Sunday, October 30, 2016
Monday, August 29, 2016
There will be a bigger story about my recent gator hunt later, but there was one issue right off the bat that we did not anticipate…the big, high flying Asian Carp (or Silver Carp). I did a ton of research on gator hunting in MS and nobody ever mentioned Asian Carp as an issue at all, let alone mentioned them as a danger. What you need to know about Asian Carp is that they get big and when they hear a boat motor or other disturbance they leap from the water. Asian Carp average around 30 to 40 lbs and can grow as large as 100 lbs.
When we were about to get on the water Brian (my co-worker and fellow redneck) said his cousin had recently told him to be careful if we see any Asian Carp. We figured it was not that big a deal because we didn’t plan on driving very fast at all. It’s not like we’d be going 40 MPH and run into a fish. Then he said his cousins advice was so sit down and hold on if we got into them so we wouldn’t be knocked out of the boat. We pondered that last part for a minute. His cousin is 6 foot 4 and maybe 250 lbs. If a guy the size of an NFL linebacker is concerned about being knocked out of the boat by a fish, it would stand to reason that we who are not the size of an NFL linebacker may want to respect this issue a little bit. We made a mental note, shoved off from the ramp and got underway.
We hadn’t made it 100 yards before the first fish jumped. It was a big fish, easily 15 pounds. It came out of the water with a big splash, arched through the air for two seconds and came down with a massive belly flop that threw water everywhere and went kerSPLASH! We looked at each other like “Did that just happen?” Not two seconds later “splash” as one left the water, two seconds of air, and “kerSPLASH!” it slammed back down. It was another really big fish. The next one came out with a splash and was flying through the air directly at the boat when WHAM!!!! It smacked into the gunwhale and was denied entry. It hit so hard it shook the boat. We were surrounded by huge, jumping, splashing fish. Every time one jumped from the water you braced for impact. We started wondering if one of us would get hit. What a naïve question that turned out to be. It was a foolishly inexperienced question. Asking “will one of us get hit?” on a river like this is like asking “I wonder if a ball will get hit?” at a major league baseball game. We simply had no idea what was waiting for us.
Every time a fish jumped you could hear it leave the water with a huge splashing sound. The seconds after you heard that sound became very tense because you had no idea where that fish would land. Many times they jumped behind you so you had no visual. Those that jumped in the front of the boat at least gave you a quick look and you might be able to dodge it a little. It was like a mortar attack. When a mortar fires it makes a deep “whooomp!” sound. The mortar shell then flies through the air, giving everyone ample time to wonder “Am I going to get hit?” The fish make a sound when leaving, then it’s quiet for a few seconds and then you hear it make a gigantic splash as it crashed back into the water…if it hits the water. Many times you’ll hear a clang, bash, smack, or thump because they hit the trolling motor, the outboard, the side of the boat, or a person.
It wasn’t three minutes before a 20 pound fish landed in the boat. “Splash” as it came out of the water, “holy mackerel it’s coming right at us!”. Brian was up front and I was driving. The fish landed right between us with a heavy “THUMP!” and then it sounded like a machine gun as it beat the floor with its tail trying to get away. Whenever these fish jump in the boat they poop and bleed all over. They also leave a heavy, heavy, heavy trail of slime. After laughing in disbelief we tossed the fish overboard and got back to “gator hunting”.
We were again talking about our odds of being hit by one of these things when 20 pounder launched in front of the boat. He was flying diagonally and looked like he would clear the boat, until his tail hit the back of Brian’s head. That changed his angle of attack and he crash landed between Brian’s leg and the side of the boat, flopping and flipping wildly. Brian jumped up, we both looked incredulously at it, then we tossed it over. I have never seen a fish jump INTO my boat. It was incredible. Just a few minutes later another landed in the back of the boat, flailing wildly around the cables that ran my steering, sonar, and ingnition. This was not good. I predicted that it was only a matter of time before one of these things landed directly on the throttle and caused us a nightmare.
Over the next hour or two we were hit from every angle possible by slimy, pooping, bleeding fish. Everything on the boat looked and smelled like it was from an episode of Dirty Jobs with Mike Roe. Nothing that has ever lived or died on this planet smelled as bad as we did. We looked and smelled horrendous and we hadn’t even really begun hunting alligators.
A boat coming down river slowed when it was passing us and we asked them how they were doing on gators. As they were telling us about their trip a huge carp leapt from the water and crashed down upon two of them, flopping, sliming, and pooping on them as it went. They recoiled, swatted it away, laughed and continued their conversation.
This was turning into a surreal place. It’s impossible to truly convey the richness of this experience, but I’ll try. Imagine you are out to dinner at a nice restaurant. As you wait for your meal you notice a person two tables away and initiate a conversation with them. As the guy is talking a big fish jumps off the floor right next to him and slams into his chest. He laughs a bit then resumes talking with fish slime and poop all over his shirt. At that point a fish jumps from under the table behind you and drills you in the back. You turn around, still talking to the dude at the other table, and kick the fish out the front door. As soon as you return to your seat a fish passes your head and knocks all the plates off the table next to you. Your conversation continues with the guy at the other table as fish come out of nowhere, passing between you, and breaking dishes all around you. Would you go back to that restaurant ever again? At first were would have answered “No WAY would I be going back there.” But by the end of the second day I’d say you couldn’t keep me away from the place. It’s the craziest, most hectic, funniest place on earth. It’s almost like being in a cartoon. We’d start to call where they’d land. A fish might get 7 feet or more in the air and as he got closer someone would be saying “Is he gonna make it?! Is he gonna make it?!” Then the boat would erupt with “WHOAAAAAA” as everyone reacted to him getting bounced off the hull and back into the water. One time we all erupted with a sympathetic “OOOHHHHH!!!!!” As a particularly large fish blew out of the water and was stopped cold by the metal edge of the trolling motor when his face hit it. Another time a fish made a very acrobatic leap and looked like the gunwale might reject him, but he landed on the very top of it, rocketed into the boat, and hit Brian in the side like a torpedo. I’m surprised a he didn’t get knocked overboard.
At one point it got so ridiculous that I told Brian “I’m starting to think that alligator hunting is some new joke they play on people. Like there are no alligators here at all, they just want to trick people into coming out here and getting pummeled by carp.” I think I took 15 or 20 direct hits to the body on day one alone. While the fish seemed a little more calm after dark, the worst hit I took all day happened that night. A fish launched maybe 2 feet from the side of the boat and slammed hard into my head just behind my temple. It knocked the headlamp clean off my head and gave me such a headache that I still wonder if it gave me a concussion. I’ve had a headache and developed a vision problem in my right eye since that hit. Could be totally unrelated, but I’ll be tracking the issue.
On day two we had a new guy on the boat. He joined us late the night before, long after the carp madness had been in full swing so he really didn’t fully appreciate the issue. We wanted to show him what it was really like so I pushed the throttle down enough to generate a lot of noise but not get the boat on plane. This way we’d be pushing the most amount of water and be making as much noise as possible. Brian filmed from the front of the boat and over the next three minutes we were hit from all directions. Everything, and everyone on the boat got hit with fish from 15 to 30 or 40 pounds. I had just rinsed the boat before we came and was eager to minimize the amount of cleanup I’d have to do after the trip so I decided to see if I could keep a few out of the boat as they launched. Within a minute or so one launched form behind me on my side of the boat. He was going to make it onboard if I didn’t do something so I reached out and stiff-armed him. He took a hand to the face and was totally rejected mid-flight. Below are three screen shots from the video that show his ill-fated flight. That boat was full of fish poop and laughter the rest of the day. It was a long crazy boat ride.
PS – the guy behind me has been accused of being everything from a masked bandito to a terrorist. He is actually not only a highly experienced redneck, but an orthopedic surgeon as well.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
A recent trip to the lake was going to be a welcome getaway. I booked a cabin for three days and my only plan was to fish. It’s springtime and the bass should be shallow and on the beds. I had visions of sight fishing in two to three feet of water and casting lizards and buzz baits at bedded hogs. Springtime fishing has a reputation for being the easiest time of year to catch bass, and to catch big ones at that. It is with that very optimistic mindset that I left for the lake. I was rigged up and ready to rumble.
I’ll save you, the reader, a lot of time at this point. Nothing went as planned. The weather turned into a high pressure system with clear blue skies, and the wind always blowing stronger than forecast, and from the wrong direction. The fishing was difficult to say the least, but it forced me to do some learning. I changed tactics, I used my electronics to find grass beds, I threw finesse baits, I did a lot of things I didn’t plan on doing.
My three day trip to the lake can be boiled down to a “tail” of two fish. These two individual fish represent the highs and lows of bass fishing...BOTH of which drive me to continue coming back for more.
My first morning on the water, the air temperature was 55 degrees. I awoke to gorgeous sunrise on the Tennessee River, pointed my boat toward the gold rimmed eastern skyline, and dropped the hammer. 15 minutes later I was pulling into my first spot of the day, a beautiful cove that transitions from sheer ledges at the mouth, to steep gravel bars lining it’s sides, and finally a mud/grass/timber section in the back that’s wide and shallow. This cove has everything a bass could ask for...everything. It has everything an angler could ask for as well...it’s like a match made in heaven.
I entered the cove as the sun crested the hills behind me, and the early morning light revealed wispy, swirling sheets of vapor rising from the water like ghosts. Under this thin veil of fog I could occasionally see fish hitting on top. This ghostly hollow is where the day would begin.
The tough part was figuring out where to start. I idled to the back of the cove and began throwing my favorite lure...the Lizard of Oz...at obvious structure. The ghosts swirled around the boat as I cast to a spot where the point of a small pocket hit the main cove. The water grew darker as it entered the forested pocket. Branches overhung the muddy, grassy bank, and my lizard plopped into the water just inches from dry ground.
In between drags on my lizard I studied the area. The back of the cove was maybe two feet deep, with bright green weeds and brilliant yellow flowers that gave way to sparse clumps of vegetation in the water. I eased the lizard another few inches toward me. A trio of Canadian geese flew into the cove, honking as they lowered themselves into the mist and glided toward the shallow yellow flowers in the back. I dragged the lizard again. I heard the geese splash down and go silent. The air was cold enough to make you ball your fists trying to keep your fingers warm. Nothing was touching the lizard here.
I eased across to the other side of the cove, taking a quick glance to the east, praying the sun would climb faster and warm me up. As I crossed the cove I retired the Lizard of Oz for the moment and picked up a swim-bait. It was a compact, heavy lure that I could throw a long way, and that would help me cover water.
This side the cove was a long gravel bank, overhung by the forest that grew downhill right to the edge of the water. The long tan ribbon of gravel offered a very small bit of shallow water before dropping off to 12, and then 20 feet. This is a scary place for a swim-bait...ANYTHING could be down there. I’ve caught largemouth, smallmouth, catfish and drum on sections like this. There is literally nowhere for a swim-bait to hide on this gravel bar.
I threw a long cast to a half submerged log, overhung by willows 40 yards up the bank. When my swim-bait hit the water my plan was to hop it twice then reel in the slack. Hop, hop, reel. Hop hop, reel. That was the pattern I’d use as I searched for active fish.
The cast was perfect, it hit within 6 inches of the log. Hop, hop, BAM!!! I got hit hard on the second hop. I waited for a moment, and with the rising sun to my front-left I could easily see my line shining as it cut to deeper water.
I reeled in the slack and dropped the hammer on him. The rod loaded up but the fish darted toward me, taking all the tension off the line. I reeled at about 9,000 RPM trying to catch up with him. When I got tension back on him he began to fight. He wasn’t coming any closer to this boat on his own.
The line ran sideways in the orange glow of sunrise with wispy ghosts flowing around it. He ran for deeper water but there would be no safety there today. I cranked on him hard now, and the line began to rise...he was making a run for the top.
I pushed my rod tip down into the water in an attempt to keep him from breaching. The last thing I wanted was for him to shake the hook. My efforts were futile, he breached in a spectacular display of largemouth behavior. That fish launched itself two feet into the air as it tried to shake the hook.
What I saw in that perfect orange glow of sunrise was a picture of nature in all it’s beauty. A big aggressive predator launched from the depths, shattering the peaceful calm that existed in this otherwise silent cove. When he breached he came out sideways, and quickly went upside down, thrashing violently through his entire flight. Backlit by the sunrise, the water it threw off it’s glistening white and green body looked like diamonds shattering into millions of orange and white crystals that fell back into the lake.
I was almost stunned when he re-entered the water. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.
It was surely only in the air for a moment, but from my point of view it seemed like he was in the air for an eternity. It reminded me of the scene from ET where he and the kid flew the bike in front of the moon. It was just like that except it was a bass going in front of the rising sun. My morning had gone from a very slow, quiet search, to a full on drag race.
Now he’s back in the water, he played his first set of cards but it didn’t work out. His next move is to go deep and fight. Sideways he went, trying to pull the rod from me the whole time. I had good tension, the drag wasn’t slipping, I was confident I’d land this fish.
After 30 seconds or so I had him along side the boat, and calm enough to get a hand on him. I plucked him from the water with my semi-frozen hands, unhooked him, and admired him for what he was...a predator. He hunts, kills, and eats...that’s it. He was a stout, dark-green assassin, and he was now in my boat.
As I looked at him and wondered at the hard charging, acrobatic fight he had put up, a thought hit me; the only thing that could make a breaching thrashing largemouth any more spectacular would be if he bugled like an elk while he did it. Can you imagine hearing that elk bugle starting out, getting louder and louder, and then peaking right when the bass bursts through the surface, flies through the air and spits the hook out at you? It would be unbelievable.
So that one fish condensed everything I could ever want from a bass into one fight. It was one of those fights that captures the essence of what a largemouth bass is, they hit hard, they run, they breach with stunning acrobatics, they fight some more, and they do it all with some of natures most beautiful backdrops. If it was the only fish I caught the entire trip, I could find a way to be happy with it.
This was my last full day. With a high pressure system wearing on me and the fish both, I decided a change of venue was in order. I abandoned the beautiful ledges and coves of the past two days, and decided to look for thicker cover where a bass might try to hide. I needed to find some weeds.
I found a smaller creek that fed into the main lake and decided to try it out. After half an hour of finding no fish in the shallows, I pulled back a little deeper hoping to find signs of aquatic life. Using my sonar I pushed deeper into the creek, which was a few hundred yards wide. I found a pocket near the rear that had a deep bowl dropping to 15 feet right next to a huge flat that was only 3 feet deep. It looked like a nice transition area on the map, and a sonar run was in order. When I got there I started seeing something “cloudy” on my Side Imaging. “Hmmmm” I thought...”that looks like it might be weeds”.
I turned the boat to investigate and what I saw gave me a very good feeling about this place. As I turned toward the area I wanted to investigate, my Side Imaging showed a ditch running from the bank toward the deep water....and in that ditch were a few fish.
Next, my Down Imaging began showing long orange lines stretching up from the bottom; coontail was growing all over in this deep water pocket. It was just the type of cover that a bass would bury himself in on a blue sky day.
My sonar had just shown me a lot of clues. This spot held enough promise that I vowed to fish it thoroughly. I broke out the Lizard of Oz, rigged on a spinning reel, and began my investigation.
The centerpiece of this area was the tip of a dead tree that stuck up about a foot above the water. I’d use this as a reference point, driving circles around it with the trolling motor and casting into the center of the weeds.
It took a few minutes with the Texas rigged lizard to get a feel for the bottom. There are times when you hit that grass and you could talk yourself into thinking you got bit...especially since the bites in this weather had been so light to begin with.
After casting around for 15 minutes I had a pretty good feel for where the underwater obstacles were. I was convinced that if I dragged this lizard through the weeds long enough...that I’d catch something.
Eventually, it happened. I was dragging the Lizard of Oz through the weeds when I felt a bump. It wasn’t a strong hit at all...but there was definitely something down there determined to beat up my lizard...and NOBODY beats up my lizard.
I swept back hard to start the fight. When I set the hook I felt the drag slip a little bit. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I felt another hit...this one bigger. Then I saw the line coming up toward the top. I had to keep tension on this line...I could NOT let him shake this hook. I lowered my rod tip, pulled back, and cranked on the reel. The line was picking up speed like a rocket...it was going to breach.
To my absolute HORROR, the more I cranked the more the drag slipped. If I swept the rod, the drag slipped, if I tried to crank on him, it slipped. It was like living a nightmare. This fish was heading to the surface like a Saturn 5 rocket and I had no way to keep things under control. Then it happened.
When this fish came out of the water I thought it might be a dragon...it was that big. The only reason I don’t believe it was a dragon is that it didn’t have wings...other than that it was just the type of giant, green, scaly vision you get when you think of a one.
I could not believe how big this fish was. The great beasts belly was toward me, flashing white with red gills and the giant unmistakable shape of a largemouths head. It’s mouth was wide open as it flailed, quickly sending my wide gap hook on a return flight to my boat. It’s mouth was so big it looked like a carnival game where I was supposed to throw a basketball at it. But in this case, there was plenty of room for the ball to go in.
CRASH!!!! The beast was gone. I stood alone on the deck of my boat, mouth agape, brain trying to figure out what went wrong. How in the world had the drag been set so light on my reel? As the awe wore off I was left with the bitter reality...it was entirely my fault. My gear wasn’t squared away and I had just cost myself what would likely have been the best fish of my season.
Determined to make up for my failure I cranked the drag down, checked it by pulling some line, and fired the lizard back into action. I fought the urge to work it quickly, knowing that the great beast had hit me on a slow retrieve earlier. Would he hit the lizard again? Should I try a different lure as a follow up? On the next cast BAM! Fish on. This fish was smaller, and he was the unfortunate recipient of my over zealous drive to make up for my prior mistake. With the drag tightened down I horsed that bass out of the grass so fast that he probably forgot where he was.
Small consolation prize, a 2 lb. bass. I released him quickly and got back to the hunt. I switched to a spinnerbait, no luck. Back to the lizard, nothing. I sliced that area to pieces with my casts, but the big one appeared to be gone. ‘Nonsense’ I thought...‘It’s not gone...it’s probably still within 100 yards of this very spot.’
I cast like a man possessed, the light faded, and the handwriting began to appear on the wall. I was all alone, but I thought I could hear the fat lady singing. It was over. This lunker gave me one shot and I had blown it. I fished until it was pitch dark, and vowed to be back before the sun.
Although I made a lot of jokes about crying myself to sleep, or not sleeping at all, the reality was just the opposite. I’d sleep well that night because now I KNEW without a doubt in the world, where at least one big fish lived. I’d get a good nights sleep, hit the water early, and be ready to fight. I told my nephew that night “I hope that fish sleeps well tonight, because when the sun comes up, I’m gonna punch it right in the mouth.”
I get an “A+” for trash talk, but the fish won again in the morning. I fished hard for three hours in that area, but caught only a single bass for my efforts.
As much as the first bass in the story represents all that is great about a bass, this fish that got away represents all the potential that fishing for bass holds...all that COULD BE. The hope of great fish to come is one of the things that keeps us coming back, it’s what makes the struggles worth it. We fish in the heat, in the cold, the wind, the rain, sometimes we even fish longer than we should near lightning. Why? Why would anyone get up early and stay out late, casting hundreds of times with no results? We grind ourselves down with lack of sleep and exposure to the elements. We feel the stress of failure when things aren’t going right, but still we keep coming back. Why? It’s partly because of the first fish in the story, and partly because of the second. The joy of accomplishment, along with the emotional roller coaster of missing the big one combine to keep us hooked.
I missed the big one this weekend, I failed, it was all my fault. I was beat up, tired and frustrated at times...but I can’t wait to get back out there and try it again. This is what bass fishing is all about.
After months of stress with no down time I called a time out. I made the decision that everyone in the world could live without me for a day and a half while I escaped to the lake. It’s spring, the weather forecast looked perfect for fishing and camping, and I needed to go see my old friend...the green fish.
The plan was to fish Thursday afternoon, camp at dark, and fish all day Friday. It would be a day and a half of some of the best spring time bass fishing one could imagine. I had just read my latest Bassmaster magazine and they said to use square bill crankbaits, spinnerbaits, buzz baits, and swim jigs. Perfect, that’s the plan I’ll use the whole trip.
A day of omens
I had a short 5-mile run to my first spot after launching the boat. I idled halfway back in the creek before cutting the outboard and deploying the trolling motor. Quietly I glided toward the highly anticipated first spot of the trip. In my right hand was a spinning reel tipped with a 3/8’s ounce white/chartreuse spinner bait. This would be my primary bait for the trip. Plan A was to throw this thing until my arm fell off.
With no hesitation I picked a spot where the point of a secondary creek met my path, snapped my rod forward, and POW! My line broke and sent my best spinnerbait flying untethered through the air and into the lake. The report was sharp, like a .22 rifle crack. I was dumbfounded...the line just broke on the first cast of this trip. It did not feel good.
Luckily though, I’m a very accurate caster, and the spinnerbait travelled to the exact spot where I had been aiming. It landed on a flat black shelf in about two feet of water. Even from here I could see it shining like Gollums ring. I eased up with the trolling motor, reached into the water, and easily recovered “my precious”.
With that very unnerving start out of the way, it was time to get down to business. I had a day and a half to fish, and I was going to put a beat down on some spring time spawning bass. I retied with a stout Palomar knot, and cast across the mouth of the feeder creek. Two or three casts in I felt something, I pulled...and my line came up with no spinner bait! The line had either broken again, or I had simply forgotten how to tie a knot. This was perhaps my first big omen that this trip was not going to go well for me. I wasn’t even 10 minutes into fishing and I had lost the primary lure I intended to use for the entire trip.
Less than 100 yards down the bank I saw my next omen. There was a heron at the waters edge and it looked like it was hung up in something. I eased closer to see if I could help get the great bird untangled, but when I got close I realized it wasn’t stuck...it was choking on a fish. “Isn’t that just perfect” I thought, ”we’re both choking out here.”
I worked that creek from 10 feet of water back to a foot or less and I never found a fish. I saw no beds, I saw no fish, nothing. It was like a ghost town. I couldn’t believe it. This is spring time bass fishing! The water temp is in the low 60’s, it’s overcast, slight breeze...it’s perfect conditions and I can’t get bit to save my life.
This was only one creek though, and I had other options. Soon I jumped up on plane for a 3 mile run to a really fishy looking place that just flooded. When I got there I was astounded at how beautiful it was. It was a wide expanse of shallow water with an endless series of weeds, grasses, bushes and trees sticking up. Picture the African savannah...but for fish...it’s like that. You expect to see great herds of fish migrating across this thing, and lounging in the shade of the vegetation that dots the landscape. If buzz baits could dream...this is what they would dream about. All I could see in my mind was huge sows blowing up on my buzz bait as I buzz-buzz-buzzzzed it past their isolated cover. BAM! POW! SPLASH! I was seeing broken rods and trophy photo’s...this was going to be epic.
Cast after cast along weed lines and bushes built the tension to almost unbearable levels. Then it happened. On a long cast parallel to the tree line in 2 feet of water...my buzz bait got hung in a tree. I know, it’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s what happened. The next two minutes of cursing and grumbling saw the skirt blow into a million pieces, and the bare metal of the bait return to the boat. I was not happy. It wasn’t so much that I had travelled a long way to get here, it’s that the DREAM of this place was now confirmed dead. It wasn’t the aquatic paradise it looked to be, it was simply a flooded area devoid of fish...which is what a lot of places turn into when I show up with a rod.
Ultimately I tried one or two other spots but nothing worked. I was ending the first day with my confidence badly shaken. What I thought had been perfect, was in fact awful. I lost two of my primary lures, caught no fish, and was left wondering what I could possibly try next. Normally I fish until dark, then find a place to camp, but tonight my spirits were so beat down that I quit with enough light that I could see to set up camp.
I’d have a fire, eat dinner, think about the next day, and start again in the morning.
That night I camped on a gravel bar that forms the mouth of a protected cove nestled between some steep, rocky, forested hills along the Tennessee River. The gravel bar is a spur that comes off the base of a big ridge and is basically a small peninsula. My campsite was surrounded by water on three sides. Here on this gravelly point I’d make camp, have a fire, eat dinner, and plot the next mornings trip. I decided that in the morning I’d head south to Bear Creek. It’s a body of water that I know very well and I have plenty of history of catching fish there.
The fire cast a warm flickering-orange glow, the frogs chattered late into the night, a barge lumbered by in the dark, and the whole time the Tennessee River rolled on to where ever it goes when it leaves here. Tomorrow will be a better day.
As I watched the last of the coals shimmering in the cool air I took one last look up to the sky. The clouds above the ridge had broken, and the moon was out. Maybe that was a sign my luck was changing. I crawled into my tent with high hopes for the morning. As I drifted off to sleep I could hear fish jumping all around me in the dark. Yes sir, tomorrow will be a better day.
At 6 AM I awoke to the sound of waves lapping the shore. The wind was shaking the tent, and the sound outside was like breaking surf. I couldn’t wait to open the flap and see what the day had brought.
The wind forecast had called for 5 to 10 MPH from the east, but at 6 AM it was already at least 10 MPH. There was a foot and a half of chop with whitecaps as far as I could see in the direction I needed to go.
The morning began with a rough 5 mile run to my first spot. It was a big cove halfway down a large creek. I spent the first 30 minutes of the day working the shallows with a crankbait and a swimbait. Spawning bass should be shallow...they should be in the backs of coves and on flats, they should relate to cover...this should be the easiest fishing OF THE YEAR.
The wind made things a little difficult but it wasn’t a deal killer...there were just no fish here. OK...not that big of a deal. I’ll just move. I hear that’s the key...cover water. Jump from one spot to the next and use lures like crankbaits and spinnerbaits to cover as much water as possible.
So I moved. The next big cove down produced the same thing...zero. A big goose egg. I saw no fish, I had no hits. I jumped on the big motor again, screaming across the creek to the far back of a big wide shallow cove. I recall reading KVD saying that he wants as big a spawning flat as he can find...so with that in mind I went to one.
I saw exactly three gar. No bass, no beds, nothing hit me or bumped me. I decided to move out to the first break...maybe they’re holding deeper there. About this time I’d been “running and gunning” for about 2.5 hours. It felt like an exercise in futility. I was running all over the lake throwing at empty water. I realized that I was now adrift. I had no plan, and was just hastily going through random motions that I thought might work. I was seriously contemplating heading to the truck at this point. I was tired, hungry, frustrated, and deeply disappointed.
I sat there in the boat, frustrated, beat up by the wind and the waves, not knowing what to do. The only thing I could think of that would end this pain would be to leave. I looked the map on my sonar unit, and I convinced myself to stop at two or three small coves on the way back to the truck, just to make sure I’d tried everything.
I also took a moment to tie on a Texas rigged lizard. It would be a dramatic departure from what I had been doing, but it felt like maybe I should try going back to the basics before quitting.
I got up on plane and rode the jolting waves, and had water thrown in my face, and got beat up the whole way to my next spot. I forced myself to pull into my next target rather than run for the shelter of my truck. What I saw when I got there was amazing. I left the absolute bone jarring, wind beaten, lead-grey sky of the main lake, and entered a small feeder creek that looked like the land that time forgot. Nothing here was grey and windy...it was spring time back in here. Everything was a shade of green, and it was all serenely calm.
When I looked back over my shoulder at the main lake I could see the angry current and wave action waiting for me. It looked as if it had been simply locked out of this place. This little creek wasn’t 30 yards wide, and maybe 150 yards long. It’s placid green water was reflecting the bright green foliage that hung above it, and it’s edges were lined with slick black rocks covered in thick green moss. It was absolutely tranquil and beautiful back here.
I looked down this creek, and thought “If I can catch one fish here...just one...I will have figured something out today.” I stood and cast my newly-tied lizard to a black shelf sitting in 6 inches of water. What lay below the shelf I didn’t know...it just dropped off into darkness...I’d send the lizard to figure that part out.
With a twitch or two the lizard slid over the edge. I watched it’s arms and tail wiggle as it dove, then saw the line go dead when it hit the bottom. I paused, then twitched the tip...but the lizard didn’t come up...and it was way heavier than when I sent it down there. PULL! I pulled hard upward on the rod and heard my line tightening around the spool...tink tink tink! The rod bowed and got heavy, and the first fight of the trip was finally on.
There in that emerald cathedral, protected by hardwood hills on both sides, with the wind held back by the narrow mouth of the creek, I fought that bass from along the sheer rock drop out to the middle of the creek. The line sliced and darted, and the rod stayed heavy. This was sooooo...much...fun!
In 30 seconds I had in my hand the fish I had worked so hard to find. The first largemouth bass of my trip. I quickly released him and looked around. What just happened? That was my first cast in this spot with this lure. I had literally fished for 8 hours previously without a single bump. Eight, long, bitter, frustrating, fruitless hours. Then on my first cast here I got nailed.
For the first time in two days I was smiling. Something had gone right. I reeled in my lizard, and eagerly cast to a spot on the opposite side of the creek where three logs were laid down in the water. I felt nothing on the first cast. The bottom of the creek felt absolutely smooth.
The next cast was a little further, a little closer to the logs. At this point I am still in absolute awe of this place. It is the greenest place I’ve seen in a long time. It’s full of forest green, emerald green, and most importantly...largemouth green. I twitched my line and felt a small bump. I watched the line intently and saw that it was slowly moving to the right. Something hit the lizard and was running to the middle of the creek with it. Sweep back, “tink tink...tink” as the spinning reel loaded up...another fish ON!
Back and forth the bass cut across the creek, staying deep with the lizard. The surface of this water remained perfectly calm despite the fight going on above it and below it. This was the total opposite of the main lake whose surface was furious despite no fight taking place at all. In short order I had my second bass in hand. It was an interesting fish with a solid black upper lip, not much green to him, and a single black patch on his side. Again I released the fish, and again I stood and pondered...eight hours with no fish, then two fish in two minutes. That’s quite a reversal.
This creek felt like it was a hundred miles long, and every bit of it calm and green, lined with slate rock, and full of gently sloping timber. All my previous frantic fishing with flashy/crashy lures had run me ragged for nothing, and when I finally slowed down I heard what the fish wanted. I don’t know how many fish I caught in that creek, but it was enough to make me forget about all the frustration that had built up on this trip. In fact it made me forget about all the frustration that caused me to come on the trip to begin with. In a world of hurt, this creek had become an oasis. I don’t know how long I stayed, but I know I was angry when I arrived, and totally relaxed when I got to the back. Eventually the creek ended in a jumble of downed trees and shallow water. Sadly the time had come to turn around.
I turned the boat around and began to slowly fish my way back out. To my surprise the wind shifted again and had filled the front half of the creek with choppy water. It was already losing it’s serene feel. The mouth of the creek was filled with such contorted violent water that it looked like a giant garbage disposal was turning it. The creek offered me a lesson, a glimpse of how an alternate fishing trip could be. I didn’t have to “run and gun” and try to force my original plan on the lake. If I could find another place like this creek...maybe the lizard could again work it’s magic.
I reentered the main lake with more purpose than at any other time on this trip. I now knew what to do. About 4 miles away, just a bit from where I camped the night before, was a perfect spot where I could find shelter from the wind. It was time to run there and try the lizard.
The water was so rough that I needed full rain gear to stay dry. My sonar cables got knocked out of both units, and I think I broke a mounting bolt for my trolling motor, but I got to the next spot in due time. I came off plane at the rocky mouth of a creek that fed into the main river. With a hard wind chasing me I ducked behind a big hill that fortified one side of the creek mouth. As soon as I passed behind it, the crashing waves were left on the rocks behind me, and I entered into an eery calm that was reminiscent of the creek from earlier.
I jumped from my seat and was casting within 10 seconds. My first cast hit some floating sticks near the bank and in instinctively jerked to keep from getting hung up. As soon as I jerked, the lizard slammed under. BAM! A bass hammered my first lizard cast on this spot as well. WOOOOHOOOO! This was unbelievable. This lure is magic...I’m going to start calling it the Lizard of Oz.
Cast after cast I made down that sheltered bank and I caught bass after bass. It was ridiculous how easy it was to catch them. I was laughing out loud all by myself at the absurdity of how much my luck had changed since I tied on the Lizard of Oz. One little shift in technique...slowing down...changed everything for me. I could have been my hard-headed self and fished the rest of the day with the crankbait, wildly and blindly flailing at the water...and I’d have been miserable all day. Heck I’d have been miserable until the next trip because I would have surely been skunked. But by listening to what the fish wanted (or what they didn’t want...a lizard in their bed) my luck had changed.
My plan had been to fish all day Friday, but by noon I was so happy with what I had accomplished that I headed home early to get more time with the family. For me the take away is that I need to be a lot more adaptable on the water. You always have to have a plan, and I always go to the lake with an idea of what the fish should be doing. However, I need to get a lot better at finding out what the fish are really doing, rather than what I think they should be doing.
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