It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)



New Age Pro Bass Fishing Maniacs!!!

Posted on | February 4, 2014 | No Comments

Devilish Doings and True Religion on the Professional Bass Fishing Circuit

Now, you could get all riled up about this or just let it slide, 

toss your Ranger on plane and spray a rooster tail across the water, further back into Cedar Creek, maybe fan cast the flats around the 151B shoal marker or the point off Turtle Cove. This was on Lake Murray, in South Carolina, during the professional fishermen’s pursuit of freshwater bass on the Bassmaster Tournament trail. The winner would take home $46,000 in cash and cash equivalents and many psychic spoils besides; and pretty much that’s what Randy Blaukat had it in mind to do.

But here these dick mongers were, a pair of dull-eyed, beer-stinking, local-fatso bubba boys in a cruddy aluminum rig, hogging close the very bank where, for the past three days, bass had been rising out of eight feet of water to smack both Blaukat’s spinner-bait and his bubble-gum-colored floating plastic worm. They had been good fish—three, maybe four pounds— fish of critical weight, winning fish.

Blaukat got up to the bow on his trolling motor, urging his Ranger forward.

The boys watched him come.

Today Blaukat was wearing a shirt the fuchsia color of rare birds. It was covered with sponsor patches. He also wore contrasting black Tarponwear shorts, clean white Adidas, and fresh K Mart socks. He was twenty-nine and stood six feet two. He had longhair, no gut. And his boat—his boat the boys eyed, too—was itself a handsome setup, a $21,000 Ranger Comanche with a red-flake hull, a two-tone poliflake hull stripe, a 150-horsepower Mariner engine, fully carpeted fore and aft casting decks, two Lowrance 2560 flasher-type fish finders, dual aerated livewells, a tinted bubble windshield, twin rack-and-pinion steering, and a European sportsteering wheel.

Blaukat came back to his console seat and let the Ranger drift on the water. He called to the boys. He introduced, politely but with some urgency, the idea of them moving on. He smiled.

“I’ll tell you,” the fattest one said. “I’ll tell you, I’m pretty damn tired ot you pertesh’na! fishermen coming in here thinking you own the damn lake.”

Blaukat tipped his head, nodding ambiguously; but he also rose in his console seat. “Well, it’s a big lake,” he said then. “Fifty thousand acres, and I gotta tell you I got a chance to do real well in this tournament for $50,000.”

The boy worked his jaw, turned cheek to wind, puckered, and spewey’d the water in front of Blaukat with Redman chewing tobacco. He said, “Yer damn right it’s a big lake.”

As the ripples spread, so in a sense did Blaukat. He went past himself, beyond what he was in his clothes, in his boat, got above it, under it, far away from it, until it was a speck. There was soaring going on. Then he came back, and knew that if he did not end this business, he would not fish precisely, again, for hours.

“Well, O.K. Thanks anyway.”

He ignited his Ranger and curled away from the dick mongers, only throttling up once he had passed the 151A shoal marker. He had other things on his mind, many thousands of dollars to win, and he poured on the juice in the direction of the Old High Hill Church, which was underwater several hundred yards away, submerged there ten fathoms deep upon the moment of the lake’s impoundment in 1930, cemetery and all.

THERE IS SOMETHING OF THE MIRACLE ABOUT FISHING FOR BASS. IT IS

expressed in the parabolic arc of the rod and the line peeling off the reel, topwater plug shot forth and splashing down, resting in silence, twitched ever-so-slightly, and then exploded upon by Mr. Bass. The simultaneous detonation of plug, fish, and water can cause your heart to fibrillate and your mouth to utter words of both fright and joy: “Mother!” You never know what will be on the line, a two-pound dink or an eight-pound lunker, for both sizes can strike with nearly equal fury. The bass is a predator.

Biologically, it is also the least specialized of all game fish, and thus the black bass is found in the creeks, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and impoundments of every state in the union except Alaska. At last count, out of a pool of 65 million fishermen nationwide, 13 million fished for trout—and 30 million fished for bass. Of these, about one hundred citizens considered themselves Bass Anglers Sportsman Society pros, although only about twenty were able to make a living, decent to spectacular, on the tournament circuit.

Randy Blaukat was not yet one of the sport’s biggest heroes: men like Roland Martin and Jimmy Houston, who both had fishing shows on cable TV; Larry Nixon, who had won four MegaBucks contests and over $1 million altogether; Gary Klein, who had appeared, rod in hand, in WranglerJeans ads; and Rick Clunn, a former computer whiz who was now the sport’s superstar, having in his sixteen-year career won four Bassmaster Classics — the Super Bowl of bass fishing—and more than $600,000. But Blaukat figured among the top twenty. He had already once made the Classic, and he won the 1989 B.A.S.S. Virginia Pro-Am on Buggs Island Lake, which brought him seven sponsors and a six-figure income. Now he felt certain that greatness was just a matter of the unfolding of time.

But it’s a curious world, this bass-fishing world. I went down to Lake Murray, on the outskirts of Columbia, thinking it was an unchanging sport in a changing world. The hometowns of the B.A.S.S. pros said much about the cut of their cloth: Osage Beach, Gravois Mills, and Springfield, Missouri; Hemphill, Texas; Buford and Suwannee, Georgia; Spring Grove, Virginia; Minden and Many, Louisiana; Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Generally speaking, I learned, fishermen from such places do not smoke cigarettes or dope, do not drink (overmuch), do not rabble-rouse, do not take steroids, do not sabotage each other’s boats, are not gay, might not partake of B.A.S.S. groupies (even if they existed), do cram their cheeks with chaw.

Then again, B.A.S.S. Times—the B.A.S.S. publication for the touring pro—on its front tabloid page recently noted: “FISHERMAN FORFEITS FIFTH, FAILS TWO POLYGRAPH EXAMS.” A few issues previous there had been another modern headline: “ZEN & THE ART OF ANGLING MAINTENANCE.” In bass circles, the story that followed created quite a stir and numerous letters to the editor. Jerry L. Harmon, of Modesto, California, for example, wrote B.A.S.S. Times in “great sadness and in Christian love” with the news that “the power of positive thinking and mental methodology, visualization and imagery is all Eastern religion (Buddhism, Shintoism, Etc.) mixed with today’s ‘New Age’—which is a new name for one of

Satan’s old games to deceive man …. – Be careful, Satan will masquerade as an angel of light to deceive many.”

On the circuit, there were lots of men who more or less sided with Harmon. Most of them belonged to a group called the Association of Christian Anglers, and their numbers included Jimmy Houston, the lesser known pros Lendell Martin Jr. and Randy Dearman, and about sixty others. They were ministered to by Terry Chupp, a former touring pro now solely of Terry Chupp Ministries, Inc.

“I’m gonna share a couple of things here that you might find interesting,” Chupp liked to say. “When God created this earth, what did He cover this earth 80 percent with? Water! When the Lord Jesus came to this earth and started His public ministry, where was the first place He went? To the river! The first disciples He called, what occupation did they have? Fishermen! God loves fishermen!

“Now, one thing I would like to share is that you and I are just like fish. Either we’re going to the big pond or we’re going to the frying pan.”

On the other hand, there were also some that thought Harmon might possibly be a nut. Foremost among these were a trio of anglers, a trinity of sorts—Rick Clunn, Gary Klein, and Randy Blaukat. It was about them that the Zen article and consequent letters had been written. They were the ones headed for the frying pan. They were the masquerading angels of light.

THE B.A.S.S. PROS HAD CONVERGED ON LAKE MURRAY IN THEIR

Broncos, Jeeps, Explorers, Suburbans, and pickups of every tonnage, with Rangers and Astros and Trackers gleaming on trailers behind. The fishermen were twenty years old, were eighty years old. They spent six months out of every year jacking down to Lake Chickamauga, up to Lake Lanier, south again to the St. Johns River, elsewhere, all over, ten tournaments total, on the water in scorching sun, freezing rain, eclipsing brume, ten-foot seas, scud-squall williwaws, competing for some finite part of the $3.2 million annual B.A.S.S. payout by catching, each contest day, the heaviest seven-fish sacks of bass they could.

When Blaukat, of Joplin, Missouri, first got to town for the several sessions of official pretournament warm-up fishing, he checked into the Lake Murray Econo Lodge, unpacked ten of his fishing rods, an equal number of reels, ten of his tackle boxes, two of his Seth books. He dragged a one-hundred-foot extension cord (orange) from the Deltrand Supersmart battery charger on his Ranger to an outlet in his room. He talked as he went, his voice calm, his accent southern, taking various philosophical stances. His stance on having recently lost $2,500 in the commodities market (copper) was, “It’s not going to bother me. If you’re afraid to take gambles, you’re never going to win.” His stance on aquatic vegetation was, “It’s the number-one cover for fish, and all around the country there is an unbelievable conspiracy against its growing in lakes, by landowners, by waterskiers. Terrible.” His stance on reality was that you make your own. “Throughout history, people

like Buddha, Christ, Emerson, Einstein, Thoreau have all said the same thing, that thoughts create emotion and emotion causes all experiences. There are no exceptions, there is no other rule. Look at the trucks, the rods and reels and lures; everything within your realm of experience was, initially, a thought in somebody’s mind. That’s all it was. A thought. And it was manifested physically.”

Just then, Blaukat’s roommates arrived. Bob Pastick, thirty-six, and Danny Correia, thirty, of Westport and Marlboro, Massachusetts, piled into the room. First thing Bob did was twist open a Budweiser. “King me!” he shouted, and poured the King of Beers down his throat. He was bandy-legged, a former supermarket meat cutter. Blaukat shook his head.

Danny began talking about how often boats get vandalized sitting in motel parking lots. “Props mostly,” he said.

Bob nodded. “Happens to someone nearly every tournament.”

“That’s why I’m going to come out with the Danny Correia Boat Alarm,” Danny said.

Blaukat looked up. “White light works better.”

“White light?” said Danny. “What’s that?”

“Surrounding your boat with white light. White light is protective energy that you can – .

Bob slapped his thigh and snorted.

Blaukat looked at him. “It works,” he said. “It really does.”

Bob turned on the TV and flipped idly around the dial.

“Turn that junk off,” Blaukat said. “Can’t you sit in a room without being entertained? I’ve got two Seth books. Pick one up and read it.”

Bob whipped around. “Seth this!” he yelled. “If this was the Play-

boy channel, you’d be watching it. You know you would.”

“Sex,” said Blaukat, “is a psychic phenomenon.”

“That’s right,” said Bob, “and you’d be watching it, and I don’t give a damn, and I spit on Seth.”

Blaukat sighed and waddled around the room in frog position, part of his stretching exercises. (Besides fishing, he also liked tennis, golf, bowling. He had a green belt in karate.) Afterward, he sharpened hooks. In his tackle boxes, he had the Bagley B2, the Rebel Deep Wee R, the #9 Rapala Shad Rap, the Woodchopper, the Rogue Minnow, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, twitchbaits, Slug-Gos, all manner of plastic worms and lizards, the Zara Spook, the Devil’s Horse, almost every bait there was. He put fine points on those he thought he might use. He had a winning feeling in his bones. Later, he worked on this feeling, magnifying it in his mind, hoping to turn what was essentially a crapshoot into an eventuality. He wondered, too, what a loud, bibulous fellow like Bob was doing in this room. Danny was one thing. Danny occasionally dipped into a tin of Skoal wintergreen and screened certain movies (“Professor Probe”) in the back of his pickup, but he had once attempted to improve his fishing through hypnosis. But Bob? Why was Bob here? What was that about?

BASS FISHERMEN, IN THE MAIN, ARE OBSESSIVE ABOUT THEIR SPORT.

Stories circulate about the ways men get together the forty grand a year it takes to be a gallivanting bass pro; houses are burned down, insurance money collected. It’s a fever in the blood. It can lead good men over the edge. Snag did not used to be called Snag. But then, during one contest, he got caught trying to hook a fish unsportingly and earned his new name.

Blaukat has been obsessed all his life. He can’t recall when he started fishing, but it was on Grand Lake, with his father, who worked for Kansas Power & Light. He bought his first boat, a little $300 rig, when he was fifteen. In high school, all he cared about was fishing. He already knew he wanted to become a pro. He also knew that he wasn’t ready. After graduation, he went to college and eventually got a degree in criminal justice, figuring it would make him more attractive to sponsors when the time came. To save up for a better bass boat, he worked the assembly line at an electronics factory. He fished local tournaments on weekends, never did very well. But his mind was made up and somehow, during the course of the 1985-8 6 B.A.S.S. ten-contest season, he managed to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. “If I had not made the Classic that year, mentally it would have destroyed me, financially it would have destroyed me. That I did make it was a feat comparable to a rookie in major-league baseball hitting .400 his first year. I’m not saying I made the Classic because I was a good fisherman. I made the Classic because I believed I was going to make it, sincerely believed it with all my heart.”

Nonetheless, at the time, he did think he was pretty hot. Ranger sent him a boat to use and “a yearly financial commitment.” Du Pont Stren gave him free fishing line and a monthly retainer. He was just about set.

Only, for the next three years, he couldn’t catch enough good fish to save his life. He stunk. He bombed in contest after contest. He fished twenty-six tournaments, won only eighteen grand, and if a Faustian pact had been offered to him, he just might have taken it.

ON LAKE MURRAY AT FIVE IN THE MORNING, THE AIR CAME COLD OUT

of the north, though not with such velocity as to chop up the main lake entire. Blaukat sat in his Ranger in silence, dritting. During the past three practice days, he had been the only one on the water at this hour. Blaukat thought his early arrival gave him an edge by allowing him to get closer to nature — “The water has consciousness. The trees have consciousness. The fog. And the bass.”—and to visualize winning. “In this sport all I may have to do is visualize $160,000 in a bank account somewhere, and it automatically begins to materialize. You don’t have to worry about the details.”

So he had got his Ranger all the way up the lake, forty miles of hull chatter, into the Saluda River tributary. The water there was a strange kind of green, unnatural. He came back out, lost his bearings a few times, found his way past River Bend Point and Swygert’s Landing, bore up Bear Creek, hauled ass out (a fine, slashing slew, a question mark in water), skittered between Counts Island and Lunch Island, made 1,500 casts, approximately; was now in trouble, was not on fish, had not been able to figure out what underwater structure they were holding to, what bait might take them—whereas this was not true of Danny. Danny had been getting bit, off of pea-gravel bottoms, rock, plain clay. This morning he was in his boat next to Blaukat, both of them studying a map.

“What do you like over here?” Blaukat said.

“The whole bank,” Danny said.

“Here’s grass right off this point,” Blaukat said. “And these islands ought to work.”

“I’d stay away from it and not let anybody see where we’re going,” said Danny.

“Definitely,” said Blaukat. “What’s Bob using?”

“He’s using just a bunch of lures,” said Danny.

“There’s no telling,” said Blaukat. “He could be lying to you. He could have clipped one off his rod.”

“Yeah, he said he didn’t catch many. He probably caught five— all giants.”

“‘How you catching them, Bob?’ ‘I’m catching them on everything.’ ‘What kind of pattern, Bob?’ ‘I’m catching them every-

where.’ Really specific information. Shewt,” said Blaukat.

Finally, at dawn, they cranked up their boats, equipped with all the technological extravagances known to mankind, and Blaukat blew off toward the points and banks and flats jutting into the bay that opened up behind Goat Island. Up the High Hill Creek channel he went, sixty miles an hour, stopping off to fish around Wind-song Island, Poverty Point, Amenity Island, Salem Point, and other spots looked upon, from the depths, by the submerged Old High Hill Church. Was pretty much blanked. Was pretty much in more trouble than ever.

IN THE HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL BASS FISHING, THERE HAVE BEEN

many great men, but perhaps none so towering as Ray Scott. In 1967, Ray was a thirty-three-year-old insurance peddler with a dream. He loved fishing for bass and he wanted to start a series of national bass-fishing tournaments for men like him. He thought there might be some interest, he didn’t know for sure. But on December 3, 1967, Ray holed up in a room at the Holiday Inn in Jackson, Mississippi, and started working on what would become B.A.S.S. He spent three days and three nights in that room and emerged with a set of laws that shaped tournament fishing so that the best man could never be cheated by some smart ass with a frozen monster of a fish.

“It was a bit of genius on my part,” he said not long ago. “A miracle, really.”

In 1967, Ray also started Bassmaster magazine, now the bass fisherman’s bible with over 550,000 subscribers, and, over the years, a slew of other money-making, angling-related enterprises.

“I don’t want this to sound braggadocious,” Ray has said, “but I understand how to market. Yet there’s no way that many miracles could happen simultaneously. Somebody was looking after me. There had to be. You can go to an intersection full speed ahead and run the light and get away with it on occasion. But you can’t do it over and over and over again without getting killed. But I did. And that’s the miracle. I think God intended for me to do what I did. I

don’t think there’s any question about it. It’s a miracle.

“Randy? Randy is a marvelous young man. He’s one of my boys I watch very closely, a bright young man. He may not be the best man ever to hit fishing, but if he can get the best out of himself toward that goal, I think he should be happy.”

ONE TIME, COMING BACK FROM A TOURNAMENT, BLAUKAT STOPPED

at a highway restaurant. Across from him sat a mom, a dad, and their retarded daughter. She was maybe sixteen. Blaukat did not feel sorry for her. He looked beyond her physical bein.g and saw her spirit self and realized that her spirit self was perfect and that it had created the experience of retardation just to see what it was like. He drew a lesson from his understanding of this. “I’ve experienced being broke in this sport and making no money,” he said one morning. “Now I want to experience Larry Nixon’s mentality, of winning four MegaBucks and a million dollars—not for ego gratification. For other things. And if I can get in tune with my being, it will happen.”

12:07 P.M.: “THANK YOU, FISH.”

12:15 P.M.: “Shewt, dammit.”

1:40 P.M.: “Damn, that sucker just about come off. Damn. I’ll tell you, I can’t keep them stuck today. But thank you, fish.”

A cold front had come in overnight for the tournament’s first day. The B.A.S.S. pros and their amateur partners had met up on the main lake, near Saluda Dam, and taken off at dawn, in three flights of screaming engines, in wind and rain and liver-punching

chop. A small crowd was there to cheer on their favorites. They held in their hands the B.A.S.S. equivalent of baseball cards, with all the necessary stats. They matched cardboard faces to real.

Blaukat got out of the seas and into the calm of areas that verged on the Old High Hill Church. He came up onto his Motorguide Brute trolling motor, on the bow, and cast into waters fronting stands of short-needle pine, long-needle pine, sweet-gum trees, sugar maples, a few sorry dogwood. Without sun, he could not see the shoals to angle his casts. He chunked away, snapping a chartreuse spinnnerbait to shallows. The sky got blacker.

2:35 P.M.: “Christ! That’s four good ones I lost. It should be fourteen, fifteen pounds of fish I got right now.”

At the weigh-in site, Ray Scott—gum boots, leather vest, cowboy hat, flaired trousers, creased face—was living it up at the podium. He had the crowd before him—maybe one thousand people in all—and the Bassmaster TV camera. He goofed around with fishermen’s names. “Crouch” became “Crotch,” to much laughter. Then Jimmy Houston—white-haired, cherub-cheeked, wearing

his Jimmy Houston signature-model sunglasses—was up there, spilling his fish into the weigh basket.

“Six bass for Jimmy,” Ray told the crowd. “Weight ten pounds and three ounces for a great fisherman been on our trail about twenty-three years—and has not gotten a bit better.”

The crowd hooted and Jimmy beamed.

Ray loved to rib his boys and his boys didn’t mind one bit. Jimmy stepped down into a

sea of fans wearing camo gear. “Thanks, I appreciate that,” he said whenever he signed an autograph.

Later Ray introduced Blaukat and announced the weight of his sack: nine pounds and seven ounces. Blaukat finished the day in forty-first place, far from the money cut (twenty-fifth place), and driving back to the motel, he did not speak much. He listened to music, wispy stuff, redolent of tepees and the smell of creeks. On the left, a Phillips 66 manifested itself. Edging in, Blaukat loaded forty dollars worth of high-test into his boat.

Bob and Danny were in the motel parking lot. Bob was scowling. “I weighed nine eleven,” he said. “They didn’t bite.”

“What’s wrong with nine eleven?” said Blaukat.

“The hell with that!”

“Could be worse. What’s wrong with ten pounds?”

Bob sucked on his Bud. “What’d you catch ‘em on today?”

“Spook and a spinnerbait. What’d you catch yours on?”

“I caught three on a floating worm. Boom, boom, boom.” He shook his Bud bottle. “I need some more beers.”

Blaukat did not drink. Unlike Danny and Bob, he did not talk constantly about scoring with any available local talent. He had, back in Joplin, Shauna, who was studying to become a chiropractor. They spoke by telephone almost every night. Most likely they would never get married — the institution of marriage degraded women—or have children. Blaukat was a member of NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League. He believed in negative population growth and infuriated Bob by refusing to order in pizza from Domino’s because of the antiabortion stance of its president. If he became a B.A.S.S. pro of great stature, Blaukat would use his fame to promote NPG, among other of his beliefs.

“I’m going to have a damn bumper sticker on my truck in a couple of years: RANDY BLAUKAT FOR PRESIDENT,” said Danny.

“Yes!” said Bob.

“NPG!” said Danny.

IN 1989, IN THE MIDST OF HIS DESPAIR AND THIRD BAD SEASON, Blaukat got to know Rick Clunn. Thirteen years earlier, on the night before winning his first Bassmaster Classic, Clunn had had a vision of how the contest would play out. The colors were there, the smells, the sounds, the precise locations of the fish. “And then, all of a sudden, the next day, it happened,” he recently said. “Not kinda like I thought, but exactly like I saw it the night before.” This experience eventually led him to want to know what had happened to him. He started to read books about quantum physics and breakthrough thinkers like Michelangelo, Mozart, Louis Pasteur. He read the Bible and the Holy Koran. He studied the practices of the Native American Indians and their shamans. In tournaments, he tried to let his rational, controlling mind slip to one side and his intuitional being take over, and he won or placed more times than made sense. He told Blaukat all he could of these things, and Blaukat began to study them on his own. In that year, in October 1989, Blaukat won the Buggs Island Invitational, picked up another five sponsors, fished another twenty-one contests into 1991, won $116,000 altogether.

Last year, in Kansas City, he met a woman he did not know, who did not know him or what he did for a living. She handed him a note she had written. She said it was a message from someone else.

Tell Randy I will come to him in dreams. . . – I want to help him understand for Jam the master of spiritual fish wisdom for the fish kingdom is an almighty kingdom. It is like tuning into a radio station. He will find me. I am coming and eager to share with him. – – – He may swim with me in the waters, and I will show him when he swims where to look in the lake for where the fishes congregate, where the bottoms and the logs and rocks are. – . – He will be fed by the real food of the fishes themselves and also by the spiritual food of the fish spirit. – – – This connection will happen and it will be very healing and comforting to Randy. He will open up a new realm.

INSIDE THE ECONO LODGE MOTEL ROOM, BOB WAS EXCITED. THE

great Larry Nixon had approached him on the water, for advice. “I mean, it was just me, Mr. Budweiser, and who was I talking to? Larry ‘Mr. MegaBucks’ Nixon! Larry ‘Rumdum’ Nixon whoring up information from the Kingmaster. King me! I said, ‘You better get yourself some bubble-gum worms.’ Now that don’t make sense. I just look at that and go, ‘Wow, that’s something else.’ I’m nobody.”

“Why do you say you’re nobody?” said Blaukat.

“Well, who the hell am I?” said Bob.

“Everybody has abilities uniquely his own,” said Blaukat.

Bob rolled his eyes. “I know. I know. And mine lies in that red, white, and blue can.” He went out to his boat, leaving Blaukat in the room. There was, on the bed, a small bag of bubble-gum-colored plastic worms. They belonged to Bob. Blaukat looked them over, then he snatched up a few and hid them away.

“HYPNOTISM AND HUMANISM AND ALL THAT

stuff, I’m just totally against it,” Jimmy Houston said one afternoon. “That’s my opinion. I’m a Christian, and I’m just against that kind of fishing.

Randy Dearman said, “I believe that all fishing success comes from Jesus Christ and that everything you get is a blessing, and if you don’t receive it as a blessing, you’re in bad shape.”

Lendell Martin said, “I don’t want you to say that Lendell Martin says Randy Blaukat’s going to. hell, but either you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior or you don’t. And if you don’t, it’s just point-blank you’re going to hell.”

What it all came down to, in the minds of Clunn and Blaukat, was that the Christian anglers feared losing their influence over the lives of the young and impressionable. Clunn and Blaukat were not only fishers of fish but also fishers of boys, and the more powerful they got, with their way of thinking, the more damage they could do. Or so the Christians apparently believed. And their beliefs led them to see many strange and flickering shadows.

Last year, at one of the contests, Blaukat came in second and Clunn first. As it filtered back to Blaukat, this had confounded a number of the Christian anglers, how Clunn and he could line up a one-two win like that. The Christians had noodled it around in their brains and apparently someone in their camp finally came up with an answer. It was let out, on the circuit, that Clunn and Blaukat were going to lengths to ensure fishing success. Things had transpired, under the cover of darkness, in their motel rooms, with the use of lit candles and not a few squawking live chickens. They were worshiping the devil. They were burning the chickens at the stake.

Clunn and Blaukat, of course, could not disprove what had not happened. They knew that the Christians were afraid of things they didn’t understand, but all they could do about it, really, was keep on fishing the circuit and may the best anglers win.

IN BLUE BIB OVERALLS AND A BLACK SWEATSHIRT, with a bubble-gum floating worm, Blaukat worked the water around the 151A shoal marker, fishing slow, gliding the flats, now coming around an inside riprap bank, with the sun coming up hot and brilliant on the contest’s next-to-last day. He had risen to twenty-seventh place. Pulling off his sweatshirt, he looked spectacular in fuchsia. He got over the local fatso boys, and his line flashed during the retrieves like a strand of spider’s web caught in fractional sunlight. After six revolutions of his reel, Blaukat twitched the rod tip.

“I think I got it. Gaa — sonofabitch. God. Hit it twice. Dammit.”

He passed a land baron’s looming belvedere; then, drifting out over the water, from some other house, came the pure soaring voice of Mariah Carey. Blaukat remarked on this, how lovely it was, just as a suck hole developed beneath Bob’s worm, his worm. “Oh my gosh!” Blaukat leaned forward, giving the fish line and a five count; it sounded. Finally, both hands close over the reel, he swept the rig back and up, setting the hook. “Come on, baby. Stay pegged. Here he comes. Come on, stay pegged. Thank you, fish. Thank you very much. I appreciate it”

He passed pontoon boats at their moorings, sailboats, cruisers, sparkling Kevlar canoes. A couple of hounds began barking. “Arf, arf,” Blaukat said. “Arf, arf.”

He got one on, then lost it. “Shewt, Goddang. I don’t know what else to do. I mean, geez.” But he tried to keep in mind what he always said— “The longer you go without catching them the closer you are to catching them”—and over the afternoon’s course the bubble-gum worm did the trick.

Ray called Blaukat forward.

“The next fella,” Ray began, then he blinked. “Boy, if you ain’t got on some fuchsiacolored tournament shirt. That’s something else. You don’t even have to turn your headlights on, just hang your arm out the window.”

“I’m color-blind,” said Blaukat. “I can’t – –

“Randy Blaukat,” Ray announced to a crowd no longer one thousand strong, but two, maybe three. “A great fisherman,” he said. “A young man who had nineteen pounds yesterday, several times qualified for the Classic, and the weight today: fourteen pounds and seven ounces. A fine catch for Randy Blaukat.”

Blaukat waved to the assembled; they cheered back. He ducked off the stand and began signing the contest programs, T-shirts, and trading cards of the kids from the Chapin Soccer Association, who looked up at him, in his fancy shirt, and just stared.

Later, Bob got ahold of his arm. “Hey, penis monger,” he said. “I noticed you had one of my worms on your rod this morning.”

Blaukat laughed and shrugged. “You could have put them back in your tackle box and I would never have found them.”

Bob said, “Dammit, Randy.”

Blaukat finished the contest in tenth place, won $6,500. Clunn came in ninth, won $7,000. Together, they caught eighty-seven pounds seven ounces of bass. Houston, Dearman, and Martin took home no money, caught sixty-four pounds seven ounces of bass.

“It was meant to happen,” Blaukat had said to Bob. He was talking about the worms. He was saying, “There are no coincidences.”.

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