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And, yet again, life and angling collide on a highway paved with dreams, where some dreams lie between the white lines and others way off course. Fishing to live and living to fish are two parallels by which a special group of society lives. What this group finds in life often is reflected in fishing. And what this group finds in fishing often is mirrored in life. You've read the stories, listened to the stories and, maybe on occasion, have observed yourself in a moment where the struggles of life are defined and defused over a tightened fishing line (or even more defined over a line that goes slack). I have witnessed and observed the unique relationship of fishing and life as six anglers from Durham have resigned themselves to actors on the stage of life with the script written through fishing. This group, that represents the Durham based boat, Reel Time, is no different than you or I, in our angling pursuits. The group has goals, aspirations, and achievements it wishes to accomplish while their mortal minds and bodies can still set the hook or reel in line; or dreams. While the six share common goals, they represent a diverse spectrum of careers. Within the six, two share careers in foundation repair, one owns an electrical contracting company, one is a restaurant owner, one is a partner in a funeral home and the last is a building materials broker. If you had to design a story around this motley crew of anglers the only thing missing is a retired professional athlete. Combined, this group can build a home, raise the foundation, and make the lights work, whip up a wholesome meal and then plant you nicely on a hill beneath a towering oak. I challenge you to find a more interesting group. Recently, I shared with you a recap of this group and their efforts to compete against the best anglers in the world in what was the 48th Annual Big Rock in Morehead City. On that stage, anglers convene on a rock in the Gulf Stream with the hopes of raising the curtain on the mightiest game fish known to man -- the blue marlin. If you recall, this group happened upon this stage a few years back and nearly brought the stage to the Bull City. It was during that tournament that angler Rick Sykes became involved with a fish that was the catch of a lifetime. For many nervous minutes and through unforeseen obstacles that included driving wind and rain, with the boat taking on water from a malfunctioning door, Rick debated the fish from 900 yards away to 8 feet from the boat. It was within a few feet from the surface when the hook dislodged from the Marlin's mouth and broke free from the dreams of six anglers. In 2004 and 2005 the team reconvened on the Big Rock with higher expectations and well rehearsed plans should the opportunity surface again. Opportunity did not knock, and so the team entered this year's tournament with the same goals, aspirations and much sharper hooks. It was amidst the predawn darkness that the Reel Time chartered a course through the tangle of barrier islands, over the graveyard of the Atlantic and into the stream of dreams known as the Gulf where the Big Rock lay in rest below. Beginning on Monday, the crew fished feverishly atop the fertile waters of the Atlantic. They, and the 188 other boats competing, knew the first tropical headache of the season was approaching. Not knowing the future, they knew that catching a fish while the weather was allowable may turn into a win. On the first day the crew fished in what Sykes describes as "the fishiest water I've ever seen," without ever seeing a fish. It was at the conclusion of the day that the trouble began when the vessel developed mechanical issues and barely managed to limp back to port. The following day found the crew performing maintenance and repairs, instead of fishing and subsequently staying in port on Wednesday as a tropical system dared anglers to fish. It was Thursday morning, two days after fishing had begun, that the crew was able to place baits back in the water and resume the hunt. Barely an hour into the day, life entered the trolled pattern and a Blue Marlin dusted the flat line and begin eclipsing some 800 yards of line. It was repeated hours and days following that eclipse of line that you could have rewound the calendar three years. Just like the recent past, the crew went into action with Sykes hanging on dearly to his partner dressed with a bill. For just under an hour, the crew coaxed the fish to the back of the boat. Captain Barber knew the fish was one that would place on the leader board and possibly even win. Surely the thought of receiving a check for $700 thousand made the fish that much more special, yet the guys placed that behind them and concentrated on every inch of line and every minute of time. In a matter of minutes, 800 yards was whittled down to 20 feet. As if in replay mode from three years prior, the crew began to pull the leader into the boat and pull the fish the final few feet closer for measuring and hopefully gaffing. Remember the analogy between life and angling and how you never really know what is going to happen next much less have control of what bites or what doesn't? Well, while on this road of dream fulfillment, the guys wound up facing the same result as happened in 2003. In the final seconds of the struggle with each angler clawing to live a dream and see their dreams hoisted onto the scales, the hook pulled free of the jaw from the fish and what was turned into what could have been. Dejected, you say? Not really. You see, while losing the fish seems like the big let down and bad luck and all of those other armchair saying we have for the guy that is so close yet still finishes last, these guys went fishing again. While they had two additional blue marlin in the baits behind the boat, the day ended with another fish lost and two remaining fishing days. The following day, found the Reel Time trolling some more "fishy water" and at 9:30 a big fish hit the bait again. This time, Mark Beckham of Huntersville was the angler and he fought the fish to the boat. Again, the guys had a shot at a dream fish. After Beckham succeeded in bringing the fish to the boat, Rick attempted a gaff and sent the fish angrily back into the gulf blue where he went airborne and dazzled the anglers. A few minutes later with the fish slightly more tired and again back at the boat, the crew placed two well rehearsed gaffs and landed the fish into the boat. It was a joyous moment for this crew. They finally had a fish of a lifetime on board, and their next port of call would finally be the Big Rock scales. Now, having been on a boat that weighed a fish in the past, I can tell you that backing into the scales at the Big Rock is like walking onto the stage at as a rock star. The bleachers and docks are filled with sun-bathed screaming fans and everyone is in awe at the boat, the fish, and the potential earnings a fish can bring. Sykes said that the crowd erupted into a thunderous chant and cheer as the weight of their fish was shown. Finally after three long years of fishing, the boys from Durham were dockside for photos and telling the story to the throng of media that was on hand to capture the winning quote. Now, before you begin tracking down these anglers and claiming to be a long lost cousin, the boys did not weigh that 700K Blue Marlin. Instead, the crew placed on the scales the largest Mahi Mahi dolphin that has ever been weighed in 48 years of Big Rock history. The fish, which was only 1 pound from the state record and nearly 5 pounds from the World Record, is by far the biggest catch of this crew's life & dreams. Where the average summertime Mahi may tip the scales between 15 and 25 lbs, this fish was nearly three times the average and by observations looks somewhat out of place of the typical Mahi that are caught from North Carolina. When Rick called me this past week and shared with me the good news, the boat won the Mahi division, and will most likely retain the largest Mahi taken in the Big Rock for many years to come, his voice was of the same octave as an angler that just weighed the winning blue marlin. I knew of the repeated luck that had gripped the team from just the day prior and I was glad to see that the misfortunes of another missed fish was not looming around the dock. After all, these guys are best of friends, and at the end of the day regardless of the fish missed or the fish caught friendship the variable by what an angler is measured. After the fish was weighed and the cheers subsided into amazement of the size of the fish the representatives of the Marine Fisheries began their data collection of this magnificent catch. The fish was analyzed for stomach content, age, and other characteristics that help in understanding the health of a species and information that may be useful to researchers examining a particular subject. The fisheries biologists informed Rick a few days later that the fish was most likely a three year old fish. The irony of the age of the fish is interesting as it was nearly three years prior that Rick and crew tangled with a fish that normally dines on Mahi. That fish, the one in 2003, surely represented every fiber of the team's dreams and the thought of losing that fish kept them on the road to making up for a missed opportunity. And now with some three years separating the fish that took Rick for a ride and the fish that broke off during this tournament and the subsequent record fish of Mark, one can only look back and examine the ironies. For starters, fishing and life are about ironies. Rick and his crew had originally planned to fish the Tuesday prior to the storm. However, the mechanical needs of his boat and the near breakdown regulated Rick to the docks while nearly every boat in the field traipsed across the Gulf Stream. Had the boat not broken down, maybe they would have fished that day and caught a fish. Or you can say that because the boat broke down, they were regulated to fishing the final three days where they had a near winning blue marlin and an winning Mahi Mahi. Or you could say that the irony of Rick and crew missing the fish three years ago and subsequently missing another fish this year allowed the crew to be in the right place at the right time the following day for Mark to land this fish of a lifetime. There is no doubt in my mind that dreams do come true. I cannot say that the topic or subject of a dream is always provided on a silver platter or in this case from the blue waters that flow well East of Durham, however I believe what we need in a dream is what we eventually receive, perhaps altered ever so slightly. For this group of anglers and for all anglers that compete either in big-money tournaments or friendly family wagers, the prize should never be a dollar mark posted beside a fish dripping from the scales. What we should fish for or live for, is to share these experiences with our closest friends and to recognize that it doesn't matter if you are pulling in a near-record Mahi, a potentially winning Blue Marlin, or a bluegill from the family farm. the pull is much better if done in the company of friends and dreams. Enjoy your time outdoors
There is not one fiber of my body that is old yet. I remind myself of that when I commence to thinking back. Those thoughts usually occur when I believe my son has grown between blinks. I believe that recollection is a powerful idea that anglers maintain and fear releases. Some of you recollect more decades than I. You can recall times when fishing and life and the tools needed to fish and live by were simple. Within you are special souls that understand hunger pains and the pains of life and how catching a river cat or a pond bream erased at least some of life's pains. Even though I am barely beyond my third decade of life, I'm reminded of my youth when I take to fishing. Occasionally, when my haphazard mind slips into a premature state of reckoning, I think back to my early days of following a path to the water. I am certain that I am not alone when I recall walking a worn cow path on my way to fishing for the first time. For those who were not blessed with being reared on a farm, cows use a pragmatic series of paths when at pasture. Almost every pasture where cows have long roamed has at least a path to the barn, where feed is provided, and a path to water. Decades of cows have walked these paths, which are consistent from year to year. When I began fishing, I suppose I took the paths for granted, that they were just for cows. There was no grass on these paths, and on occasion one had to step broader along the way. Yet when I look back, I see that I was not on a path made by cows. Instead, young feet were following a path initiated by cows, which happened to end by the water. To this day, I recall taking the path from beyond the apple tree, across the dam and to the opposite side of the pond. The fish always congregated here, on the other side of the pond at the end of this path. For many hours of late summer days and early Saturday mornings, I would walk this path. Early walks on this path found me toting two items -- a reddish-brown cane pole in one hand and a simple white bucket in the other. The pole would have come from John Thomas Walker's store. The bucket, which once held oil, was common on the farm. Serving many purposes, the bucket would hold the worms and a jar of water (there were no bottles then), provide a place to rest and if lucky, it would return with fish caught from the pond. I never thought of the irony of the bucket until now. To think that a simple bucket has so many purposes is something only an angler could think of. At the end of the path, the bucket would be turned downside up so the base would face the sky. Upon unraveling line from the knotty pole and baiting the hook with a worm dug from the barn, fishing would begin. Anticipation always is highest in the first few moments that bait is in the water. The slate is clean at this point, and until lift the hook from the water after a missed bite or when bait has drowned, you have not lost. I began most fishing efforts on two feet. The aggression or hesitation of fish would determine when I would sit. I found, as I waited for a biting fish, that I was not really at the end of a path. During these early days by the water, I thought of tackle and fish and boats and adventure and tactics and ideas and dreams that I wanted to accomplish as an angler and as a person. I suppose you could say that the bucket, with its hard plastic and roundness, provided the ideal location for other paths to begin. You see, like all aspiring anglers, a path has to have a beginning. But it was here at the end of a worn path made by cows and atop a bucket that my path and dreams began. At some point, my trips along the path grew cumbersome as the cane pole was traded for spinning rods and the bucket housed a tackle box, worms and a drink that was not from a jar. And sadly, at some point, the bucket served only a purpose to hold fish, as I stood more or sat in a chair. My trips to the pond eventually were from behind the wheel -- first driving a tractor, then the farm truck, then my first truck and now from the truck I drive daily. I put equipment on the tailgate now, and there frequently is no bucket in sight. When I fish the pond these afternoons of summer, it is from a boat and I routinely drift to the other side of the pond where the cow path ended. From those early trips three decades ago, to the trip yesterday and last week, many changes have occurred. The cows, unfortunately, no longer roam the pasture. The fishing, well, I've let it become complicated. But tomorrow, if I can find the right pole and if we can dig worms and if I can find two buckets, I'll take a youngster on a path around the pond. The path won't be one made by cows, but the bucket will be in the same spot as my own, years ago. I cannot anticipate what the future might hold for me or for the youngster following along. However, in my mind, if I can sit him on a bucket, hand him a pole and the fish cooperate, who knows where his path may lead. Buckets don't just carry; if you're lucky, they lead. Enjoy your time outdoors.
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