Contributed by Thomas Philippi, Wilderness Systems Pro Staff
It was 2010 and it was the inaugural season of the South Jersey Kayak Bass Fishing Club. It was our fourth tournament and we were fishing Parvin Lake. It is designated as a trophy lake by the state of New Jersey. The timing could not have been better; the bass were up shallow on beds and this lake is very clear and there are some big largemouth bass here. As a group we were starting to get a better feel for each other and it was getting more and more apparent that we had something special in the making.
At the time I had another problem on my mind, a really huge problem. My father was in a fight for his life against cancer. This disease not only affects the patient but all of the family and friends. It was consuming all of my energy at the time. My days were spent working, running to the hospital to see my Dad or running to see if I could do anything for my Mom. My wife and kids were so strong during this time and helped me keep it all together.
Going through this made me really anticipate getting out on the water with my new-found friends. They were slowly becoming a second family to me. I remember fishing the two tourneys prior to this one and not catching a single bass. Yes, I was out there fishing but my mind was elsewhere. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Well I was insane at that time. I would fish for 5 hours straight with the same lure. All I could think of was how my Dad was doing, if Mom was and would be OK, how was my wife and two sons holding up. Like I said before, it was all consuming.
This morning started just like the previous two tourneys. I was just lost. I paddled around and I was making half-hearted attempts at catching fish but nothing would click. I was falling into a deeper hole each minute.
Tom Michael, known as Capt. Camo in our club and on some fishing forums, called to me about mid-morning. Tom is probably the best all-around fisherman I have ever known. He is a beast in fresh or saltwaters. Tom has been on Team USA for the past two Hobie World Fishing Championships and won the first Hobie Bass Open held on Kentucky Lake last year. He can flat-out catch fish!
Tom asked me how I was doing; had I caught anything yet. I shook my head no. He could tell I was lost. All of my club mates knew what I was going through and were supporting me as best they could. Tom instructed me to tie on a green pumpkin Senko texas rigged and start tossing it in the Lily pad field right in front of us. He said I was gonna catch one right in there! I listened and started fishing. I was able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. On my third or fourth cast I felt that oh-so delightful tug. I raised my rod tip and I’m hooked into a nice bass! I was using a light spinning outfit with 8# test. I couldn’t horse this pig and she was getting tangled in a lot of pads and slop. While being cheered on by Tom I was able to keep my rod tip high and paddle into the pads to retrieve my trophy. I reached into a bunch of grass and grabbed my catch by her bottom lip. It was much bigger than I expected, my new personal best at 18.5 inches! I know this isn’t a monster around the southern states but it’s a beauty in New Jersey. Capt. Camo was just thrilled for me, giving me a nice high five after I got my Hawg Trough photo! For a few minutes at least, I had some happiness and was able to be in the moment. I was so pleased.
We both kept fishing, Tom to a tourney winning total of 78.75 inch 5 bass limit. I managed to catch 2 more bass as well. Capt. Camo won the tournament but was more happy he was able to help me catch a nice bass to break my slump. A true act of friendship in a competitive situation that I will never, ever forget.
It was a tough summer and my Dad did pass away. My Mom is doing OK but it has been toughest on her more than any of use. After my Dad passed I was over seeing my Mom and was looking at their computer. I noticed that my Dad had my brother set up a quick link to my club’s website. My Mom told me that Dad would check it often to see how I was doing. I never knew this until then.
Our club is stronger than ever! We went through some growing pains but we are really in a good place now. I can easily say that several of my club mates are my best friends. I can also say that I will never forget the kindness shown to me by big Tom when I really could use a friend. Tight lines forever buddy, tight lines!