Team “Just Keep Fishing” Tells the Dramatic Story of Their 1st Place Finish in the Oregon Tuna Classic

“There is a wise Russian saying my wife is fond of using! It reflects what I call the “NO hope” syndrome prevalent of people from Russia back when my wife came here. I think it is different now, but it speaks to that time.

“Don’t sell the skin of an un-shot bear!”

Hope was not in her thinking back then. Smiling was not something you saw when traversing the streets of Moscow. Its just not something the people did there. I believe it was because they had little hope of things getting better.

At the Newport leg of the Oregon Tuna Classic this year we won fifth place by fishing very rough conditions. Three out of four of the crew were pukers with the last one on the verge most of the day. But we had “hope” that somehow things would get better. Well the water did not co-operate, and like the others out there that day, we got beat up pretty good. Without a strong virulent desire to compete, it would have been easy to go back in. It was a great surprise to find ourselves sitting in fifth place when the weighing was done.

In the minds of the crew the knife came out in preparation to skin that bear!

My wife was very happy for us when I called her. But any talk of winning it all was quickly put down with her favorite saying.

We rolled into Ilwaco with “hope” to somehow place in the top ten, knowing we would need the points to stay in the race to “Cabo”. When that first fish hit the deck it was big. But we were not out to blue water yet. We talked it over and made the decision to stay there and put as many fish of that grade in the boat as we could. We knew we were likely to catch more fish further out but stayed put. We knew we had a good total weight as we off loaded the fish at the weigh in. We hoped it would place us in they top ten.
As weights were compared to other teams, it was apparent we were going to be very close to placing first. It is never for sure till the announcement is made. When it was, it was something else. I had my phone on with a call to my wife so she could hear the announcement.

The bear was now hung in a tree!

To our surprise and consternation, Green Lightning Laundry, had placed putting them in the lead for IGFA points. I was smack talking with the best of you. I bantered back and forth with “Can Can Case” quite a bit. His Green Slimy Laundry Team had no chance I would say. I slandered the “Grady Girls” with jubilant abandon. I talked big and loud. But after winning Ilwaco, and setting the CR Dogs at the top in our port, I went into silent mode for the most part. It got serious for me at this point. I began to realize that we might actually have a chance at winning this whole thing. I began to have trouble sleeping. Numbers and equations were running through my head all the time. I had dreams of green slimy stuff coating the water as I was trolling for tuna. The stuff was slowing me down in my quest to catch tuna.

We rolled into Charleston with high hopes. The crew and I had lots of family and friends coming to support us there. Some all the way up from California. The weight of being in second place had been keeping me up nights and it was no different Friday night before Charleston. I was lucky if I slept for a half hour. I knew as soon as I stepped onto the shuttle bus to the marina, that I would be getting seasick. I had no energy to fight it. And when I get sick, I am down for the count. I nearly never recover. I become a dead blob on the deck of the boat. Un-able to participate in the days activities. And so it was. I did not even make it to the tuna grounds before I was on the deck puking, moaning and groaning.

This is where a good crew shines. They jumped right in and took over the day. When we reached the way point I had put in the plotter and found cold water, they made a decision and headed north. I was little to no help. Jack set out a great spread as usual, and made sure things were running smooth. They took turns running the boat and finding fish. And find fish they did. I know, because those fish were hitting the deck on top of me, next to me, and they all had big giant treble hooks slapping me. Even then I could not move. Not one person other than myself got sick till the end of the day. They were able to stick it out even though it was again very rough conditions.

The weigh in at Charleston left us all in great suspense, because of the format. We again found ourselves in fifth place when the weighing was done. We were leading the IGFA points count. We were on top of the world. And it was great to have the family and friends there to enjoy the moment with us.  I know it was at this point where my wife began to dream of going to Cabo.

We began sharpening knives, and planning how best to skin the bear!

Over the next couple of weeks, I got pm’s and calls supporting the team. Calls of good luck were a daily thing. The pressure was building, and I was having trouble functioning. I have always been very competitive and was on many teams where we were in championship events, but it was nothing like this. My wife was openly discussing her hope for me to win so we could go to Cabo. She began looking at the IGFA website. She was looking at where we should stay. She was hoping for something that was still not real! Something I had never seen her do! My desire to win changed from wanting to beat Green Lightning Laundry, to wanting to win for my wife.  She puts up with a lot of expenses that we really cannot afford. She is a very strong driving force, and I love her for that!

I had not planned to fish the week before Garibaldi, but at the last minute decided to go out and have a relaxing day on the pond. We traveled out and back across the pond at other than afterburner speed. We caught a lot of fish and had a very relaxing day. I really needed that.

I had planned to pre-fish Garibaldi. The stakes were high. But in the end, rolled into Garibaldi on Friday morning instead. We dropped the boat and I spent some time with my youngest daughter and wife, getting “Squeaky” cheese and ice-cream. We had fish and chips and talked about spending some time in the sun!

It was great to see Tred Barta at the Captains meeting and even greater to have him remember signing my yellow tuna mallet! Even from a wheel chair that man is “BIG”. The blessing of the fleet and fishermen and women was something that is often lacking. The stress of the previous weeks left me exhausted and I quickly fell asleep back at the motel after the captains meeting. I was actually sleeping.

Morning came early. I was at the boat and had everything ready for the days activities. The crew soon arrived and we were off to an ocean that again was rocking and rolling.  I would not have fished that ocean had it not been for the OTC. But the reason would have been comfort, not danger. We made a couple of passes by the Secret Island in hopes of making the editing room cut and being seen on Treds TV show! Then it was off to the races. Fishing was very slow. We had water coming over the side of the boat a couple of times while trolling.
We were at 4 fish in the box at around 12:30. We desperately needed that last fish to stay competitive. We knew we could not take overall points with out that fish. That’s when Jack started praying. He was praying to King Neptune and the big guy in the sky. There are some others I forget now, but his list was long. It was a side I did not know existed in Jack. With minutes, not hours left, that fifth fish hit the deck and we would not be doing the “walk of shame.” We had no more takers before we had to head in for the weigh in.

While floating around waiting for our turn, we found out that GLL had not weighed in yet. We could not see them in the line of boats either. I am somewhat concerned with my hope that they would not make weigh in, but it is what it is. Soon though we saw their boat coming and checking in.

Keeping the weights secret is a cruel thing. The pressure is tremendous. The pressure cooker is ready to blow with the least little help. Well the GLL team came driving by as we were cleaning up the boat and shouted out their weight. I was devastated. They had ten more pounds then what we thought our weight was. The tension began to release now and I just wanted to get back to the hotel and shower and relax. We had lost! I knew our weight was not nearly enough to place us in the top ten and with GLL so high over our weight it was certain we would not be getting the IGFA over all points!

I came out of the hotel with no appetite and little energy to carry on. In fact I was contemplating jumping in the truck and heading home. All hope had faded and I was back on the streets in Moscow some 12 years ago. Then I ran into a little “knome” in the street in front of the hotel. He asked how we had done and I was hardly able to tell him. He looked a little puzzled. He looked right and left, and then he spoke some words that brought instant life into me. It gave me some hope. But knowing that Garibaldi is rife with shady characters, I tried to temper my hope! After the fourth or fifth or, (well it got embarrassing,) man hug I let the little knome go. I had a quicker step as I walked towards the tent. I had the desire to tackle that great dinner waiting for me. I knew there was still a chance we were not going to make it but there was also hope!

When the announcement was made and we were overall winners, I saw something I had never seen before. I mean this with a certainty! My wife was jumping and screaming. You have to know that she speaks with a very quiet voice. She just does not have any volume to her voice. But right then and there, First Place overall and Cabo became real.

Our two Russian crew were smiling. Something that is hard to get them to do for pictures. But in this moment and this time we all had hope and it was real. We all had endured the roughest oceans and highest stress that the OTC can dish out, and we were on top. “

-David Putnam