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Monday, May 14, 2012

Mothers Day
Yesterday was Mothers Day.  Like many families around the country we had plans to get together at a relatives house where a bunch of families and in-laws were gathering to celebrate the day at hand.  Unfortunately my wife wasn't feeling well as the event drew close.  She was't feeling up to going so we stayed home.  I asked her if there was anything I could be doing for her to make her feel better.  She said she'd be alright and that there was really nothing I could do.  So, I did what any tender, warm-hearted, loving husband would do...I went fishing.  
I had a 100 mile drive ahead of me and the weather was perfect.  It was gray with really low clouds and occasionally drizzling.  With this limited amount of light the bass should be feeling very comfortable and be out roaming around and absolutely hammering the food chain.  
I have to be honest...I felt a little guilty pulling my boat through town on Mothers Day.  I was obviously the only one hooked up and headed to the lake.  But what small amount of guilt I might have felt began to feel more like notoriety as I hit the edge of was like “I”m really gonna pull this off!”
I’ll now fast forward through the 10 gallons of gas, 2 gatorades, and 1/2 bag of beef jerky that it took to get to the lake.  I got the boat in the water and I had a plan to execute.  
Plan your work and work your plan
Plan “A” was to fish deeper water near secondary points on the lake...these are where a smaller creek or cove flows back into the main creek.  The bass are in post-spawn mode which means that they are no longer playing Barry White songs and dancing in the dark with each other...the mating business is over and it’s back to being the aquatic marauders they are meant to be.  It’s all business now.  All fish are now on notice...the bass are back on the warpath.  If you cross will be crushed and eaten.
Now I figured the bass better be on notice...because I’m back too.  Any fish that crosses my path will be hauled from the deep, laughed at, photographed, and generally hazed...then they will be thrown back to their watery hideout with bruised egos.  
That’s how the game is played in my minds eye.  In reality what usually happens is that “Plan A” collapses under the load of confusion and stress caused by a stunning lack of progress on my part.  I’ll normally try the “Plan A” gig for a while but what usually happens is like watching one of those “intervention” shows on TV where they feature a crack addict and try to get them off the drug.  My drug is the shoreline...the bank.  I’m very comfortable throwing a spinner bait at the bank...and whenever things start to get tough you can watch me slowly revert to doing it.  If my plan is to fish jigs about two casts away from the bank I’ll probably do it for a wile.  But then when it starts to get frustrating I pick up the proverbial crack pipe again...a 7 foot rod with a white/chartreuse spinner bait and I’ll run to the shore like an addict runs to the neighborhood dealer.  I’ll beat that bank to death with a spinner bait because I know I’ll eventually have something hit me.  Even if it’s a 1 lb. dink I know I won’t get skunked.  
So that’s my demon...the bank calls to me and I answer...even if I’m supposed to be doing something else.  It’s a hard habit to break.  But I know that if I’m going to be successful I have to push myself.  I must learn new ways of doing things or my good fishing days will be limited to those when the fish just happen to be on the bank wanting to eat spinner baits.  
With this in mind I decided that today’s “Plan A” would be to work deeper water about 80 to 100 feet out from the bank.  There was a long stretch of good water for this just a half a mile outside the marina’s “no wake zone”. 
After idling to the “no wake” buoy I dropped the hammer, got the boat up on plane, and blasted over to my first spot.  The plan started well enough.  I pulled up on my first spot to the sight of fish hitting topwater everywhere.  It was promising.  
No plan survives contact with the enemy
I worked top water to no avail.  I could now hear the crack pipe calling was right there just a few feet away.  I could see the bank just 50 feet from away...and my spinner bait rod was just 10 feet to the other side of me.  Nobody is won’t hurt anyone if I just throw once or twice at the bank...what harm could it do?  I had started to rationalize giving up on Plan A.  
For now I made a crack head compromise.  I told myself I’d use the spinner bait but I’d fish it deep.  Which I did for a little bit...and I caught a bass off a log where the water started to get deep.  It was a nice start.  But just like illicit drugs, once you try it you need more of it.  I had given in to the urge to fish the bank just a little bit...but now it had me and I found myself throwing that spinner bait incrementally closer to the bank.
Casting “once or twice” at the bank soon started an avalanche that I simply could not stop. I found myself hugging the bank and beating it to death with that spinner bait.  The whole time I kept telling myself I was right to do it...I’ve done it before and it was fun and everything worked out.  Well this time it didn’t.  I caught no more fish.  A few times I managed to pull myself away from the bank a bit but it was a half hearted effort designed to make me feel like I was doing the right thing.  Kind of like a crack head that goes to church...they feel like they’re doing good...but at the end of the day...they’re still a crack head.
Eventually I was out of luck.  I had worked the entire bank and arrived at the main creek channel.  When I say “creek” I want you to think of a really big a mile wide and 12 miles long...that’s the size of this creek.  
When you get to the main creek channel on a day like today the wind has it whipped up into a heaving fury.  I was about to leave the placid wind-protected waters that I’d been fishing for the past hour and move into a churning mass of danger.  
“Plan A” hadn’t worked.  More importantly I hadn’t worked “Plan A”.   It was now time to pay the piper.  “Plan B” was to fish some offshore structure.  
Getting over the hump
I’m not a huge fan of today’s “Plan B”.  One reason I like fishing the bank is because that’s how I learned to fish years ago.  The other reason I like it is because I can see the bank...I know exactly where to throw because I have a big fat target.
When you fish offshore structure you’re basically fishing underwater hills and ditches.  You might find a “hump” that starts in 30 feet of water that tops out at say 18 feet.  It’s just a big underwater hill.  The big problem is that the top of this hill is still under 18 feet of water...there is no way to see it.  
To be successful in this endeavor you need a good depth finder and if you’re lucky you’ll have a lake-map chip for your unit that shows all of the underwater hills, ditches, and other structure.
At this point I decided that I’d give “Plan B” a shot before heading home.  I used my maps software to find the closest underwater hill and I maneuvered the boat to be right on top of it.  Then I kicked out my trolling motor and told it to hold me right on this spot.  A quick word about the trolling motor is needed here.   This year i upgraded to a new trolling motor that has a built in GPS...and it has the ability to hold me on any spot I tell it to.  It is a thing of beauty.  Whole books could be written about how great this device is...songs and poetry too probably...but that’s not the point.  The point is that I now had the boat on top of the hill and I didn’t have to baby sit the trolling motor.  I could focus 100% on fishing.
I started throwing a fairly heavy blue/black jig with a crawdad trailer.  As I worked the jig back up the underwater hill toward me I started to get a feel for this presentation.  Throwing a jig like this is new to me.  I just learned the technique from a friend a few weeks earlier.  After a few casts I felt something “different”.  On the next cast I felt it again and I set the hook.  Bam!  The fight was on.  I had hooked my very first offshore/deep-water structure fish.  He wasn’t the biggest fish...but I had caught him a long way from the bank.  This was my first step toward quitting my old habit of fishing the bank.
Emboldened by my success I ignored the heaving of the boat and the water splashing over the bow and I got back to work.  I began systematically casting in a 360 degree circle around the boat, bringing the jig back to me with the same cadence that worked on the first fish.  A few casts later CRACK!  The noise was so loud that I figured I’d snapped my rod in half when I was casting.   It wasn’t my was my line.  I hadn’t retied in a while and it had weakened to the point that the stress of being cast one more time destroyed it.  I briefly watched my jig flying toward the Alabama shoreline before it fell to it’s watery grave.  I was impressed with both the distance and speed with which that $6 worth of tackle was leaving the vicinity.
I was undeterred.  With a smile on my face I dove into the tackle box, pulled out an even bigger jig, and put an even bigger tube trailer on the end of it.  When I got done rigging it up I had to laugh.  It was so big it looked like something they use on a Costa Rica swordfish trip.  It was by far the largest bait I’d ever thrown to a largemouth bass.  Being an optimist at heart...I tossed it as far as I could and got back to work.  
I’d pump it once, then twice hard off the bottom, reel in the slack, then waaaaiiiiit for it to hit the bottom.  If it hits the bottom I do it again.  Heave once, twice, reel slack, then wait.  BAM!  I got struck hard.  I couldn’t believe it...TWO fish off this deepwater structure in 10 minutes.  When I got it to the boat I recognized it as a white bass...a big one...the biggest one I’d ever caught...and he had that huge Costa-Rican Swordfish bait in his mouth.  A big glowing light bulb was going off in my head.  I’m learning something today...something big.
Now I’m not even aware of the wind and rough seas around me.  I took my swordfish bait and threw it back into the deep water around me.  Just a few moments later WHAM!!  I hook up again in 20 feet of water.  This fish is clearly much bigger than the first two.  This fish is looking for a fight.  
When I got the fish to the boat he seemed to summon the power of the seas.  That bass pulled down so hard that I thought he might flip my boat.  I lightened the drag on my reel to give him some room to run while I got the net ready.  It was then that I realized that the net I had reminded myself to put in the boat was still in my garage...literally 100 miles away.  
I had no way to end this fight early...I couldn’t “tap out”.  This fish was angry and strong and I was kicking myself for not having the net with me.  I don’t mind if a small fish comes unhooked before I get it in the boat.  That’s no big deal...but when a hog like this gets away it’s enough to break a mans heart.  It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.  It’s the type of thing that probably drove the Exxon Valdez captain to drink.  Every time I see this fish come to the top I fear that he’s going to shake the hook.  I can see he’s big...and he won’t quit fighting.  I bet that fish took six good runs away from the boat before I’d tired him out enough to get a hand on him.  The whole time I was praying he wouldn’t break my line, shake the hook, or pull some bass voodoo that I’ve never seen before.  
Ultimately I got him in the boat.  When I landed that fish I landed knowledge.  I landed a new way to fish.  I now had 5 scaly pounds of tangible proof that you can fish far away from the bank and be successful.  
With the help of a good depth finder, good advice from a friend, and a dose of tenacity I was able to kick my bank habit and open up a whole new world of opportunity.  
I’m no longer frustrated by offshore structure...I’m “over the hump” so to speak.