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Pranked.

GOT A SENSE OF HUMOR? GOOD. BUT WHAT IF YOU WERE THE BUTT OF A PRACTICAL JOKE WHILE UNDER EXTREME PRESSURE TO PERFORM--SUCH AS WHEN COMPETING IN A HIGH-STAKES PROFESSIONAL WALLEYE TOURNAMENT? IMAGINE YOUR LUCKY LURE SAILING INTO THE DISTANCE AS YOUR LINE PARTED HALFWAY THROUGH A CAST, OR FINDING A RANCID FRESHWATER DRUM IN YOUR FRONT LIVEWELL. THINK YOU COULD TAKE SUCH A PRANK IN STRIDE, LAUGH IT OFF, AND GET BACK TO THE FISHING AT HAND?

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Pranks and paybacks happened often during the storied history of the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT). Ironically, many memorable shenanigans were orchestrated by mild-mannered folks--those you'd least suspect of chicanery--while some of the tour's more boisterous "class clowns" remained surprisingly innocent.

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MINOR INFRACTIONS

Most tricks were trivial, such as a cluster of algae-covered clams hidden in a boat's glove box. Once found, the crusty critters would make their way under the driver's seat of another teammate's tow vehicle, then to another's, and so on. "Those things really stunk after awhile," says tournament vet Scott Rhodes. The Traverse City, Michigan, pro also told of having two cases' worth of empty beer cans jammed into his livewell just in time for the Day One boat inspection of a big tournament. Nice. But still, pretty basic.

Rhodes admits to witnessing (if not pulling) more elaborate pranks, such as uncoupling a boat trailer from a tow vehicle's hitch, unplugging all wires and safety chains, dropping the jack, and lifting the trailer just off the hitch so the driver was unaware of the dastardly deed. In the daze of predawn darkness. "'Sometimes it took awhile before the person realized his boat and trailer were not behind him," he says with a grin. Bravo!

Over the years, Escanaba. Michigan. pro Kim "'Chief" Papineau found himself the heir of a practical .joke or two. One such incident included having his slippers sheetrock-screwed to the floor next to his bed.

"I nearly face-planted when I got up in the middle of the night," he growls. I'm not sure who among Chief's acquaintances initiated this one, but the late Gary Gray's name was brought up by others who told this story--thus another tribute to the late, great angler Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Make no mistake, Chief's been an instigator, too, and at this writing had gotten away with one fine hoax in particular. On a hot summer's day, Papineau smeared peanut butter under the door handles, and on the bottom of the winch handles, of two competitors' tow vehicles and trailers.

The victims were pros Mike Gofron, Antioch, Illinois, and Twin Lake, Michigan's Mark Martin. "You've got to do that one just right," says Chief. "Make sure you hide it well, tuck it up where they won't see it, and don't apply so much that it drips out when it melts."

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Chief covered his tracks by immediately walking up to the duo and accusing them of doing the same to him. "To this day I still don't think they know I'm the one who did it to them." Until they read this, of course. Sorry, Chief.

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SQUEEZE PLAY

If you've ever met Tommy Skarlis, of Waukon, Iowa, you'd think this outspoken pro would be one of the top dogs of practical jokes. "But I'm not," he claims. "I'm the kind of guy that doesn't get even--I get ahead. That alone stands in my way because it gets to me, psychologically."

But Skarlis admits he's no angel.

"There was that time we put an eelpout (burbot) in Perry Good's livewell and by the next morning it had eaten all his chubs," Skarlis says. "Rumor has it, Good had to squeeze the fish like a tube of toothpaste to get his bait back. And then there were all those times when we'd send amateurs that didn't know who Ted Takasaki was over to the man himself to ask him for his autograph; Ted never could figure out why he had so many fans.

"Karma, however, has its way of catching up to you," Skarlis confesses. "Tommy Kemos got one on me this past summer, on the way home from Lake Oahe in South Dakota."

The Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, pro called Skarlis on his cell phone, claiming to be waiting at an exit farther up the road. "He said he'd forgotten his wallet at a gas station about 14 miles behind me, and asked if I could do him a huge favor and go back and get it for him while he waited," Skarlis explains. In truth, Kemos was trailing Skarlis with his pocketbook safely in hand. The phony fill-up story was a ruse, and when Skarlis turned his rig around to retrieve his friend's wallet, it wasn't long before he knew he'd been had. "After about 12 miles of backtracking, I passed Kemos heading toward Wisconsin, grinning from ear to ear. I figure he owes me about $22 in gas money for that."

DRUM CORPS

One name that pops up often when it comes to practical jokesters is the aforementioned Mike Gofron. I've seen him in action, too, like the time he waved me over in the parking lot of a Bay City, Michigan, restaurant.

The sinister look on his face said it all. It was three days before the 2007 PWT Mercury Championship at Saginaw Bay, and he was trying hard not to smile as he pointed to the slime slowly dripping from the livewell drain of teammate Mark Martin's boat. I knew a prank was in progress, but dared not inquire.

Later that evening, Gofron let me in on the joke. The day before, he'd caught a 9-pound freshwater drum, or "sheepshead," and the badly hooked fish wasn't going to make it. "What would you expect me to do with it, just let the seagulls have at it?" Not one to let a fish go to waste, he did the only thing he could think of. "I put the dead drum in Martin's front livewell (which was dry at the time), where I knew he wouldn't find it for a while."

Indeed, 2 1/2 days of fish fermentation elapsed before the drum next saw the light of day. Still unsuspecting, Martin towed his Lund to the service trailer for a little routine maintenance before the Championship. When the mechanic opened the hatch, the jig was up. "By the horrified look on the guy's face, there was no doubt what was in there or who was behind it," says Martin.

Gofron scored a practical joke victory, but the prank did not go unanswered. When his observer opened his front livewell the following day--Day One of the Championship--lo and behold there was the putrefied sheepshead, more aromatic than ever.

FOWL PLAY

Another chapter in the Gofron-Martin saga occurred just prior to a tournament on the St. Mary's River at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Gofron somehow managed to grab a pigeon that was meandering down the front sidewalk of the mom-and-pop motel where he, Martin, and teammate Mark Brumbaugh of Arcanum, Ohio, had each secured a room.

Thinking he'd share the bird--and a laugh--with a fresh target, Gofron cracked open the door of what he thought was Brumbaugh's room, tossed the pigeon inside, and quietly shut the door. Within a few minutes, word of the prank spread among other tournament anglers staying at the motel; a handful even gathered outside to watch it unfold--that is, until one of the onlookers realized where the pigeon was and informed Gofron, "Uh, that's not Brumbaugh's room." The snickers quickly faded.

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With little choice but to face the music, Gofron apprehensively knocked on the door of the room where'd he deposited the pigeon, peered inside, and cleared his throat.

"Can ! have my bird back?"

"It's over there," said the stranger inside, without getting up from his chair. The man sat unfazed, holding his morning paper in one hand and pointing to the opposite corner of the room with the other. Gofron apologized, retrieved the surprisingly calm bird, and retreated. Hoping to salvage the prank, he got his room numbers straight and snuck the pigeon to the correct door. There, however, he met another roadblock.

"I learned a long time ago to lock my door," Brumbaugh recalls, "and that day was no exception." Fortunately for Gofron, Mark Martin had taken no such precautions before stepping into the shower.

When Martin emerged from his bath a short time later, the well-traveled pigeon was sitting placidly on his pillow. To the delight of the peanut gallery waiting outside, Martin's door quickly swung open and a flurry of feathers and fowl erupted from the room. The bird, miraculously none the worse for wear, swayed pigeon-toed down the sidewalk and out of sight.

PULL YOUR OWN PRANK

LOOKING TO PULL A FAST ONE on a buddy? Several tournament pros gave up a few oldies but goodies. Tommy Skarlis suggested filling a boat storage compartment with helium balloons, which a local boat rigger did to him a few years ago. "I nearly jumped out of my skin when I opened up the hatch and the balloons flew out. Something popping out of there is the last thing you expect to happen."

One of Kim "Chief" Papineau's favorites is to cut the line on a trolling combo, then retie both ends to one of the rod's middle guides, making sure to trim the tag ends well. "The person goes to let the lure out and nothing happens," he says. "It usually takes him a while to figure it out."

Scott Rhodes takes line-cutting pranks two steps farther. He lets out a long cast's-worth of line from "the mark's" jigging or casting rod, then cuts and re-wraps it on the spool in 30-foot intervals. "That way, three baits fly off into the distance, not just one," he grins.

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ILLUSTRATIONS | PETER KOHLSAAT

BY DAVID A. ROSE *

* David A. Rose is a writer, photographer (davidarose.com), speaker, and fishing guide (wildfishing.com) who lives near Traverse City, Michigan.
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Title Annotation:In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail
Author:Rose, David A.
Publication:Walleye In-Sider
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:1670
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