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After his team finished the previous season with a devastating loss, they stood at the first practice of the new year. No doubt they were expecting a chastising, perhaps a tough regimen of drills and exercises. The veteran coach Vince Lombardi surprised them all by lifting a game ball in his hand before them and stating flatly, “gentlemen, this is a football.”

Now I am no football fan; I never have been, but I flat sure understand what he was doing there. That crew had let a lot of “stuff” get in the way of the most basic parts of the game and it cost them. The only way to get back to full strength and skill was to go to step one and build from there.

Last year was one of my more dismal years on the water. I fought issues with electronics, weather, personal injury and finicky fish on top of all the “normal” issues. Often, I left the water frustrated and tense and in no way feeling like I had a successful day. I was so caught up in the latest bait or technique that I neglected the most important part of the process, to have fun first.

So, this year I am taking a step back from the fancy baits and probably going to leave the electronics home more often. I am planning on doing exactly what Vince Lombardi did for his team but instead of a football I am gonna say “gentlemen, this is a cricket bucket.” I can’t tell you how long since I had a mess of blue-eyed crickets and nothing but a light rod, bobber, split shot and a #8 short shank hook. Those days I could carry my entire tackle box in a shirt pocket!

In this world of faster boats, more electronics than a battleship and enough gear to stock and outdoor store, I’m gonna simplify and drop anchor. The pure joy of panfishing with light line and live bait or micro lures is the gateway drug that started this whole piscatorial fascination in the first place. I figure it will be a darn good way to get the joy back that I seem to have misplaced. If you find yourself in the same boat, just paddle over, I bet I’ll have a spare roostertail to share.