LAST HURRAH: Bait and Switch

At a fishing tournament on the Trinity River, all I caught was a buzz.

Before we scrambled into the canoes to begin what might be the first ever fishing tournament on the Trinity River—certainly the first fishing tournament on the Trinity to be covered by two television news helicopters—Mike Wyatt handed us a last will and testament to sign. Mike’s a big wheel at the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. He organized the Carpe Diem Fishing Tournament, purportedly to benefit the Trinity Commons Foundation. The will appointed Mike executor, bequeathed all worldly possessions to him, and called for a burial along the banks of the Trinity. I didn’t know Mike personally—just where he works and that he likes puns. So I declined to sign.

The tournament rules were simple: you could use a hand line, cane pole, fly rod, or spin cast outfit. But no dynamite or metal detectors. Points would be awarded for largest fish, smallest fish, and largest (and smallest) GE or Hotpoint appliance. Thirteen two-man teams, mostly other real estate guys, had paid $500 to enter. As a servant of the people and a member of the Fourth Estate, my entry fee had been waived. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me from winning a $100 Target gift card.

We put in at Sylvan Avenue, due west of downtown, on a glorious, brisk Friday morning. The take-out would be way down in South Dallas, near the intersection of Loop 12 and I-45. As I said, inexplicably, news choppers buzzed overhead. On the ground, a TV crew interviewed my first mate, a work-at-home Fourth Estater named Trey. He said something about how any day on the river was better than a day in the office, which was true enough but also a bit dishonest, suggesting as it did that First Mate Trey had a real job in a real office. But in the angling arts, prevaricating is just as important as casting.

Then, with fishing poles and oars flying every which way, into the river we went. Now, Mike claimed the river was home to all manner of ichthyic creatures. Sunfish, crappie, carp, gar, even bass. But we were going for catfish. At the Sports Authority the day before, I’d struck up a conversation with a wizened old man in the bait section and admitted to him that I had no idea what I was doing, and he’d told me we should go for catfish. He even told me which bait to buy.

On the river, I busted out the Magic Bait-brand King Kat Chicken Blood Prepared Dough. I also had some Ole Whiskers Beef Blood. Oh, how it stank! I’d never smelled such a foul odor. I immediately informed First Mate Trey: “OH MY GOD! This bait smells, literally, like ass.” Thankfully, we’d brought a cooler full of beer. The only way to tolerate the smell of the Magic Bait was to drink Modelos as quickly as we could open them.

At first, we concentrated on the fishing. We discussed technique. We searched hard for submerged logs and other likely catfish hiding places. When we encountered other anglers and they asked if we were having any luck, we gave evasive answers. “You know. Can’t complain.”

About three hours into the tourney, First Mate Trey had lost seven hooks to tree limbs, and I’d hooked First Mate Trey’s hat once with a wildly errant cast. (I was able to retrieve the hook.) But we hadn’t gotten a bite. Not one single nibble. And that’s when we, as a team, had a realization: it wasn’t a fishing tournament. It was a canoe ride.

So we kept our lines wet, but we shifted our focus from fishing to more satisfying pursuits. Like standing in a moving canoe to urinate and bragging about our wives and children. We both agreed that we were fortunate men to have wonderful families we didn’t deserve.

As a canoe trip, it was a smashing success. Six hours of beer drinking and manly conversation on the river. We even managed to stay dry, which is impressive, given how many Modelos we drank and that we had to negotiate a rapids with a Ford F-150 in the middle of it. As a fishing expedition, though, it was a total failure. We never did get a bite.

The big-fish winners, two guys from Trammell Crow, caught a 10-pound channel cat using Wheaties soaked in Big Red. The small-fish award went to a Staubach associate who caught a 5-inch largemouth bass. To my knowledge, no one landed any appliances.

I asked Mike the next day how much money he’d raised for the Trinity Commons. He said he was $3,000 in the red, but he has high hopes for the second annual Carpe Diem. Next year, he plans to stock the Trinity with fish. I think that’s a mistake. It might make for a better tournament. But the canoe ride will suck.

To see photos from the first annual Carpe Diem Fishing Tournament, point your browser to