I’ve never let anything stop me before. I’ve battled my boat, the weather, and my partners, and I always come out on top. I end up at a lake, casting a line, and enjoying life. No ten pound weight limit is going to keep me from fishing. I’ll design a new tackle box. I’ll cut out the fabric; I’ll combine packages; I’ll downsize my baits; I’ll make this tackle box weigh 9.98 pounds, and I’m going to go fishing. I’m going to fish until I can’t fish anymore, and then, I’m going to enter the Rocky Fork Lake Fishing Tournament, the one my cardiologist, Dr. Kimball, says I will never be able to fish. I’m not giving up.
My first open heart surgery takes place when I am only five months old. My pulmonary valve is replaced, and a hole in the muscle of my heart is patched up. I recover very well, and go on living my life like an ordinary kid. But as I grow, my valve grows differently, and at age seventeen I am told that I need a second surgery. I will be in the hospital for a week, and out of commission for at least six weeks. I know that it has to be done, but all I can think is, how am I going to survive for six weeks without fishing?
We set the date for May 21. This works in my favor in many ways. I can take my finals a little bit early and not miss much school from the surgery. Plus, I can compete in a fishing tournament on May 5, no problem. But there is one thing that I can’t accept. Three weeks after the surgery, the Rocky Fork Lake Fishing Tournament is scheduled, and Dr. Kimball insists that I‘m not going to be able to fish it. He empathetically says, “I’m sorry, Gabe, but you don’t have a good chance of recovering in time,” but all I hear in my head is, “Gabe, you have a chance of recovering in time.” If I am going to do this, I have to buckle down, and work hard.
I spend the night before my surgery designing a new tackle box. After the operation I will have a ten pound weight limit, and my current tackle box weighs about forty-five pounds. I remove only the bare essentials, and put them in a small backpack. I weigh the backpack, and see 13.27 pounds. I resort to drastic measures. Pulling out my knife, I cut away all the unnecessary fabric from this backpack. I take several packages of soft plastics and start cramming them into one package. I even take out my bigger four inch square bill crank baits, and replace them with two inchers. Weighing the box again, I see 9.98 pounds. Jackpot! Now I’m ready to have surgery.
I wake up on May 21 after six hours on the operating table, and I am exhausted. I see my parents at my bedside and I ask, “Is it over already?” All my ribs have been cut open, and it feels like a thousand tiny needles are stabbing me in the chest every time I move. I am so thirsty, but I am only allowed to have a few measly ice chips. I can tell that this is not gonna be easy.
Three brutal weeks of bed rest, pain killers, and breathing tubes all comes down to this one moment. My jaw hits the floor when I walk into Dr. Kimball’s office and hear four sweet words. “Gabe, you can fish.” Even though he only allows me to fish four hours of the eight-hour tournament, I catch three bass, including one big kicker with my trademark Roboworm. With a final weight of 4.46 pounds, I win the tournament. A satisfied smile spreads across my face as I release my winning bass and place my lure back into my new tackle box.