, you dummy. Get up from here. I want to live too."

With that thought burning a hole in my mind, I did as I was instructed. You can imagine my relief when I broke through that last foot of dark water and felt the sunlight on my head. I gasped a quick breath of fresh air.

By now, Frank noticed I was missing. He saw the broken seat lying on its back on the bow of the boat, but I was nowhere to be seen. Quickly dropping his rod to the deck, Frank anxiously searched the water for any sign of me.

Later he said when he saw the frightened look in my eyes as I broke the surface of the water; he knew I was in trouble. He didn't know what to do. Our life jackets might as well be a mile away. By the time he got one of them out of the storage area, I would be back underwater. He couldn't jump in to help me. He was wearing his waders.

As I floundered in the water, trying to keep myself afloat by dog paddling in my soaked clothing and with my heavy wading boots on my feet, I knew I was losing ground. Then my brain told me why he didn't want me to release my hold on my trusty rod.

With conviction my brain said, "Reach out and give Frank the end of your rod. How are you going to get out of here if you don't listen to me when I tell you what to do?"

I could tell my brain was ticked off at me, so I replied, "Yes Sir again and did as I was told.

Relieved that I was paying attention, my brain said, "That's a good lad."

Reaching out and grabbing the end of my rod, Frank pulled me toward the boat. I hung on to that rod as if my life depended on it, as my brain said, "It does, you dummy."

When I reached the boat, I grabbed hold of the chrome railing with my left hand. With my right, I handed Frank my rod. Ever the true fisherman, I wasn't going to let a chance to catch a fish go by.

"Here," I told him. "Take my rod and land my fish."

Frank stared at me in disbelief, but just then, my fish stripped off another twenty feet of line in a desperate attempt to free himself from my hook. Also being a dedicated fisherman, Frank grabbed hold of my rod, and quickly reversed the handle so he could land my fish. As he began to play my fish, I slowly worked my way; hand over hand to the rear of the boat.

While Frank continued played my fish, I loosened the rope holding the steps up out of the water and lowered them so I could climb aboard. Either the cold water was making my hands shake and my body weak or I was a little more frightened than I would allow my fishing buddy to know. It took me three attempts to raise myself out of the water and into the back of the boat.

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Discounting the fright, I wrote my anxiety off to the heavy, wet clothes on my body. Hey, I'd been in tighter spots. Yeah.

I sat down on the rear cushioned ice chest and took stock of myself. I was soaking, dripping wet. Somehow, my glasses remained on my nose. I also thanked God for that small miracle. I didn't want to put out another two hundred and eighty dollars for a new pair. It would cut into my fishing money.

As I watched Frank play my fish on my rod, I pulled off my sodden sweat shirt. I wrung water from it as I watched my line with my fish on the other end, snake its way through the water in the direction of the anchor.

As if he read my mind, Frank cursed and shouted an order to the fish, "Get the hell away from the anchor rope."

Either the fish heard him and obeyed, or it chose that moment to make a break for freedom in another direction. In any case, the line moved back into deeper water. More monofilament screamed from the reel. My fish had to be a large one. Now when Frank landed my fish, I would only be one behind him. Maybe then he would quit razing me.

My fish made one more run, and then turned belly up. Its fight was over. I watched with admiration as Frank calmly reeled my fish to the side of the boat. I picked up the landing net and scooped my fat, twenty-six inch redfish into the net.

"Thanks, Frank," I said.

"Well," he replied, "that's three for me. When are you gonna catch a fish?"

Don't you love a competitive man?

Short Story Collection

True Competitor
Ballad of Billy Bob & Bubba
Grandmother & the Wicked Witch
To Kill or Not to Kill; That is The Question
Frank's New Boat
My Island in the Sun
George and the "Thunderbolt"
Honesty is the Best Policy!

 


Award Winner for
"The Nearly Perfect Plan"

 


Member of the Military Writers Society of America

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