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Backlashes, Broken Rods And Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

2/26/2013 8:59:17 AM

In those earlier days of guiding I had become, at the risk of sounding vain, quite well known. Now it is a natural fact, or it was before the Internet came along and made every person who can afford a guide license fee and owns a boat, a genuine fishing guide, that to be a guide required two things. On the one hand, he or she had to be the best or one of the best anglers on the lake day in and day out and they had to somehow generate publicity outside of the local marina at which they called home base. Sure, word of mouth is and was the best form of self promotion, yet that can only go so far in reaching potential new customers. That is where the indispensable need of the outdoors writers for local and big city newspapers was paramount.

It just so happened that two of the outdoors writers for Dallas newspapers and one or two for Ft. Worth newspapers took a liking to me. It could have been due to clients who were friends with these guys or it could have been due to my uncanny ability to produce a good catch when these writers decided to fish with me. Many of my friends and some clients kidded me in their belief that I kept the best holes secret until an outdoor writer shared my boat but honestly it was pure luck. I have always thrived under pressure and it was under my job as a captain in the fire department and later as a battalion chief that I honed this trait. Needless to say I had a certain attitude and felt no more or no less pressure than I did when fishing with a paying client. One might have considered me conceited but i tried hard not to be. One of the writers for the Dallas Morning News told me early on that he would make me a household name. "Just don't get caught up in your popularity and believe your press reports," he said. That advice I have tried to follow. I would like to think that I am the same humble person today as I was 49 years ago when I began my profession!

This brings us to the point of this article. One day Andy Anderson, the Dallas News writer, called and told me that he would like to bring a potential customer with him sometime that week in the afternoon. Word was beginning to spread that I and a good young friend, Randy Leonard, who also sometimes guided, had discovered a way to catch the big hybrids that were beginning to make their presence known. It just so happened that I was free the next evening. I told Andy if he could put it together that I would meet him and the mystery guest at the dock at five the next day.

My customers had had a banner day early on and caught over one hundred sandies and four hybrids to just over twelve pounds. Andy waited with his friend while I filleted their catch. The mystery man turned out to be a very famous fisherman whose exploits I had followed in magazine and newspaper accounts for years. I distinctly remember that when I read the reports that I had serious reservations as to their validity. "No one can be that good," I Upon meeting the famous angler, Tony Bifano, who came across as anything but famous, my earlier assumption seemed right on. However, there was something about the way he carried himself and the way that he shook my hand that made me reassess my judgment. The guy was so calm and spoke so softly that I decided to let the trip be speak for itself.

I took the two to my favorite sandie holes and we caught dozens of fish. I just kept wondering about one of the lures tony had tied on to one of his bait casting outfits. I recognized it as a Bomber Slab, because that was the lure that I used everyday. This one, however, was four times as big as anything that I had ever seen! I decided it was time to "work on" this pretend fisherman. "Tony," I said, "what are you planning to do with that three pound hunk of lead on your other rod? You thinking about maybe knocking one of the eighteen wheelers off the interstate!"

His demeanor did not change, but what he said drilled me to my very soul. "Johnny, my friend Andy told me that you had discovered how to catch the big hybrids. Now not to brag, but my wife, Billie, and I go out to Lake Dallas every evening and up to Texhoma on the weekends and catch an ice chest full of these sandies. Now do not get me wrong, I love catching them, but I was kind of hoping that you could show this old dog some new tricks."

Well to say that I had been put in my place would be putting it on the mild side. So I had to counter. "Tony I do know where they are and how to catch them, but they are almost hard to catch in the morning and dang well impossible in the afternoon!"

Tony nonchalantly replied, "I can catch them."

There was something about his delivery and the serious way he said it that made me almost believe that this storied angler could in fact do the impossible. I hated to leave the sanbass hole and a guaranteed photo and following story to go all the way down the lake to a inundated gravel pit where I sometimes caught the big hybrids in the morning, but I did.

As we pulled into the area, several fishermen recognized me and yelled out that they were not hitting and that we were wasting out time. In fact two boats cranked up and started to leave, that is until they recognized Tony. See, I told you he was famous. We could plainly hear what one of the occupants said. It was something to the effect of, "Okay we got ourselves a world famous angler. Let's see what he can't do!" and they laughed.

At that moment three six to ten inch gizzard shad broke the placid surface as they tried desperately to escape the charging death that lurked below. Before I could do anything Tony heaved the monstrosity he called a lure in their direction, waited about five seconds and burned the handle of the Ambassador 5500. In less time than it takes to type this, a giant hybrid grabbed the lure and began stripping line. The man on the end of the line however, was a veteran of such encounters and quickly brought the exhausted fish to the net. As Andy fumbled for the camera I prayed that the huge fish would not somehow get away, because I knew that this was history in the making.

The short end of this story is that Tony landed five fish over twelve pounds with one over fifteen as Andy and I desperately heaved our one ounce slabs to no avail. Finally Tony grew tired of laughing at our failed attempts and handed each of us one of the huge chunks of lead. As soon as the lure were tied on and cast into the feeding frenzy each of us hooked up. Both Andy and I were on our knees as we prayed that we could land the big hybrid. Tony just grinned and said, "When I came on this trip I was with an old friend{Andy}and I hoped to meet a new one, but you guys decided to gang up on me and laugh at my lures. Now who is laughing?"

Well after eating my slice of "humble pie" topped off with a generous serving of "crow" I shook the older man's hand and told him that I had just been taught a lesson that I would cherish and embrace for the rest of my life. You can in fact teach an old dog new tricks!

Oh yes, Andy did write the story and on the half page picture was a man whose smile could not have been wiped off with three rolls of sandpaper. That picture and the article that followed probably did as much to cement my credentials as a guide as anything else that I ever did. And by the way, Tony made Andy promise to write the article as if it was all my idea. Tony and Andy are both gone now, but I never forgot and I still love each of them. Guys I hope the big ones are biting where you are and someday I hope to join you for another "Guide Story."

The Cajun Guide/Johnny Procell


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