Most of us anglers begin fishing as a hobby. The competitive and addictive nature of bass fishing guides us toward tournament fishing. From the moment we decide to tournament fish, we start dreaming and planning a path toward a pro fishing career. Everyone has a story of circumstances that take their bass fishing from hobbyist to tournament angler. Here’s our story.
Mark Dawson and I grew up in small town Brewster Washington. A town focused on its high school basketball, instilling competition in us. Mark’s dad, Bob, introduced us to bass fishing in 1987 on Washburn Pond, a tributary along the Columbia river below Chief Joseph Dam. The ends of Washburn Pond were created by the construction of two causeways on the north and south ends of Washburn Island. It was planted with bluegill and 50 largemouth bass just a couple of years prior. In the next couple of years, the size and population of largemouth explodes. We each had an aluminum boat and spent that spring and the next year learning a few basics to catching largemouth.
In 1989, the bass bug bit hard. I graduated from a 10-foot aluminum boat to a Bass Tracker TR17. Washburn’s season opened the first week of April. We were on the pond daily. Every evening after work until dark, and all day on the weekends. Towards the end of April, we were each catching 20+ bass every evening, with the big ones in the 3lb class. We were unlocking bass fishing’s secrets (at least in our minds). In the late 80’s, our only resource for bass fishing information was Bassmaster magazine. Fishing shows were very limited due the rabbit ears on my TV only receiving 3 channels. As we read each Bassmaster magazine, we’d buy whatever tackle the articles were written about. We started with Rapalas, beetle spins, and then 6” worms.
The Moment We Knew
The last weekend of April, Mark was throwing a 6” Texas rigged worm. He catches a 4 ½ lber. The biggest largemouth we’d ever seen. We were blown away with the size of the mouth on this fish. Just a couple of casts later he catches another 4 ½ lber. This was crazy. The 2 biggest bass we’d ever seen. What seemed like the next cast, Mark hooks and I net a third 4 ½ lb largemouth. We’re onto something. Three of the biggest bass in Washburn, and Mark caught all of them in a matter of minutes. In all the excitement, we start feeding off each other that we were ready to fish tournaments. We heard about a tournament that would be the following weekend at Lake Osoyoos. With this epic day, we figured out how to catch largemouth, and it was time to take our bass skills to the next level. We were Goin’ Pro.
Lake Osoyoos is on the Canadian border in Central Washington. The first weekend in May, the fish would be pre-spawn and bedding. Osoyoos was predominately smallmouth. Neither of us had ever caught a smallmouth bass. We’d never seen a bedded bass, let alone catch one. But, this wasn’t going to deter us. We knew all about largemouth and read enough about smallmouth to convince ourselves we could compete with the pros. We chatted with a couple of Osoyoos bass guys during prior weekends at the Washburn boat launch. My grandparents had a house on Osoyoos, and as a kid I would spend a week or so each summer at their house. There would be talk of fishing Osoyoos, but mainly for the trout. I do recall a few stories of the bass. So, leading up to this tournament our knowledge base for Osoyoos was founded on dock talk at the Washburn pond boat launch and a few family stories.
We were going to a smallmouth tournament and we didn’t own a single smallmouth bait. Towing the Tracker to Oroville after work that Friday night, we stopped at Hooked on Toys, a sporting goods store, in Omak. We’d watched a couple episodes of Hank Parker catching smallmouth, so we selected baits based on what Hank used in his shows. Leaving Omak towards Oroville, we had a boat, fishing skills and the baits needed to launch our Pro careers. What could go wrong???
Saturday morning, we arrived at the boat launch extra early. Mainly because the Tracker with an outboard, and a boat trailer were new to me. Outboards weren’t allowed to run on Washburn and I think I’d only run the motor 1 time prior to this tournament. I wanted to launch the boat and run the outboard before any of the other pros showed up. I wasn’t going embarrass myself in front of the other pros. We launched in the dark, the outboard started right up and I made a short run to verify the motor was ready for blast off. We beached the boat as the pros started to arrive. Wow, those Ranger and Skeeter glass boats were huge. 18 foot sparkling missiles with giant 150 horse motors bolted to the transom. 10 teams signed up and paid their $40 entry fee. We couldn’t believe our luck, we draw boat 1 for blast off. Our initial game plan was to head to a smallmouth spawning bay a short distance north of the boat launch. As we were walking down to get into the boat, the guys in the 150 hp Ranger put on their full faced motorcycle helmets. What the heck did we get ourselves into? As we were waiting to blast off, we were questioning each other, how many boats would pass us before we got to the spawning bay a mile and a half away. It probably wasn’t a hundred yard when the last of the 9 boats passed our 45hp Tracker. We were in awe as to how fast those boats were. This was the first time either of us seen a fiberglass bass boat run wide open. Those boats were probably only running about 50mph but in our minds they were Unlimited Hydroplanes skipping the tops of the white caps at 100+.
We were last to the party at the spawning bay and decided we wouldn’t waste our time fishing around others. We’d fish our strength which was largemouth in the reeds. The lake crosses into Canada, with the Canadian side off limits. We idled the perimeter of the south half of the lake looking for cover that mimicked Washburn Pond. Washburn is a relatively shallow flat bottom lake and its perimeter is mainly reeds with a dark silty soft bottom. Osoyoos, at this time of year, was void of weeds with a hard sand and gravel bottom. The water this weekend at Osoyoos was clear and drawn down. Only a few inches of the deepest reeds were under water. With the reeds out of water, there wasn’t any cover on this lake that looked like Washburn Pond. Washburn and Osoyoos had nothing in common. We were fishing for smallmouth that we had no experience catching on a lake we had no knowledge how to fish. The rest of the day was fishing dock talk. We tried every bait we purchased from Hook on Toys and fished them in areas Hank Parker suggested. Hank lied to us, they didn’t catch anything.
Weigh In (or not)
It was an overcast windy day. As the day progressed, we convinced ourselves the other pros weren’t catching them either. If we couldn’t catch them, no way the other pros would catch them. This was a day of firsts. Our first day fishing as Pros, we were first boat out in our first blast off, and now our first tournament skunk. We went in early to load the boat and act as inconspicuous as possible, so not to draw any attention that we didn’t weigh in. But, we really wanted to know how fishing was for everyone else. This was prior to the internet, and at best, the tournament results would only get published in the newspaper. We lived too far away for either of us to get our hands on an Oroville newspaper, so we stayed to see the results. We stood behind the small crowd watching as the other 9 teams weighed their fish. They all caught ‘em, except us. At the awards ceremony, the director with a megaphone starts with, “Everyone weighed in fish except for Lehrman and Dawson. If Lehrman and Dawson are still here, how many did you catch?”. Why couldn’t he just ask “Did you catch any?”, so we could just shake our heads “no”? At this moment it seemed every head turned around and stared at us. We were too embarrassed to answer. Finally, with our heads hung down one of us says “zero”. A big goose egg. In 7 days, we’d gone from Goin’ Pro to “zero”.
History repeats itself through out each of our fishing lives. From epic days when the fishing is ridiculously easy to days of “zero”. It’s those epic days that leaves every one of us dreaming of Goin’ Pro.
Laughed till tears running down my face. In fact read it out loud to Linda (wife). Now we’re both laughing out loud. Needless to say, your a talented writer. Just wish you could fish.
Wow, this brought back memories on a couple different levels.
My first “pro” tournament was also out of a bass tracker. It was a NWBASS Tournament here at Tri-Cities (2006 or 7) and we were drawn as the first boat out in a field of probably 100 boats (pretty exciting). I had just moved back from Missoula and my tournament partner and I were headed to a largie spot we had from the 90’s. We also were amazed at the speed of the other boats as we were passed by everyone!! Ariving at our honey-hole we proceeded to catch 2 or 3 good largies that were all about 1/4″ too short to make the size limit. We didn’t really a very well thought out plan B. We got back to the scales with a ~9lbs bag of smallies. As we stood on the dock getting ready to weigh in we saw these “MONSTER” 13lbs – 15lbs bags of smallies coming to the scale. We realized right there that our “Pro” status might need a little work.
This also brought back memories as you mentioned Brewster and basketball in the 80’s. I was a starter on the 1985 Ritzville team. We met up with Brewster in the Class B championship game in the old Spokane Coloseum. We were up by 1 with about 30 seconds left but Brewster possessed the ball and held for a last second shot. The shot from the top of the key missed hard off the righthand side of the rim and the ball took a high arc headed out of bounds. I think all 10,000 in the crowd thought game over at that moment. Brewster’s star player Mike Boesel ran/jumped and caught the ball mid-air and threw back a hail Mary (while still in the air) before the ball could go out of bounds. The buzzer went off as the ball was in the air and the net seemed to hardly move as the shot went in. I can still see that shot in my mind and it’s been 32 years. Moments like that inspired my competitive spirit.
Awesome article. Thanks for bringing back a couple fond memories!!
I too won’t forget Boesel’s shot. You described it perfectly.
Reminds me of my first Red Man tournament on the Hudson River. Never fished a river system before and certainly didn’t understand one that was affected by the tide. I just thought catching bass was the same everywhere. I learned quick after that. I can’t remember how many times that I’ve comeback from fishing all day with zip, zero, nada.
First thing I always realized, every time out is a new learning experience. Some times are more expensive than others especially when you’re trying to be a tournament angler.
Keep this coming, what a great site…
Atleast you tried…
I will always compete..
I’d rather know where I stand than never stand at all… Great article!
Ray, as I read your story it reminded me of the first tournament Bob and I fished at Banks lake with almost the same results. Heading out that first early spring morning with high hopes and believing we would do well by targeting largemouth. Bob had fished the lake a few years before and I had never been on the lake. When we got to our first spot and started fishing I asked Bob if the lake held smallie’s and his response was they were few and far between. Needless to say at weigh-in we had our you know what handed to us big time. We weighed in the only fish we caught that day which was a 2 pound largemouth and at the time our thought was, if it was that tough for us surely all others had a hard time also. When the 20 plus pound bags of smallmouth started showing up we were without a doubt humbled to the core.