Branson, MO was a frequent vacation spot for my family growing up. It was a 5-6 hour drive, cheap, and had plenty of kid-friendly activities. Tradition called for a late afternoon stop in springfield to visit the giant Bass Pro Shops flagship. As a young boy I remember being completely overwhelmed with how big the place was. I could’ve spent an entire day walking the aisles, checking out fishing gear I never knew existed. They had a fish aquarium with several largemouth bass over 15 lbs. If I was lucky, my parents would give me a few quarters to play the gun arcade. In the spring of my junior year in high school we made the trek to Branson. We came back with a boat.
It was a 2003 Tracker Pro Team 185 Silver Anniversary Edition with a 40 horse Mercury outboard. I think it was the first year they used red paint on the exterior. It was the greatest boat in the world, and I had just got my driver’s license. My brother Mitch was three years younger than me, and within a week we had made our first trip to the local lake. From our driveway, we could have the boat in the water in less than 30 minutes. During the first month of summer break we were in the boat no fewer than three times a week. Gas was cheap then, but my parents made me get a job at the local grocery store to pay for it. 20 hours a week isn’t much, but it cut into my fishing time.
I learned a lot about bass fishing that year. My lure of choice was a skirted twin tail grub from Chompers. I would Texas rig it with a 1/4-3/8 oz bullet weight and flip to rock covered banks, drop-offs, points, and sunken trees. Many times Mitch and I would hit the lake in late afternoon and throw plastics until the sun started sinking and the weather cooled off. Then, we’d motor over to a silt dam on the other side of the lake and throw Rebel Pop-R’s. Those bass would go crazy! Few things are more fun than catching bass on topwater lures. There’s so much excitement when they crash the surface. The key is keeping yourself from immediately setting the hook and pulling it out of their mouth.
My dad is a neat freak. He can open the door to his 1500 sq. foot metal building and know if something is out of place before he takes two steps. He had harped on us from the beginning to make sure we didn’t bang up the prop on the boat. One particularly windy day we got in some shallow water and tore up the trolling motor prop really good on some rocks. I was worried I’d never be able to use the boat again, so we made a trip to Wal-Mart to buy a new one. Few people on earth are less mechanically inclined than me, and I couldn’t figure out how to put the stupid thing on. My only play was to man up, and take whatever repercussions I had coming. After coming clean I found out it wasn’t the trolling motor prop he was worried about, but the main engine prop. Oh…
Toby Keith and Willie Nelson had a song called “Beer for My Horses” that came out in April. Many nights that summer I drove my Chevy Blazer home with the windows down and that song playing on the radio. It was the best summer.