This trip has been a long time coming. My world has been full of stress, big stress, life altering changes are happening and there’s no escape from the pressure. The lake has always been my escape in the past and I hope it can be so again. It is the one place where solitude and adventure can drown all of your worries.
Monday we lost another guy at work, the latest in a long line. Our market is getting hammered and people are losing their livelihoods. I looked around Monday afternoon and told everyone I was taking the rest of the week off. I needed to be someplace other than work for a few days. My morale and my outlook needed an adjustment, and I knew exactly where I would go to make it happen.
It rained almost non-stop for the next three days. There was no way to fish. I was locked inside, sitting at a computer, brooding. The weather forecast for Friday looked good so I prepped everything to be read for when the weather broke. At 11 AM Friday morning I hooked the boat to the truck, grabbed a mug of coffee and a bag of Redman, then pointed the truck toward Pickwick Lake.
I was intent on having a good time. I’d have a two hour drive to the lake, 6 hours of fishing, and a return trip that night. I was a man on a mission. I was going fishing and no stress would find me.
After an uneventful drive I was finally sitting in the boat prepping sonars and camera gear when I saw the familiar green truck pulling down the launch. My buddy Gary is a park ranger here and it looked like he was coming down to say hello. I began walking toward the truck, about to let loose a good natured insult when the drivers door opened and I saw that it wasn’t Gary. It was a pair of game wardens. They’d come to ‘inspect’ me.
This was a seasoned officer training a rookie and they’d been out stopping people all day. I was merely the latest in a long string of inspections. I handed my lifetime license to the rookie and thought that would be it. It wasn’t. They told me I needed to have a throwable life jacket for a boat my size and said that was an infraction. So much for the “no stress” day. Next he said my registration was expired, much to my surprise it was.
They were cool about the whole thing. He said he’d skip the citation for the throwable life jacket since I fish alone, and he wrote me up for the much lower cost "registration" issue. I cracked some jokes with the wardens while they did the paperwork then got underway. The rookie looked very uncomfortable with the whole thing so at the end I shook his hand and told him not to feel bad about what he’s doing, it was my fault and he’s doing a job that needs to be done. It’s 100% my fault, not his. Rules are rules. Then I got in the boat, put it all behind me, and eased out of the marina to find some adventure.
As soon as I left the marina I was greeted by a familiar Pickwick site, a barge. These run day and night. You’ll notice some very large spotlights mounted up near the wheelhouse. If you’re heading toward them at night, in a manner they see as problematic they will hit you with one of those lights. It’s only happened to me once, and I simply could not see. I had absolutely no choice but to turn the boat another direction. I still think they did it just to mess with me, but at night it’s difficult to tell how far away a barge is. It’s probably the most dangerous thing out there because it’s so deceptive. Several times I’ve had a barge just a few hundred yards from me but thought I was looking at house lights on the hillside miles down the river. The lights are so spread out, and so high and small that they look like everything BUT a barge at night. Regardless, here’s one in the day time.
I made a slow run to Panther Cove. I say slow because the north wind had the main lake chopped up badly. It was a bone jarring ride, and when I arrived I found the cove completely full of boats. I didn’t even throw a line. I wasn’t here to hang out in traffic, I was here to find some peace, and hopefully some fish.
Despite the clear skies, on my run to the next spot I had to zip my rain jacket all the way up to my chin and tighten down the hood. It was crazy how much water was spraying in my face as I made the journey to the next spot. Even if I’d had windshield wipers on my sunglasses they could not have kept up. Without the rain jacket I’d have been soaking wet and freezing cold. After a few minutes of getting splashed and pounded I pulled off the main river and into a cove that always produces in the Spring. It was still windy in this cove, but with my Terrova Spot Lock feature I’d have no trouble at all. I’d just hit a button and let the trolling motor do the work while I fished.
I deployed the trolling motor, hit the spot lock button and began to cast around a rocky point. I quickly noticed I was being blown onto the bank. “Hmm, I must have hit a button and de-activated the spot lock.”
I moved the boat a few yards out and hit it again. Two casts later, same thing. The wind was blowing me into the bank. I turned the motor toward deep water and hit the “high power” button to zoom me away from the shore but the motor suddenly quit. Nothing. Dead. “Wha?!” It was quickly obvious that one or more of my deep cycle trolling motor batteries was dying or I had a loose connection somewhere. I had virtually no power.
“Ugh! First I get a ticket at the ramp, now on a windy spring day I have no trolling motor!?!” I was starting to get mad when I realized that I could still make this work. I needed to keep my attitude right. Sure it was windy and I had no trolling motor, and I got a ticket the minute I got here; but it was still a nice day to be on the lake. Surely I could make something happen. Heck, people caught fish all the time before trolling motors were invented.
With a positive attitude I sat behind the wheel jumped on plane and motored to the next cove. This is a cove where I’ve had a lot of luck over the past few years. I idled down the bank to where I usually see beds and BAM! Beds galore.
The wind was everywhere. Despite the fact that it was a north wind, every east-west cove on the lake was swirling and choppy. There was nowhere to hide. I got the boat about where I wanted it, then broke out my “old school” Spot Lock: a 20 lb fluke anchor. I can’t tell you the last time I anchored up to fish, but I was sure glad I had that trick in the bag. It looked like I’d be able to leap-frog my way down this bank, moving from anchor point to anchor point.
I looked around the cove and reveled in my good fortune. It was a windy day, and at times cold, but when the sun was out it glistened off every emerald green wave that rippled across the lake. The hills were turning from Winter to Spring. In the fall and winter my fishing is usually done in a world of gray skies and brown earth. Today I had blue skies and areas of green popping out from the brown woods. Trees and flowers were blooming, grass was growing. There wasn’t much wildlife to be seen or heard due to the wind, but nature was clearly coming back from her long winter slumber. The sun was warm on my face when the wind wasn’t blowing, and the ground around me was soaking up that same heat.
I had my lucky “Lizard of Oz” tied on a Carolina rig and was slowly and patiently probing the depths around me. There was a small, gravelly secondary point to my right that dropped off quickly into 7 to 9 feet of water. In most places the drop off was a ledge, dang near straight down as you can see on some of the sonar pictures.
I got a few encouraging bumps in the first 10 minutes which helped increase my confidence. I really didn’t want to be pulling up the anchor and moving very often, and with this small bit of feedback from the fish I was willing to sit here with the patience of a Heron. I figured if I was anchored on a good spot in the Spring, tossing a lizard into beds then I’d eventually score. I had nowhere to go, and could sit here for a long time.
After a few bump-and-go incidents in the same spot I finally got a fish to commit. On perhaps the fourth time I drug the Lizard of Oz through the bed I got a solid bump and I set the hook. I could tell right away I had one on, though it felt like I’d probably caught a small male. “No big deal” I thought. “At least I’m on the board.”
The fish didn’t come on strong. One moment I was just watching my line lazily slice through the glistening emerald chop that surrounded my boat under a warm early spring sun. The next moment I was shocked from that idyllic scene and dragged into aquatic combat. I thought it was a fairly small bass until it came up and smashed the surface of the lake. That creature absolutely flailed through the air and crashed down with a spray you normally only see on a Disney log ride. I couldn’t believe my luck. This has gone from a routine catch, to a very nice and highly aggressive bass!
My previous calm and patient demeanor was suddenly nowhere to be found. At this point I was a mumbling mess. “Oh! Dude, DUDE! Oh man, oh jeez, man, dude.” There was no coherent thought expressed at any point during my rambling. I guess it was just an un-regulated expression of my pure excitement. My “fun throttle” was stuck wide open and my brain didn’t feel the need to slow it down for the sake of grammar. So I just paced back and forth mumbling incoherently but paying keen attention to the important stuff like maintaining tension on the line and monitoring my drag.
As that long green monster darted past me I could see an almost iridescent spot on his aft half. It really stood out as a different color than the rest of the fish. As it moved through the light it changed almost like the hologram you see on a credit card.
I grabbed the net, extended the handle and put it in the water for the catch. The next time this fish swam by I’d net him, land him, and snap a pic. That was the plan. But the fish had a vote too, and it saw things quite differently. He was moving down the length of the boat and I was easing into position when he did it. That fish pulled some aquatic black magic (perhaps I should say ‘green’ magic since he’s a bass) and my rod tip instantly slammed into the net, becoming hopelessly entangled.
I was stunned. How does a man shove the rod tip into the net when trying to land a fish? I could see if maybe two people were involved, but I controlled both pieces! I tried four or five times to free it but no dice. In one swoop the fish had taken both my rod AND my net out of the battle. This fish was good, crazy good. I’d never seen a move quite like it. Now that he had my rod, reel, and drag totally sidelined, all he had to do was defeat the tensile strength of my line. I was sweating it. My ambush was beginning to have the feel of defeat.
After a few failed attempts to free the rod I reached for my knife. My rod and reel lay helplessly on the floor of the boat and I held the rim of the net in my left hand. As my right hand slid down to my pocket my mind was racing. “Do I really want to cut my net? Heck, what if I accidentally cut my line?!?” The fish was still on and he’d occasionally rocket out from under the boat to mock me.
“No way I’m using the knife. I’ll have to hand line him.” I had the net in one hand and started to pull in the last few feet of line by hand. I knew he was on the end of it, and that he’d try to kill me if he got the chance. The first time I tried to lip him he blasted past me. “Dang! Where’s the line? Is it going to break? Don’t let pressure build up on the line!”
I had this weird dance going on where I had to keep track of the fish, but also had to keep the net under control and make sure the rod didn’t twist so tight that it severed the line. The last time I had something green come up top and mess up this much gear it was a 10 foot gator. Today this 20 inch bass was wreaking almost as much havoc.
After several more failed attempts at lipping him, I decided to pick him up like I see on the bass tournament shows. I eased my hand under his belly and lifted him in like a football. Piece of cake! Despite it’s valiant attempts at escape, the Beast was in my boat, in my hands, and in my phone.
The ice had literally and figuratively been broken. Winter was officially over, and I’d caught the first bass of the year. Despite all the recent trouble and stress, the lake had come through for me again. It delivered 6 hours of adventure and fun.
I checked a few more spots and drove around the lake but I caught just a few small fish for the effort. Soon the sun was setting and I decided to head for the truck.
I stopped in one last spot on the way to the truck. It gets cold back in these hollows, and despite the sunshine from earlier in the day, darkness was closing in. It was a dusky, dark, quiet place surrounded by high forested hills. The cold was reminding me that nature was in control. If you weren’t prepared, she could kill you. My hands were starting to burn from the cold and I could see my breath on the air. Many time’s I’ll camp in this very spot. I bring my firewood and camping gear on the boat with me, then simply nudge the boat ashore, start a fire, and sleep by the waters edge.
Tonight as I looked around the cove, I saw my breath hanging in the air and I was rubbing my hands to keep warm. My trolling motor was dead and even in the shelter of this cove the wind was still pushing me around. It was a good day, but it was time to head home for the comfort of a warm soft bed and an opportunity to fix my gear. The first official day of my fishing season was over. I drove home smiling, the stress was gone.