I don't know about the rest of you old folks, but 2012 was a year that, at the end, I realized that I had grown up. I was officially who I will be. Now, that certainly doesn't mean that I am done growing, because that's simply not the case, and if it were, I wouldn't be happy with that future. 2012 was a year that I spent being introspective, looking at the flaws in myself instead of everyone around me. That doesn't mean that I have completely abandoned being a quirky judgemental character...far from it. I am still working on that. But, for the first time, I turned my high powered sense of criticalness..if that's a word....to myself. Where and how did that start? Well, believe it or not, it started with fishing.
I have been an avid fisherman my entire life, but it wasn't until summer of 2008 that I had ever bass fished out of a boat. I can't really even claim that 2008 was the start of my fishing career, because most of that summer, the boat was in the shop. When it wasn't in the shop, we were happy to just catch a fish or two.
2009 rolled around and I hit the water hard. Dad and I fished Guntersville almost exclusively....and for good reason. We were starting to figure out how to catch the fish. We weren't have GREAT days, but we were consistently catching fish every trip with a good one mixed in every few trips. I was meeting people in the fishing community and learning the ins and outs of Guntersville.
By 2010, we had learned enough stuff that we started slaying the fish. We had 30-40 fish days. We went 9 straight trips with a fish over 5 pounds. 2010 was the first year that I started fishing tournaments and I instantly fell in love with tournament fishing. I started fishing a little with the NASA club as well as the Ditto Wildcat tourneys. I also fished with Uncle Tony down on Lake Tuscaloosa, doing VERY well at every one we fished. By the end of the year, I had thought I knew a little something about fishing.
2011 started off hot and seemed to confirm what I thought about myself. First trip out prefishing for the NATA open, first 15 minutes, and I had bagged a 7 pound fish. Rounded out the day with a killer sack. I thought I had the NATA Open in the bag. I experienced a minor hiccup fishing the NATA Open the next day when I couldn't get the boat to start. We blanked the tournament because of the malfunction, but Josh and I lit it up the next week with an 18 pound sack in the NASA tournament. That set the tone for the year in tournament fishing. We took a check in almost every Ditto Wildcat tournament. I fished the entire year with the NASA club and wound up with the prestigious award of Co-Angler of the Year. Even took 2nd in the Eagles Wings tournament in Tuscaloosa. By the end of 2011, there were only a handful of tournaments that I hadn't taken a check in. I was already looking forward to 2012 and the damage I was going to do. I was going to fish all the big tournament. I was going to get serious about this blog. I was going to become this under 30 year old guy who had the IT factor.
2012 started out pretty good. We did very well in the NATA Open, finishing 18th despite having ZERO fish over 5 pounds. But, 2012 rapidly became the year of fishing frustration for me. I had some financial struggles as well as a compressed fishing schedule due to sports. But when I did get out, I couldn't catch fish. Sure, I had some good trips, but it was pretty random. They WEREN'T coming on Guntersville. They were coming off of other lakes such as Pickwick and Wilson. In fact, by the end of 2012, I had completely abandoned Guntersville because I simply could NOT catch fish on the lake. It seemed like I could fish every other lake with greater success, despite having fished each of them only once or twice. Even then, on lakes like Wilson and Pickwick, I seemed to have good days where I did incredible and then days were I couldn't catch ANYTHING. It was incredibly frustrating to me. Yet, that led to an epiphony. I was obviously doing something wrong.
Now, that's hard for an egotistical NASA engineer like me to admit. By mid 2012, I had realized that I was relying WAY too much on power fishing techniques. Those tough days were I had enough money and time to get out, I had to quit trying to force top water and crank baits...because they just weren't working and I was getting REAL tired of striking out. I had to slow down and slim down. I had to...gasp...finesse fish, otherwise I was wasting what little time I had on the water. Previously, even on tough days where I wasn't catching a thing...I would rarely pick up a shakey head. In fact, I didn't even own a spinning rod! But starting around September, I discovered that I had made a grave mistake. I had a GAPING hole in my arsenal. I decided that I would dedicate the rest of the year to throwing baits that I hadn't been throwing, starting with the shakey head. I also had to start fishing different lakes more often. So, I made up my mind to quit fishing Guntersville all together and start concentrating everywhere else. I admit that it was very hard for me. But, the highlights were great. I had a couple of amazing tournaments on Wilson and Holt Lake that really confirmed that I could learn.
By the end of 2012, I felt like I had come an incredible distance from where I began 2012 in terms of being a complete fisherman. That doesn't mean that I ended the year smacking the bass. Not even close. In fact, I have some shocking news for you: In 2012, I caught ZERO fish over 5 pounds. I went 5 straight trips on Guntersville without catching a measuring fish. I blanked at least 3 MAJOR tournaments on Guntersville. I finished somewhere between 5th and 7th place in the NASA club AOY after winning it the year before. But, I did learn some valuable fishing lessons. I learned to throw the jig and the shakey head a lot sooner than I had been. I became comfortable with off-shore fishing and deep fishing. I learned to fish very different bodies of water. I learned how to save money in a few ways and to fish on a budget.
More importantly, 2012 taught me that I am not special. I still have the need for years and years of experience. I realized I wasn't some fishing phenom like I thought I was.
Most importantly, 2012's year of fishing was almost a total loss in some ways, but it was such a big winner in the grand scheme of life. See, I understand most of you fishermen won't care about what I am going to talk about next since it has nothing to do with fishing.
Until this year, fishing was pretty much my only hobby. Sure, I hunted a little. I gardened a little. Believe it or not, I worked a little. But when fishing took a turn for the worse in 2012, I made some very important changes in how I spent my time.
I branched out on this blog into other interests. Believe it or not, I get far more traffic on my survival posts than I do on fishing! I think you all know I have a great love for writing, but it was tough to write about catching zip...even though I was dedicated to giving you the truth on fishing. Branching out was a great idea, and has been an absolute blast!
I hunted with my dad more. I know I put up a fight a lot, and made fun of his hunting club and their level of dedication to it. Deep down, I really envy the closeness he and his brother have and the work they have put into their club. This year, I took him up on his offer to hunt more and it has been a great blessing.
I decided to become more involved with my kid's sports. Up until this point, I had been an assistant coach only...so that I could fish on the weekends. Well, with the poor fishing and some enlightenment from my wife, I took a more active roll in the kid's sports. What a blessing that was! I found myself looking forward to Aubree's games! Soccer, in particular, was such an experience. I had 8 little girls that I saw grow exponentially in their game this year because of the time we put in to them. We started out 0-2, getting the floor wiped with us because we concentrated on player development instead of winning at all costs. We won 5 of the next 6 games, loosing the only other game by 1 point to a team that literally beat us 20-1. And we lost by 1 point playing down a player! The kids development in their game was incredible. It's amazing what 7 and 8 year olds can learn if you give them the chance. The year started off herding cats. The year ended watching them pass the ball, stretch the field, and playing incredible defense.
I gave up fishing time to play more sports. I took a more active roll in my flag football team, doing a much better job in organizing and practicing. We won a ton of games this year and even represented UAHuntsville in a couple of tournaments. My wife had been playing softball already. In 2011, I had filled in as needed, but I wasn't that excited or dedicated. In 2012, I swapped fishing time for softball time. It was one of the best choices I have made in my life. Why? Well, I discovered that I still had a bit of athlete in me, which gave me back some lost confidence. I made friends with a lot of great people, which is something I desperately needed. Years had taken a toll on my list of friends, both my fault and theirs. This year I made some. Easily the best thing that came out of this was the increased time I spent with my wife.
In many ways, previous to 2012, my wife and I had the average relationship of the American couple. That's not a good thing. The average couple spends little time together and doesn't get along too well. In fact, most couples have completely different hobbies with little to no overlap. Because of the poor fishing, we played softball together in several different leagues. This had an incredible impact on us. We discovered how much we truly mean to each other. We learned that we enjoy each other far more than either of us thought possible. I think being actual teammates on the field made us realize just how much we are teammates in real life. I am proud to say that we had 1 fight in 2012, and it was my fault, go figure! For a couple with the odds stacked against us, to have experienced the lows that we have seen and the challenges we put on ourselves, we have forged ourselves into a marriage centered on God, trust, and family. We are, by no means, perfect. But our aim is true, and I think it shows. 2012 was, despite all the struggles I have had from financial, to professional, to physical, the HAPPIEST year of my life. It's hard to imagine what life will be like when all the other things go my way!
Personally, 2012's struggles have made me become very introspective. When I started second guessing my fishing ability, I started looking at other aspects of my own life. If I wasn't such a great fisherman as I thought, what else was I not so great at? Where I saw the holes in my fishing ability, I saw the holes in my personality. I have spent most of my life blaming my struggles on someone else. I have been critical of everyone around me, to a fault. I decided that I couldn't fix anyone but myself, and I had plenty of work to do there. There was so much work to do, that I wouldn't have time to spend on others. I spent less time critiquing my coworkers and more time focusing on how to be a better engineer. I spent less time trying to mold my wife into who I want her to be and more about becoming a better husband. I adopted an old adage from Von Braun. Don't give me problems. Give me answers.
By far the most important thing I did this year was I spent less time asking God for material things and more time asking for wisdom. He tells us in His word that, if you ask it, it will be given.
There were also some areas in my life that I really tried to improve upon, but not limited to:
- Quit being judgemental of everyone and their problems. Everyone has struggles, just like me, and it isn't fair to judge people when I don't know what they are going through. In the past, I have been too fast to judge others
- Take as much burden off my wife's back around the house as possible, whether that is cleaning, cooking, or watching the kids
- Spend less time telling people "no" when they ask for help
- Before I ever critisize, first think of my problems. Jesus told us to mind the plank in our own eye
- Don't gossip. I have lost more people's trust than I care to count by running my mouth
2012 has been a year of challenges:
· To professional...As a NASA engineer...wondering if I am where I need to be, what kind of engineer am I, and how will I ever be happy here?
· To educational...I am such a terrible student. How will I ever pass these Graduate classes? I barely made it out with my BS!
· To financial...how do I pay for 3 children's needs...much less buy me the things I want. Will I EVER be financially successful?
· To spiritual...why can't I make myself spend the time in the Word to have the Biblical knowledge I need? Will I ever be like the men in Sunday school? Why am I such a spiritual failure?
· To physical...why can't I make myself loose the weight? How is my life already 1/3rd over?
Fishing is such a great hobby. We already knew it. That's why we do it. But fishing is more like life than we want to realize. It affords us the opportunity to learn about nature, God, and ourselves...if we open our eyes. When the fishing is great, all you can think about is how awesome you are at fishing and catching the next big fish. But, like life, the measure of a fisherman is what you do when the skies are high and the fish won't bite. Will you blame the weather and the fish? Will you get frustrated and quit? Or will you put your ego aside, reach deep and wonder what you are doing wrong and how you can fix it? If all else fails, can you look up to Heaven, shrug your shoulders and thank God that you can be on the water? In 2012, I did all of these things, and while I might be a slightly BETTER fisherman, I am definitely a better person.
When we get to the Pearly Gates, God won't ask about how great a fisherman I am. He will ask if I learned the life lessons he afforded me while I fished His Creation.