icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Bass Wars: A Story of Fishing, Fame and Fortune

From Bass Wars, The U.S. Open:

Hirokazu Kawabe, 27, from Kanagawa-Ken, Japan, had been paired for the first day's fishing with Harold Allen, 41, from Batesville, Mississippi. Allen, a perennial Classic qualifier, enjoyed his whiskey and between that and the sun had a great bursting beano of a red nose that lay over to one side. His pronounced Quasimodo limp, the result of a hip defect he'd never bothered to have repaired, helped make him look dangerous and a little scary, though in fact he was neither. When they met after the draw to discuss the first day's fishing, Aki stood by as an interpreter. Allen announced immediately that he would not be able to remember "Hirokazu," and thus would call his partner "Hiro." The abbreviation appealed to allen as both a nickname and a compliment, and it came out that way as Allen said it: Hero.

Aki interpreted, and Hero nodded, smiling.

"Even the best fishermen are struggling," Allen said. "We'll go to where I think I've got some fish, deep ones, and if they don't show up for the show we'll try something else, maybe some top water. That OK with you, Hero?" Hero nodded.

The next morning Kawabe appeared on the dock carrying his rods neatly strapped together, with the plastic guards all the Japanese fishermen used covering the treble hooks on his lures. All was wearing a white jumpsuit covered with sponsor logos. His face lit up when he saw his partner, and he helped him aboard with his rods and gear. After Hero was settled, allen leaned toward him and spoke like a cowboy addressing an Indian in the old westerns. "You . . . ready to go . . . out there?" He waved his arm in the direction of the lake.

"OK," said Hero.

Allen's reputation as a pedal-to-the-metal boat driver was well known in American bass fishing. He drove at times with a gallant recklessness that a timid person would mistake for a serious death wish, as if he was Captain Ahab and the black bass was the white whale. None of this was known to his partner.

The morning's ceremony was calm enough: the dramatic silence when the engines all were dilled at once, the strains of the national anthem across the water, the dignified procession past the dock and out onto the lake. But when the prow of Allen's Skeeter crossed the no-wake buoys, he slammed the throttle forward and Hero's head snapped back. The boat leaped up as if alive, and then flattened into a 60-mile-per-hour run. The waves, which had seemed small and gentle and inviting in the protected cove of Calville Bay, were quite different in the open reaches of the lake. Allen wrenched the wheel to the left, and the boat skidded in a wide turn and crossed the rising sun to Hero's right. Allen bent down behind the cowl with his hat turned backward, the wind tearing at his grizzled beard. Hero looked for something to grab onto to keep himself in the boat, and found a railing on his left. He thought his eyelids might turn inside out.

They entered the dim light of Boulder Canyon, and the canyon walls embraced the boat in arms of ochre and umber, black and gray and tan and rust, rising tortured strata hacked layer from layer by time and wind and water. They emerged from the canyon into the Virgin Basin, the widest stretch of water in Lake Mead. Here the wind was pushing up whitecaps. Allen's boat slammed and skipped over the waves, throwing up clouds of spray. In Japan, rough water was a cause for slowing down, but to Hero's horror Allen showed no signs of reducing the boat's careening speed. Hero could not keep himself attached to the seat. He renewed his desperate grip on the gunwale rail. The waves piled up under the starboard quarter of the boat, giving it a most uncomfortable motion.

When the 18-mile run was finally over, Allen and Hero began fishing off the Gypsum Reefs, near the south shore of the Virgin Basin, where underwater hilltops rise from a depth of 70 feet to within 10 feet of the surface. The wind rose. Allen, with his fearsome limp, was having an awful time just staying on the boat, even with the raised seat on the forward casting deck to steady him. The waves tossed the boat as the wind grew stronger. They lifted the thrashing trolling motor clear of the water. Balancing, even for the agile Hero, was like trying to stay on the back of a large bucking fish in the water.

Hero kept an eye on Allen, and every time he saw Allen's rod tip bend he called, "Fish?" Often as not, Allen would look bleakly back down the length of the boat and say, "Rock."

Allen caught seven non-keepers, and each time Hero would say, with sympathy but not condescension, "Baby fish. Baby fish."

Hero, meanwhile, boated a 1.77-pound keeper to show for his day of bucking bronco fishing and terrifying runs across the plunging waves. "Harold was kind and a gentleman," he said when he reached the safety of the shore. "But I was afraid my bones would be broken."