There is a scene in “Jerry Maguire” where talk show host Roy Firestone is interviewing football player Rod Tidwell. The dialogue goes like this:
Firestone: “Your father leaves on Christmas Eve and leaves your family all alone. Your mother had to sweep out the steps of the prison just to earn enough money for tuition for you, your brother loses his leg in a tragic bass fishing accident. There’s been a list of horrific things that have happened to you.”
Tidwell: “You’re not going to make me cry.”
Bass fishing injuries aren’t just a movie joke. Want proof? If you ever have a conversation with veteran Oklahoma bass pro Tommy Biffle, be sure to look him straight on. That’s not just to avoid staring at his super-tight coaching shorts, but also because the 62-year-old tournament angler can’t really pivot his neck or torso.
After a lifetime of piloting little boats through big waves, his body is wrecked. When he started, the standard craft was an 18-footer with a 150 outboard, but even in today’s bigger, sleeker bass boats, you’re going to take a pounding when the wind gets up on Erie or Okeechobee or Sam Rayburn and you need to run 30 miles in 30 minutes to weigh in.
Fellow jig-flipper and 1998 Bassmaster Classic winner Denny Brauer, 71, likewise is still feeling those boat rides. He’s had at least five back surgeries.
The problem with being on tour and suffering these injuries is that, unlike other professional sports, there are no trainers, masseuses, or team doctors to work out the kinks. You just get back in the truck and drive 12 hours to the next 12 rounds of battling with the watery equivalent of Mike Tyson. If you don’t fish, you don’t earn, and if you don’t earn, you don’t eat.
The pros may do it for a living, but us weekend warriors feel the pain, too. A few years ago at Mexico’s Lake El Salto, my good friend TJ Maglio set the hook on a short-lined football jig a little bit too zealously and whacked himself right below the eye, which produced a dandy of a shiner. Had it been an ounce-and-a-half tungsten flipping weight, or if he didn’t have quality polarized glasses, he might be the anti-Biffle—you couldn’t look at him straight on, but rather only from the side with his one remaining peeper. As the old cliché goes, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
The danger doesn’t stop after you make your last cast. Years ago my friend Dan Hill was trying to quickly get his boat on the trailer at the end of a tournament day as lightning crashed down around him. When he kneeled over the nose of the boat to attach the winch strap, his knee hit the trolling motor pedal and caused the propeller to gash his hand, later requiring surgery. If his prop had been metal instead of plastic, or if it he’d had his face next to it instead of his hand, the damage could have been much more serious.
I’m not immune to accidents or injuries, either. In addition to the usual spine cuts, line slices, and (in a perfect world) “bass thumb” (which, for the record, does not mix well with hand sanitizer), I’ve flirted with bigger problems. Most notably, I’ve fallen out of the boat twice when my fast-moving trolling motor collided with a stationary object. The boat stopped; I kept going.
One of those times it was in a heavy field of stumps. As I dropped into the river, my arm glanced off one stump and my right leg hit another. I didn’t break anything, but I was sore for weeks. Of course, it could have been worse: If I’d landed dead-nuts on one of them, I might have gotten an unnecessarily intrusive visit to an inanimate proctologist. The water was 47 degrees that day, and while shrinkage doesn’t necessarily count as an injury per se, it’s not pleasant either.
Getting stuck with a hook on occasion kind of comes with the territory, especially since we tend to boat flip our bass, but in this often go-fast, push-the-envelope world, we must ask, are little green fish worth the added physical risk?
Clearly I think so. In fact, even at age 50 I still do dumb shit like fly through debris fields on a river instead of idling through or blast out of areas with little water when I should use the trolling motor. I’m not saying it’s wise, just that the addiction is real.
Pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever.
Featured image by James Overstreet