Pro feeling like a fish out of water



March 09, 2003|By CANDUS THOMSON

Normally, bass fishermen don't have handicaps, like golfers, or degrees of difficulty factored into their routines, like gymnasts.

Unless your name is Aaron Hastings, in which case you've had both at the same time. You might say that if the second-year pro from Boonsboro didn't have bad luck, he wouldn't have any luck at all.

In January, at the first stop on the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail in Harris Chain, Fla., Hastings was too busy battling boat gremlins to catch fish, and he didn't survive the second-day cut.

A bad start, but trouble was just getting warmed up.

Between Harris Chain and the second event at Lake Okeechobee, some thugs picked Hastings clean, stealing his boat, his truck and all his gear from in front of a friend's house.

Overnight, he went from being all decked out, just like the first day of school, to having nothing but the jeans and T-shirt on his back. Police found his ravaged truck a short time later, but his boat and $45,000 in gear vanished.

As the 31-year-old owner of a small commercial cleaning business, Hastings' wallet would never be mistaken for Kevin Van Dam's, which ruled out a quick splurge at the local tackle shop. So at Okeechobee, he was Hastings Lite, working with just three rods, a bag of hooks and two bags of plastic lures. A buddy lent him a truck and B.A.S.S. scrounged up a boat.

Cold, exhausted and frazzled, he finished 91st out of 182 anglers.

His struggles continued at Georgia's Lake Seminole, where he continued to wrestle with unfamiliar gear and slipped to 103rd.

"Every borrowed boat's a little different," he said during a phone call this week. "You lift a lid and you think you know what's in there and it's not."

Then trouble took a holiday - briefly. At the tour's next stop, Louisiana's Toledo Bend Reservoir, Hastings rallied to a 42nd-place finish and $2,700.

Insurance money started coming his way, and he got the truck back on the road. Kinami Baits sent him lures, and Extra Edge gave him sinkers.

But just as quickly, trouble returned last week on Alabama's Lake Eufaula.

Hastings was counting on the knowledge he gained during last year's 10th-place finish there to help him this year on a snaking body of water known for its underwater ledges.

He had carefully marked the most productive spots on his boat GPS, and as backup wrote them down in a loose-leaf notebook that he kept ...

"In my truck," he said, finishing the story. "I found some spots again, but the majority of them I can't find and I can't waste a whole day looking for a pile of brush."

At the start of the weekend, Hastings had 292 points, good enough for 111th place overall.

After next week's event at Santee Cooper in South Carolina, the field will be cut to 100 for the next two tour stops in California. Before coming back east in mid-April, the field will be cut in half.

That may be too late for Hastings, who figures a new boat is still a month away.

"It's hard to keep borrowing boats," he said in a phone call from Alabama. "I've just about used up all of my favors."

Although he still has faith in his fishing ability and the competitive fire is hot, so much of this season has been beyond his control.

"I thought last year was hard and it couldn't get any harder, but then it did," he said. "It's been a trying time, but I'm not going to give in."

At least Hastings has some local company on the tour. J.T. Kenney, 28, of Frostburg and Chris Price, 30, of Church Hill also are trying to make it as pros to the Bassmasters Classic, the sport's oldest championship, in August.

Before the start of this weekend, Kenney was in 31st place overall, with 463 points. Price, who went to the Classic last year as an amateur, was 85th with 350 points.

Many famous anglers are ranked behind them: four-time Classic winner Rick Clunn (90th place, 337 points,), 2002 Classic runner-up Aaron Martens (149th place, 201 points,) and 2002 Angler of the Year Davy Hite (172nd place, 82 points).

The lakes and rivers are starting to run together for Kenney, who is fishing both the BASS and FLW tours this year. He's been on the road since January and doesn't expect to make it home to Frostburg until June.

Last month, Kenney was having trouble finding a favorite spot during practice at Toledo Bend Reservoir. After several unsuccessful runs up and down the reservoir, he stopped to get his bearings and sort things out.

"Then I remembered, that's where we had fished the week before. Wrong water," he says, laughing.

The time away from home may be affecting his brain, but not his fishing. Kenney is ranked fifth for BASS Rookie of the Year honors and 13th on the FLW circuit.

Record tumbles

The fishing season is in its infancy, but already one state record has fallen.

Kevin Gladhill, 24, of Boonsboro broke a nearly 20-year-old yellow perch record while ice fishing at Deep Creek Lake on March 1.

His perch weighed 2 pounds 6 3/4 ounces, breaking the old record by three-quarters of an ounce. The fish was 15 inches long and had a girth of 12 1/2 inches.

Gladhill was jigging a Rapala tipped with maggots in 10 feet of water.

Color coded

Several anglers have called to ask if there's any rule of thumb to follow as to whether Fishermen's Park below the Conowingo Dam is open or closed.

Exelon Generating has added fences and a guard since the terrorist attacks, and anglers sometimes find the park gates locked.

Ben Armstrong, utility spokesman, says when the Department of Homeland Security bumps the alert above code yellow, the park is closed.

The Conowingo Fisherman's Hotline, which includes the power generation schedule, is 410-457-4076.

Crossed out

The bill to legalize crossbows for all hunters - scheduled for a hearing in Annapolis on Wednesday - has been withdrawn by its sponsors.

Dels. "Doc" Elliott and Michael Weir say a DNR regulation is better than State House legislation.

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