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The Gene Cirks Fishing Tournament is always memorable

Ahhh, Belle Taine. Someone once told me it was "the Dead Sea" and for a while, I believed it. But this final body of water on the Mantrap Chain of Lakes provides plenty of opportunity for catching fish of all species.

Following last Saturday's Gene Cirks Memorial Scholarship Fishing Tournament, I thought to the past. Not quite to the very first year of the tournament, but close. It was my very first, at age 12, and happened to be the fourth annual event, but back then, Gene Cirks himself was competing in the event along with the rest of us.

At that time, there weren't massive 200 horse-power engines to push a boat at hyper-speed. In fact, the vast majority of the anglers had engines smaller than a quarter of that size.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to join the 50-boat field on the water of Belle Taine, protected by the full-windshield of my 20-foot Crestliner, powered by a super-charged 250-horsepower Mercury Verado outboard and equipped with every gadget imaginable to assist in finding and catching fish, and keeping them alive once aboard.

Boy, things have changed. Reflecting on that first tournament sure brought back some memories. My dad and I fished the event together and I didn't sleep a wink the night before. In fact, it would be another 12 years before the "pre-tournament jitters" would subside to allow a few hours of shut-eye.

Our boat was a 14-footer and we borrowed a six-horsepower engine from my uncle. There weren't any batteries on board to power the trolling motor, depth finder or livewell, because all we had was a five gallon bucket, a pair of oars and four bench seats. We didn't even have a cooler along for bait or snacks; sandwiches went in your pocket and if you wanted to keep the bait cool, you'd just set the container under one of the bench seats, in the shade.

The day before that tournament, I biked down to Bud's Gateway, right at the entrance to Nevis. He had the minnow tanks percolating, leeches in the cooler, and some interesting fish mounts hanging on the wall. Not to mention a big black dog that I'm pretty sure wanted the sandwich in my pocket.

I averted the rambunctious dog and walked over to the pegboard wall with hooks and lures hanging in neat rows. Using $4 that I had earned by working four hours at Don Oligney's mini-golf, I purchased my very first spinnerbait, a black Lunker Lure.

The next day - tournament morning- my dad didn't have to wake me up, I simply hadn't slept. And as time finally ticked away, as if I was waiting to open Christmas presents, our flight number came up and the boat went up on plane and down once again in a span of about 100 yards. We had arrived at the hot-spot, right in front of Kachelhoffer's Resort.

I cast the black spinnerbait out into the water and after two cranks of the reel handle, it stopped, held tight by the teeth of a four-pound northern. One cast, one nice fish. Yet I should've put the spinnerbait back in the tacklebox, because after eight hours of fishing, that was the only fish we caught.

Twenty-one years later I still think about catching a fish on the first cast, but always hope that the action doesn't cease after one bite.