I had never done the Black Friday thing before this year, but I had a vague sense that I needed a strategy. It turns out that’s not the half of it.

This is no place for rookies or pretenders.

I had never done the Black Friday thing before this year, but I had a vague sense that I needed a strategy. It turns out that’s not the half of it.

Who really wants to get up before dawn when a reasonable person would be sleeping off the tryptophan haze that comes with all that Thanksgiving turkey?

But there’s always a lure, isn’t there?

Bass Pro Shops had Carhartt jackets for $39.99, instead of $69.99. Five hours only – starting at 6 a.m.

All things considered, such as the stores that opened at 3 or or midnight or sometime Thursday, that sounded almost reasonable. I’d be crazy not to go, wouldn’t I?

I didn’t feel that way at 5 a.m., but I was better by time I got to Bass Pro and found the end of the line at 5:45. The line already stretched west from the front door to Bass Pro Drive – and it kept growing and looped back to the front door and beyond.

As soon as I got in line and heard the friendly camaraderie of strangers gathered for a common purpose, I recognized what was going on. This had all the earmarks of the opening day of trout season, which seemed fitting for the Bass Pro crowd:

An annual rite on a specific date – either March 1 or the day after Thanksgiving. Figure on it being cold.  Lots of people up way before dawn to get the right spot. The earlier you arrive, the better your chance of getting your quarry. The river, or the store, is stocked with extra product just for the big day. Free coffee for the cold. Bass Pro had coffee and Lamar’s doughnuts. The Chamber of Commerce in Cassville, Mo., comes around with souvenir mugs of blessedly hot coffee for opening day anglers at Roaring River State Park. People, as they wait for the opening whistle or the opening of the front door, trade tips and war stories. Did you hear about that lady who got trampled last year, someone says. This line is long, but can you imagine what it’s like at Wal-Mart, said another. All are welcome – and please spend freely – but the rank amateurs really do get in the way of the seasoned veterans.

The doors opened, and our part of the line started moving ahead at 6:03. I was inside at 6:10.

And there it was.

One rack full of the discounted jackets. There was exactly one in my size. I grabbed it and quickly tried it on. Meanwhile, more and more people streamed by. I’m good to go, I said to myself.

That’s where I made my mistake. OK, I said, I’ll play their game. I’m here, I’ve got the door-buster, and now let’s look around a little. Maybe trout lures are on sale. I wandered downstairs.

I didn’t find any particular bargains on fishing lures. The real action was over by the boats, where piles of clothing were drawing piles of customers. It was orderly, but it was also clear that it would be wise to not get in anyone’s way.

As I was wandering and browsing, I didn’t realize the checkout lines were growing. By the time I stumbled back upstairs, it was 6:30 a.m., and I found a line 15 deep.

It was twice that long when I checked out 20 minutes later.

Lesson learned: This isn’t that different from opening day. Have a strategy, have a spot, stay focused. Get what you came to get and move on. Then let the amateurs have the river for a few hours. If you’re lucky enough to get your limit quickly, step back from the fray, sip a cup of coffee and watch the spectacle.