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Living in a river town, it would seem that everybody should know how to fish. It’s the same reasoning that would require everyone living in the Swiss Alps to know how to ski.
But I have lived on the Ohio River – in both directions from Cincinnati – for 25 years, and I still “fish” on a blanket with a book.
I have baited my children’s hooks and removed fish from those same hooks, but as far as sitting there with a pole in my hand waiting for something to bite the other end – not so much.
Fishing still interests me, and last Saturday I had the chance to watch the competitors of the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League tournament bring in their catch for weigh-in. It’s something I have wanted to do since I moved here, but never did. Nothing ever stopped me ... I just didn’t go.
This weekend I was following up on a story I did several weeks ago about local angler Matt Brawner, who competed in the tourney. While there, I discovered another Carrollton entry – Lonnie Jones. Jones caught two bass weighing a total of 3 pounds, 9 ounces, putting him in 31st place in the boaters division.
Brawner wasn’t so lucky, and was obviously feeling dejected as he and his boater partner pulled onto shore. He was hot, tired and frustrated, and didn’t have a single fish to weigh in.
I, on the other hand, finally caught a glimpse of why people like Brawner and Jones love bass fishing.
The river was a spectacle with more than 100 boats bobbing up and down on the waves; the water sparkled in the hot sun, as the competitors patiently waited their turn to pull onto shore and glide the boats onto their trailers.
Carrollton Police Officer Tim Gividen and I stood nearby watching the flotilla.
“It ís almost like watching a ballet,” Gividen said, as the boats made their way across the water.
It did seem as though the mass of boats had been carefully choreographed as they approached Point Park.
The boaters were matched Friday by computer with non-boat-owning co-anglers for the tourney; boater competed against boater, and co-angler against co-angler. All of them were eager to get their day’s catch up to the weigh-in tent to see just who would be king for a day.
Competition is in our nature, and the men and the fish had competed against each other all day. Those victorious men waited in line with their prize catch in special bags filled with water; the bags were kept in big tubs of aerated and treated water as the men inched toward their turn at the scale.
In a fishing tournament, the weight is all that matters – not how pretty or how talented the fishermen are. Each competitor is limited to five fish, and the angler with the heaviest total weight is deemed the best, at least until the next tournament.
On this day, the best were Kaoru O’Bryan of Crestwood, Ky., for the boaters division and Michael Acton of Lewisburg, Ohio, for the co-anglers division.
O’Bryan had four fish weighing 11.01 pounds; Acton caught two bass weighing 5.03 pounds. There were tense and exciting moments as I watched them watch everyone else weigh-in, clearly hoping they would stay in the lead.
Many in the crowd were happy to have caught just one fish in the warm river water. It turned out to be too warm for fish to be interested in much of anything, so many, including Brawner, came back empty-handed. The weigh-in is not much fun for those unlucky souls.
In the end, the fish caught also were victorious. Once weighed and the numbers entered into the computer, runners, usually young boys, took the bags of fish to a holding tank near the river. There they were released back into the river via a 6-inch-wide PVC tube manned by Lisa Viernum, a very friendly and knowledgeable woman.Viernum showed off some of the bigger fish before she let them slide back into the water.
I had nothing on the line as I enjoyed the sights of the weigh-in Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t scoped out my spot, purchased the needed gear (much less a boat), or paid the $100 entry fee. I hadn’t bobbed on the water in a boat for eight sizzling hours, motoring up creeks and tributaries to drop a line in and try to catch “the big one.”
I didn’t have to face my family with either the good or the bad news.
But I had a great day. And basically, I was still on a blanket with a book.
Sharon Graves is staff writer for The News-Democrat.