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Posts Tagged ‘Bass Fishing’

I was the only car on the four lane interstate that morning.  Not surprising considering it was 5 am on a Sunday, but it still felt novel.  The vastness of a 4 lane interstate when there are no other cars around is both freeing and a little freaky.  The wide open pavement means you can drive with abandon.  At the same time it almost feels like standing on a roof top.  There no constraints to stop you… also, there are no constraints to save you.  It is not that it isn’t what I thought it would be like, the empty road.  It is that I couldn’t pre-create the feelings that it being like that would evoke.  About a week earlier I had received permission to fish a pond that I was very excited about, and I was finally on my way to give it a shot.  I had been told that the panfish and bass fishing in this pond would be something between falling in love and losing your virginity.  I had an idea that slight exaggeration was occurring, but none-the-less, I had the excitement of a man on his way to…. well…. get some.

It was a gorgeous morning.  Not a thought of a cloud in the sky and so still that exhaled cigarette smoke would just hang in front of you like the world had gone into slow motion.  The sun was just causing the collision between earth and sky to become visible in the east.  When she was up and in full fury that day, the sun would warm my little spot on the earth into the high 80’s, but not yet.  No, it was still a pleasantly cool 60.  It was a damn shame the 99% of the population would not being experiencing this little gift of time.

On a morning like this, the valleys of rolling hills in the area can sometimes be full of a dense fog.  I am not sure if it is a product of temperature differences, or moisture differences, or if it is natures way of ensuring that the requisite number of deer experience death via Chevy in order to keep the population in check.  But that is how it is, and it is cool to see and nerve-wracking to drive through.  This morning happened to be one of those mornings.  With no wind and the sun still not up to burn off the fog, some of the low spots were so full of this mystery vapor that for maybe 200 yards of driving the outside world had been erased.

I eased off of the pavement and onto the winding gravel that would descend into the area of the small pond.  This was not one of those hardpacked, straight as a string, gravel roads that one can comfortably traverse at 60 mph.  Rather this was a seldom used meandering little stretch of crushed rock and brown/orange dirt.  The lack of traffic and large looping curves made this a 30 mph job unless you thought you were a dirt track racer and are comfortable in a fishtail.  This is the kind of road that is there to remind us that slowing down and seeing can be worth alot more than the 6 minutes you save by hauling ass.  Despite my – Junior on his way to prom – excitement I was taking her as she comes.  The road looped and lobbed and slowly flowed down toward the pond.

I was just entering the curve that would whirl me directly toward the pond when the wall of white loomed up in front of me – ready to swallow my entire jeep.  The lack of impact as I entered the dense fog was almost surprising.  I am not used to seeing something so apparently solid and yet being able to move through it as though it doesn’t exist.  This was a serious fog.  I couldn’t see more that 5 feet beyond the windshield.  The only thing keeping me on the road was the change in sound as my tire left the gravel and began to tread on grass.  At that point I would know to correct my steering to keep me on the road.  So I pinballed my way down the road at about 5 miles a hour, eyes open as wide as they would go – not that that helped because I was driving by sound. I may as well have been blindfolded.

Eventually I parked in a small turn off.  I would later discover, once the entirety of my surroundings was unveiled, that miraculously I had found the right turnoff and parked as though I was an old hand at this.  I threw on my vest, strung up without tying on a fly, and started on foot in the general direction of the water.  You can always tell which way the water is because it is downhill from wherever you are.  The putt breaks towards the water.

Walking in the fog was stranger than driving in it.  Each step revealed an incrementally changing world. A slow progression as one plant was replaced by another and one tree grew slightly larger as it slowly entered the tiny bubble of reality that I was able to comprehend.  It was like watching time lapse photography of evolution. Behind me the fog swirled and eddied and slammed shut.  I was not cutting a path through the fog any more than a scuba diver cuts a path through the ocean.  All I was doing was fleetingly bringing into my tiny sphere of sensory perception pieces of a larger and hidden outside world.  Simply to have them erased from my immediate consciousness by my next step forward.

Eventually the water edge came upon me, as though I wasn’t moving forward, rather the rotation of the earth had brought it to me like a conveyor belt.  I sat on a rock and decided to get my wits about me.

The tiny piece of water I could see was smooth, making the pond look like it was made out of a mix of corn starch and water, rather than just water.  Like if you ran fast enough you could get all the way to the other side, but if you stopped for a second you would be slowly swallowed.  The sounds were incredible.  I don’t know if it was the lack of vision, or the moisture in the air, but all sounds seemed amplified and non-directional.  The birds were everywhere and unseeable.  From the Non-Newtonian pond came the splash of jumpers, the pop of Bluegills eating surface bugs and the BLLOOOOP of Largemouth Bass opening a hole in the surface of the water for the small frog to fall into.

The reason that reality no longer existed was immediately clear; silvery white cobwebs of steam lifted from the entire surface of the pond like cotton candy pulled for a cotton candy machine.  I sat in wonder and watched as the soul of this pond left it’s body and ascended.  After 20 minutes I decided it was time to fish.  I tied on a nice little yellow popper, stripped out some line, and pulled it into a backcast – bending my rod backward – and then rocking into a false cast – bending my rod forward – rocking back into a backcast and then into a false cast.  Holding 30 feet of line in the air.  On the 3rd false cast I shot my line forward streaming it through the line guides on my rod and into the unknown soul of the pond.

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I have yet to find something that swims that I don’t enjoy fly fishing for.  However I do have two favorites.  Bass fishing, and Trout fishing.

Bass fishing is like the X-games of flyfishing.  You heave some big hairy looking bass bug, something that resembles a frog, or a mouse, or maybe even a duckling.  It is a gaudy looking thing – made of strange man made materials in colors not found in nature (or even in 56 crayon Crayola boxes).  A splash when it lands is just fine and may even be preferred.  Then you let your fly sit a while and see if anything happens.  If it doesn’t you start twitchin’ and yankin’ it; causing a stir and alerting anything in the pond that something is happening over here.  Suddenly a hole is torn in the surface of the water and your fly just isn’t there anymore.  You set the hook forcefully and then horse the fish out into open water so he can’t wrap you up in the damn lilly pad stalks that he lurks in.  When you finally get him played in, you stick  your thumb in his mouth and lift him right out of the water, get your snap shot and then drop him back in.

Trout fishing is a little different.  It starts by a quiet hike along a crystal clear cold water stream.  Water so clear and icy that the smooth parts look more like an antique window, with its varying widths and distortions, than running water.  You have already spent 30 minutes scanning the water and finding what bugs are floating in it that the fish may be feeding on.  You are staying low and keeping your shadow off the water.  Suddenly you notice, in a likely spot, tiny ripples where a fish is rising to eat tiny bugs off the surface.  The fly you have chosen is made from all natural materials – muskrat fur, tiny feathers – and is so precise and perfectly hand tied that you feel like you are casting art.  You can see the glass of scotch that sat on the desk in the fireplace lit room while the artist rendered this tiny replica of a real bug.  The fly is tiny, no bigger than a pinky fingernail.  It has to be,  that is the size of the bugs.  You gracefully arch your line into the air, careful not to let it spook the fish, and lay the fly on the water like a sleeping baby in the cradle.  There can be no disturbance of the water.  If there is, she will be gone.  You mend your line so the fly floats as though it is unattached.  Even though your leader and tippet line are thinner than a human hair, they can still affect the fly drift enough to scare her off, without diligent attention being paid.  Perfectly free to drift like its emulated brethren.  By the 7th perfect drift over the fish, without her so much as looking, you get nervous.  You know if the fly is one shade of olive off, or if the body is slightly too chunky, or the fly is slightly too big, she will refuse it.  But you can’t change now, it may be on the next drift that she takes.  You put yet another perfect drift across her and this time she stirs, gliding – smooth as a ghost – to the surface and allowing the fly to come gently to her mouth,  within centimeters.  When she takes the fly it is with a sip so gentle it would break your heart.  You bring her in thoughtfully and gently.  No horsing her, yet not allowing her to play herself to exhaustion.  When you get her to you, you cradle her gently in your hand, never taking her out of the water and as quickly as possible slip the hook from her mouth.  You don’t release her until you are sure she is fully revived.

So I have been thinking about relationships…

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In case you thought I was lying.

In case you thought I was lying.

One thing you quickly discover while carrying your flyrod with your vest on to the edge of a river or lake in these parts is that “you ain’t gonna catch nothin’ with that stuff here.”  Or even better, “there ain’t any trout in this water.”  Some Busch Light swillin’ dude sitting on an upside down five gallon pail with a Dale Jr. T-shirt on and his Camo baseball cap will quickly and repeatedly let you know that you took a wrong turn at Nebraska and ended up in South Dakota, which you have apparently mistaken for Colorado or Montana.  Most are friendly enough when you tell then that you are going to give it a shot and some are interested in watching or even asking questions.  This, of course, assumes that you are not out-fishing them.  Worse yet, out-fishing them and then releasing everything you catch.  I should be clear. I see nothing inherently wrong with spin fishing or using live bait, or with keeping your catch.  I do, however, have a problem with pretentiousness or with the assumption that because something is different it is wrong.  This is what I deal with nearly every time I fish. 

You see, fishing here is a combination of sport and food collection.  The fish to catch here is the Walleye because it tastes good.  Nobody deliberately fishes for Largemouth Bass because they say that in these waters the bass eat crawdads and are therefore oily and fishy tasting.  The Walleye, on the other hand, is very good because they eat mostly baitfish.  Northern Pike are considered junk fish and no one deliberately fishes them either, because the flesh is bony and hard to eat.  All this adds up to two things; all fishing is down in deep water with live bait for walleyes and if you catch anything over 14 inches you throw it in your bucket to take home to eat.  I have talked to old boys that have been fishing for years that will freely tell you that a walleye doesn’t fight like most fish here, and in fact gives up easily and lets you haul it in, yet that is what they would choose.  Given these facts, a man with a flyrod is unfathomable to people and a man releasing a 19 inch walleye is sacrilege.

I have learned to be extra friendly and even self-effacing and to, when it seems to help ensure my personal safety, even act surprised that I am catching anything.  You see, after a 12 pack of Busch Light the frustration gets serious and I have even had a beer can or two thrown at me. 

I recently had one of the more satisfying experiences I have ever had with regard to the hostility I sometimes find on the water.  A pair of very serious meat eaters showed up at the same stretch of water I was fishing about an hour before sundown.  They were wearing hundreds of dollars worth of Dryfit outdoor clothing and each had a giant tackle box, two spin rods, a bucket and a head lamp on their foreheads.  I was about to be shown a very serious display of night fishing. 

I had already staked out a spot on the water that allowed me to fish some fast moving water and a deep pool that runs perpendicular to the main current.  From here I commanded the deeper water where the cruisers are and the seam where the current runs along the slow water and the fish like to hang out and let the food come to them.  While it is a good spot, it is far from the only good spot in the area.  There is plenty of room for all. 

There was much whispering and gawking by our two serious fishermen when they first showed up.  It was clear that they had an opinion about what I was doing, although they kept it to themselves.  Both men clipped large plugs to their swivels and began casting across the current and reeling back in.  They too had staked a fine spot to fish from; one that gave us all plenty of room.  This was an odd situation from the beginning.  There were no pleasantries or fishing civilities exchanged.  No “Any luck, today?” or  “You nailin’ ‘em?”  There was an odd sense of hostility from the beginning.  It was as though I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to, but nobody was going to say out-loud what it was. 

Shortly after my uninvited fishing partners showed up I decided to switch to a large Clouser Minnow fly.  The sun was setting and I thought there was a pretty good chance to get into some fish coming up to hunt.   I threw my first cast into the current and began a speedy retrieve and hooked into a rather nice largemouth bass.  After netting him and releasing him, one of the men downstream yelled, “Just a bass?” to the guffaws of his partner.  Bear in mind they had yet to catch a fish.  I released the bass and cast back into the current, a few times.  At this point I noticed that one of my cohorts had turned and was now casting directly upstream, right to where I had hooked my largemouth.  This effectively made it impossible for me to fish the current.  Oh well, I could still fish the seam.  I threw a cast just on the current side of the seam and let it swing into the still water and immediately had a hit.  I hooked and netted a nice 18 inch long walleye which I promptly released.  There was still no sound from down the bank but the hostility hung in the air like an oncoming thunderstorm.  Before I was ready to cast again, the other fisherman was throwing his Rapala into the seam right in front of me.  Now I was completely hemmed in.  I literally had nowhere I could cast.

As I mentioned, that there is plenty of room for fishing on this specific spot.  So I ambled off my perch, giving up the current and the seam and moved into the still and deeper water of the pool.  As I was leaving both men rushed to move into where they could more effectively fish the water that I had chosen originally.  This had reached ridiculous proportions. 

I waded up to my thighs and gave a long cast straight out into the deepest part of the pool and quickly retrieved my fly with jerks and twitches, trying to make it look like a wounded minnow.  It was on the first cast that I got a hard hit.  The sun was set and it was about 20 minutes from total darkness and I had a serious fish on the line.  I am fishing 3 pound test line so I have to be very careful when I play a fish in and this one was gonna take some time.  I made sure to indicate that I had a fish so the geniuses up the bank knew that while they were well on their way to getting skunked, I was happily fighting my third nice fish of the evening. 

I will spare you the details, but it was 30 minutes later and pitch black before I landed her and she wouldn’t fit in my net.  I had been ordered to “break it off, it is just a f***ing carp!” and “just get it in already.”  It was not a carp; it was a 24 inch long, 6 pound walleye.  After I had her safely on shore I took off the fly and broke down my pole and began for the car.  At this point I thought a friendly smile, a helpful tip and 6 pounds of fish would be the best jab I could give.  So, when I got near the other two fishermen I said, “I was using the flyfishing equivalent to a red and yellow Rapala.” And was greated with “Get the F*** out of here.”  Then they actually both turned for their tackle boxes.  Gee, I wonder what they were looking for?  Maybe the best revenge IS a life well lived.

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