Lure of the bass

Father and son from Bel Air cast in national tournaments

May 06, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

The temperature plunged quickly to about 35 degrees and 50 mph squalls jostled the small boat carrying two anglers. The conditions on Lake Erie prompted the Coast Guard to issue a small-craft warning.

The father-and-son fishing duo of Thomas and James Rufenacht figured they had seen the worst - then thunder clapped and a driving sleet began, followed by snowfall.

Though experienced fishermen taking part in a competition on the lake that day last October gave up and headed for shore, the Rufenachts persisted.

"We were in contention to qualify for the nationals, and we were stubborn," said Thomas Rufenacht, a 45-year-old Bel Air resident.

Their perseverance paid off. They caught the bass they needed in the regional event to qualify for the Fishers of Men National Championship that will be held Thursday through Saturday on Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C. They will compete for cash and prizes totaling about $90,000.

Thomas Rufenacht expects the weather to be factor this week, but not like it was on Lake Erie.

"The daytime high in South Carolina is expected to be between 85 and 90 degrees, so the biggest problem we will have to deal with is getting sunburned," he said.

For four years, the Rufenachts have finished in the top 10 in the Fishers of Men Tournament Trail, a series of angling events run by a nonprofit, nondenominational organization that seeks to evangelize to fishermen and their families through fishing tournaments.

Started in 1998 with four divisions and 21 events, the program has grown to 349 tournament events, said Ian Godwin, a tournament director who also is the president of Sport Fishing Ventures Unlimited in Baltimore. Each two-person team pays a $150 entry fee per tournament.

To sharpen their skills, the Rufenachts spend about eight hours fishing most Saturdays. On a recent afternoon they launched their boat into the Susquehanna River and sped out to a small cove. Once there, Thomas Rufenacht shut off the motor and cast a line into the water.

"Fishing is a great diversion from stress," said the elder Rufenacht, who works as the vehicle maintenance crew chief for the county school system. "All the problems for the entire fleet of buses come through my office, so at the end of a long week, I enjoy going out on the water, where I can relax and focus on catching fish."

Rufenacht recalled some of the duo's more memorable excursions, such as his son's first tournament.

"I caught my line in a tree within the first 10 minutes, and Jim caught fish," said Thomas Rufenacht, who has competed in more than 46 tournaments with his son.

For the Rufenachts, the appeal of fishing is the challenge.

"Fishing is awesome," said James, 17, a senior at Fallston High School, who started fishing when he was 11. "It's a new challenge wherever you go."

The largest fish they have caught are 40-pound rockfish. And the most bass they have caught during one outing is about 70.

Fishing teaches life lessons, James said.

"You learn how to solve problems, when to give up, when to keep going, and how to take defeat," James said.

The popularity of bass fishing is on the rise, Godwin said, in part because of the proliferation of fishing programs on TV.

As the Rufenachts' adventure on Lake Erie attests, fishing teaches people how to deal with adverse conditions, Godwin said.

"Participants in the tournaments have to fish regardless of the weather," he said. "This makes it a highly mental sport."

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