Outside the Boundaries: Report from the Fifth Stop of the Bass Pro Tour (Chowan River) - 1

Outside the Boundaries: Report from the Fifth Stop of the Bass Pro Tour (Chowan River)


Henry Veggian

Tuesday, May 28th

When you arrive in Windsor, North Carolina from the highway that passes it to the south, you drive past a sign. It’s a sign you could pass without noticing. Around the sign, which sits atop a pole, there are a thousand distractions. On one corner there is an old house from times gone by, its paint crusted and peeling from the bent wooden frame, on the other the blinding lights of a gas station. A river flows behind this mis-en-scene, which is framed in turn by a swamp. The sign can easily be missed.
What did it say? I turn around at the corner to read it with care. It says:
On this site during WWII, 500 Italian prisoners were held by the US Army (1943).”
Back at the corner, I turn at the streetlight and drive over a bridge that crosses the river. I turn again, and after a few hunder yards I find myself in front of Jacopo Gallelli’s camper. Situated a short distance from the river, we are on the opposite shore of the Cashie River.
I will be asleep in a few hours, if the term even applies, in a tree house. The trunk will pass through it at the corner of my bed. From the swamp outside, a martial (Martian?) orchestra will perform. A chorus of frogs sings without pause. If you step outside and look to the sky, mosquitos will eat you alive, then fly away to be eaten immediately by bats. An owl plays the bass while crickets whistle. In the deep darkness, an alligator circles its nest. Hearing a rival approach, it opens its mouth and throat to play a drum.
When we leave to eat dinner earlier that same evening, a show the sign I passed to Jacopo and his wife. Later, I send him a photo of it, and he jokingly replies “vendetta!”
He is right, but Jacopo is not talking about war. He’s talking instead about his season, and the tournaments lost on the Bass Pro Tour. The practices gone well and the events ruined by flooding. The fish he lost. The decisions he second-guessed. With a smile, I think “There haven’t been this many Italians in this town since 1943….” How did they manage to sleep during the summer, with this noisy swamp life singing outside the boundary of the camp?

Wednesday May 29th

The official practice period for the Bass Pro Tour begins on Saturday, the first of June. For now, anglers must stay outside the tournament boundaries, carefully observing limits and maps. I tell Jacopo that I visited to pass time and enjoy the company of fellow Italians (of which there are few in North Carolina). If we find a fish or two, that’s fine by me. But I understand that for a professional angler, who fishes for a living, the tournaments never really end.
And after all, Jacopo would like to change the course of his season, and every day on the water is a day at the office.
If you have never fished from a boat with an angler at the highest level of bass fishing, I promise you the experience is unforgettable. First, we try fishing in the upper Roanoke river, but we change our minds after one hour. But after one hour I already understand that Jacopo is an expert navigator. When he takes a curve, he reminds me of the Italian downhill skier Alberto Tomba (without the somersaults, of course). We load the boat, drive for a half an hour, and re-launch on the Perquimans River. There, on the open bay, Jacopo maneuvers expertly between the buoys that mark the crab boxes as if they were flags on the slalom course. For someone looking to learn how to navigate in a bass boat, it’s a lesson at the doctoral level.
But the real lesson starts when we cast our baits. The work day is twelve hours long; we left the camp site at six in the morning and now it is nearly ten o’clock. having caught only one bass at our first stop, we are now in a small bay. In the distance, we see the great Takahiro Omori’s boat. Here we find our first good bites, landing two or three small bass. Jacopo also catches a small flounder, testament to the fishery’s salinity. He tells me that he saw a pod of dolphins the previous day….
We move a third time, crossing a section of the Albemarle Sound. We enter an area that resembles the swamp near our campsite. Here, we find more bass, in quantity of not quality. And here the difference between two anglers is most evident. Jacopo fishes with a brush, not a pole. Each one of his casts reaches a precise location within the frame, and we begin to catch fish of a better quality.
he listens and watches me, observing my casts with eyes and ears. He can hear my mistakes, how the line leaves the reel, and sees how my hands are placed. Now, the teacher appears. For the next hour or so, I receive a lesson in the art of pitching. I am use dto fishing from a kayak, so I have to accustom myself to the height of the boat and also re-imagining the angle of every cast. The result is convincing – after some bad casts and backlashes, I finally catch three bass.
But they are smaller fish. And even if Jacopo finds many more than I do, and longer ones, too, they are skinny fish. But his second day of fishing has produced better results than the first. With two days remaining before the start of official practice, the question remains: where can one find quality bass?
What did Jacopo learn during the time spent fishing with a friend, outside the tournament boundaries? I can’t say. I learned a great deal, however. Beyond the pitching lessons, I learned that the world of bass fishing at the highest level is a world of artists, each of whom is trying to create a masterpiece. With the discipline of a soldier and the grit of an Olympian, they work like crazy, brush in hand, inside the boundaries and out in order to render the world before them.
The world of the Albemarle Sound is one where freshwater mixes with salt, and where you catch flounder alongside Largemouth Bass. At the end of the day, as we load the boat to leave, Takahiro Omori arrives at the ramp. We stop to chat a while. I am reminded of the sign I passed in Windsor. Eighty years ago, they would have confined us all, Italians and Japanese, in that camp. But today these two champions are also immigrants and champions at the highest levels of the sport of bass fishing, artists painting out their dreams. I listen while they talk and I realize that the friendship among the two is one that exceeds any boundary.
With the blue canvas of the sky stretching from the ocean to the sunset, I have the impression that their next tournament is one in which there will be nothing to lose and it will be one that nobody should miss. In a certain sense here, outside the boundary, it has already been won.

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Henry Veggian