It all began with a phone call. A phone call from a legend: Jerry McKinnis.
He had a single question — would I be interested in doing an episode of his "A Day on the Lake" show?
I had to think about it for about two seconds, and replied "Where and when?"
At first it was going to be on the Arkansas River in late October. Not my first choice, but this was a day on the lake with Jerry and a film crew, a great concept and something I really wanted to do.
Over the next week, I began thinking about how I was going to approach the river. After all, the pressure was on for a good show, and I didn't want to let Jerry or myself down.
A couple of days before the date, Jerry called again — and told me they had changed the locale to a reservoir in south Arkansas.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic and eagerly looked forward to a good day on the water.
I had to get up early to meet the crew in Little Rock and was well on my way. But in my excitement, I forgot my tournament shirt — and had to turn around.
(Luckily, I was so early, I still arrived only five minutes late.)
Like most memorable fishing trips, this one began with a great breakfast — eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy — and the usual fish stories.
The crew was guys I had worked with before: Jerry, Kerry, JO (James Overstreet) and one I hadn't, Justin. They are all definitely professionals, as well as fishing comrades.
Comfortable from the start, we headed to the reservoir across the flatlands of eastern Arkansas. Watching the sun rise on an early crisp fall morning with clear skies and no wind was beautiful, but I was quietly hoping for a little breeze.
After a brief stop for water and the usual snacks, we finally arrived at our lake for the day, in the middle of nowhere and with a ramp steep enough for a ski jump. Boats were launched, microphones were attached, cameras were loaded, shirts were changed, and, at last, all was ready.
At first look, this reservoir was very large, yet also devoid of the normal cypress trees and other large stumps I was used to seeing, though it did have several fields of lily pads (both live and dead). A bank of buck brush and levee banks with cover were also part of what I could see.
After turning on my Humminbird unit, I instantly noticed the water temperature was 54 degrees, which left both me (and everyone else) very surprised.
I immediately began planning my approach.
While I was getting tackle together, Jerry asked about my plans, and I opened up with what sounded pretty good — and hoped it would work.
The first hour was spent with spinnerbaits, trying a red eye shad and shallow crankbaits out in the middle section, around isolated stumps. Very isolated stumps.
I found there were weren't many stumps, and what there were turned out to be small, at a consistent depth of 2 to 4 feet over the entire lake. Next, I proceeded to the lily pads with the same lures, plus a tube and a jig as well as worm and a jerkbait.
NO BITES! My worst fear was developing.
The usual ribbing and comments were being made — and my confidence was waning. I had tried everything (at least I thought I had) and couldn't get any bites.
I sat down and thought, this is my "Day on the Lake," and I had wanted to do this for a long time. I had seen the other guys do the show, wondering if I would ever get the opportunity.
And finally here I was. I had to come up with something; I could not fail.
What was the key? I knew there were fish somewhere, but what was the secret?
Then I thought, "This is just another day on the water, another challenge; another puzzle to figure out just like I had done many times before. Use your head and experience and figure it out."
It was about 12:30 p.m. or so, and I reviewed what I had done: I had one maybe bite around a buck brush on a black/blue jig, with a black blue fleck trailer.
Something clicked in my head — and a previous experience on Lake Champlain came to mind — and I immediately changed to a blue sapphire jig trailer before going back to the buck brush.
Being very slow and deliberate with my pitches and flips, I finally caught my first fish. High fives all around!
A few minutes later, number two came in the boat, along with a big relief rushing over me. As in past experience, one small detail made all the difference.
The rest of the day was more relaxed and although records were not broken, a limit and more of bass were caught, film and pictures were taken and my own personal goal was met.
Do not let them down — and do your best, I kept thinking.
Along with that, another memory was made all as a result of one small change: Just another day on the lake.
Fishing with Jerry is always a great experience and this was no different. It is no wonder his films are always the best. The preparation and execution of the plan was perfect and professional.
As special as the day was, the dinner afterward at Who Dat and the gathering at Steve Bowman's cabin were the real rewards: I truly enjoyed the conversation, camaraderie and feeling of family felt in professional fishing and sports.
What a wonderful life I have and have been truly blessed for friends like this.
Thanks Jerry, for the invite — and for a day on the lake.