Diminishing Returns

Diminishing Returns
The old green tri-hull tub took us fishing, whether it wanted to or not.

Big Bob was full-blooded, bona fide Native American Indian. We worked together during those traumatic years when I had to choke on a tie and ride a big cluttered desk with a little wooden name block in the corner. I coerced him into the wonders of saltwater wade fishing and we started ditching patent leather for neoprene booties every chance we got. We shared many worthy adventures and several of them branded long-remembered lessons into our brains - good and bad. They were all life's great adventures and a few recent events resurrected some good old learning curve memories. Some left some deep scars but we learned much, and one reoccurring theme was the old cliché that says less can be more.

One memorable trip was when we managed to escape our urban chores by about noon and then hurried south towards Galveston's West Bay. We had a gallon bucket of spicy-fried chicken to fuel our five-gallon bucket of unseasoned anticipation. Despite protesting wheel bearings, and even the allegedly re-wired trailer lights that flashed of Linda Blair in the Exorcist whenever you hit the brakes, we managed to get a hull wet and head that-a-way. We didn't know much about tides and such back then except for whatever the lying paper charts of the day predicted. We just read the same ole stuff everybody else did and those hard-won lessons about correction factors and how wind influences tide were still on a fuzzy horizon. What we did know for sure, though, I was the proud owner of an old beater of a tri-hull boat. And, protests aside, it was going to take us fishing whether it wanted to or not.

After a little greasy love and percussion-based encouragement, our boat finally sputtered into the back of a well-known cove, probably because one of James Plaag's banty rooster reports in the Chronicle said we should. We set the anchor off the lee bank and started sloshing through stingray-infested mud toward the back end. We caught a few small trout on Kelley Wiggler shrimptails and also had the occasional weak but inspiring Jumpin' Minnow blow-up. Nothing spectacular, more or less average for most of our efforts, but it wasn't very long before our plugs mysteriously started floating the other way. A big moon-influenced tide started sucking out hard, and all sorts of critters began to pull down from the flooded backwater marsh.

The action got a little better, but curiously, after the water level had dropped about a foot or so, we started hearing some serious mayhem going on behind us. Baitfish began to shower violently on the surface, making those spine-erecting sounds of prey desperately fleeing certain predatory death. Inching ever closer, our little world changed and trout as fat as salmon started whacking our bone Jumpers. It became probably our best catch together, the coveted stack-up we all hope for, where success is just simply handed to you whether you know anything or not. The bigger catch, however, was learning about predictable fish behavior. Contrary to what all of us who read stuff are often conditioned to believe, feeding fish were pushing up into the dropping water instead of being pulled down - as is usually preached. The lower the tide got the more serious they got about it.

Bob and I had just attended a meeting discussing Diminishing Returns in the workplace, so we laughed about the symbolism and, in our pretzel logic, ended up calling the situation just that. The more the water diminished, the higher our returns became. And, continuing to look for those opportunities has become one of my most productive patterns over the years. Gimme that low tide stuff! However, just like most other situations in life, if everything seems to be going too well you have obviously overlooked something. John Wayne said, "Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid."

Behind us, totally unnoticed in the midst of that action adventure movie, the china-blue sky we took for granted suddenly became a bit darker. The wind also changed directions and the anchor rope swung hard 'round and deposited our boat atop a little sand spit. Thunder started cracking about the same time we would see the flash, like somebody was backstage shaking a big sheet of metal during a school play. After about 200 yards of mud racing dragging some "Go to Hell" stringers, it was obvious the boat was down hard enough that there was no way off until the tide chart said so. We had to gut it out using life jackets as protection from the cold, pelting paintball-class rain, finally making it home about 0400, barely enough time to pick out another neck tie. "Hear and you forget; see and you remember; do and you understand." We did that. One of the worst things was that the chicken got washed out.

Remembering other diminishing return lessons; Bob and I had a few actually fitting the real definition according to Webster's - basically upholding the theory that the more elements you put into something the more things tend to get in the way. Big Bob and I were total opposites, a classic Mutt and Jeff deal. He was a stainless steel ruler, standing as tall as a tree at six feet-ten inches, paying attention to everything by the ounce as all engineers do, making sure everything was in perfect shape. It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others, but hey, our boat was in shape. Messed up is a shape, isn't it? That green bathtub of a tri-hull was another great teacher. The more we worked on it the more things seemed to get in the way, but we learned some valuable stuff.

We discovered that blue was up and green was down when sparking trim wires together while underway because the switch had failed. Then also learned a stringer can make a great starter rope when the electric starter goes out, and that starting it in gear isn't all that bad if you are hanging on. It was always a repair session before any fish session, a predictable rinse and repeat thing, but a-fishing we would always go. The moral is, however, that if you are working on a boat more than you are fishing - It might be a clue that it's time to upgrade.

Along those same lines had to do with lures in general. Typically, adding more workers to a job will finally reach a saturation point to where they start getting into each other's way. Back then it was not only cool but mandatory that if you wanted to pretend to be a fisherman, you had to wear a white Styrofoam hat, and it had to be adorned with at least 14 pounds of every number and color MirrOlure ever invented. It got to where you couldn't make a decision, and we spent more time tying bad knots than fishing. Yes, less can often be more.

In summing up, the tides finally fell down here and we can expect even more in September. Knowing how to look for those stacked-up situations is a major key to an epic trip, and for me it started back then. About those lures? Pardon the already overused pun, but once again…it's not the arrow but the Indian. Aside from addressing proper speed and depth, we are going to catch fish on what we think we are going to catch them on, so a smaller but more confident box makes sense. As far as our boats go, if we have to tow you (who used to be me) in all the time, try calling Chris's Marine and enjoy everything working like it's supposed to and fishing more.

Above all though, the main thing I learned with Big Bob is that sharing adventures is a lot of what we use fishing as the excuse for. We lost Captain Robert L. Ashley to cancer after chemical exposure during the Gulf War. Cherish time well spent with friends, especially on the water, as it may diminish faster that we would have it. Till then, happy returns!