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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lizards and Logs


I work in a very competitive, thin margin, cyclical industry, in a full commission sales job.  That means I have no paycheck.  Every month they guaranty me $0.  I’ll summarize the experience by saying that it’s very stressful.  Adding to the stress is that we are in a down-cycle and everyone has their job threatened every month.  While fishing is expensive and addictive, it’s one of the few things in life that allows me to escape that stress for a few hours.  I hear that heroin is another expensive, addictive way to relax, but with heroin you don’t catch any fish, so that’s not an option.

Adding to the stress at the start of the year was a project I had for one of my kids sports teams.  I was the guy who volunteered to do the end-of-year video.  It’s a cool project but it takes me about 60 hours to complete.  Many nights I’d come home after work and sit at the computer for 3 to 5 hours, and hit it 5 to 10 hours every weekend until it was finished.  When I was done, all I could think about was a trip to the lake.  Yet it was not to be.

After I got the video complete I had two road trips for work.  One of them was an overnight trip to TX to see two customers.  I left Thursday and returned Friday.  I had a 48 hour trip with only 1 hour of meetings.  The rest of the time was spent in cabs, hotels, and airports.  I spent roughly 15 hours just sitting in airports waiting on planes.  The result was that I came home with Bronchitis.  Bronchitis is no fun at all.  

As you can probably tell by now, the last few months have been nothing to write home about.  However, I had a decent week and my recent road trips have added some hope on the horizon, so I decided it was time to take a trip to the lake and hopefully boost my morale.


The weather man was calling for sunny skies and warm weather, so I took Friday off from work.  I was now, officially, unstoppably, going fishing.  I stood at the tailgate in the sunshine this morning tying lures and prepping my gear amid a growing surge of anticipation.  Gear prep is the first mental step you take toward relaxing.  It forces you to focus.  Where should the fish be?  What should they be hitting?  You create a plan and prep your gear accordingly.  Soon I had the gear rigged, the boat hooked up and was underway.  

I stopped at a new gas station before I got on the highway to top off the truck.  It was kind of a small parking lot, and when I swung wide to get the trailer around the pumps I noticed the parking lot wasn’t square, or even rectangular.  It got so narrow near the front of my truck that I wondered if I’d be able to get out.  BAM!!!  Something just hit me.  

I had taken the turn plenty wide to clear the gas pumps and the island upon which they sat.  However, this gas station thought it would be a good idea to put 4 or 5 inch concrete poles further out so nobody’s tires would scuff the island.  One of those poles slammed my trailer in front of the wheel well, doing significant damage to the “step” on my trailer.

“Ugh!”  I thought, I’m not even underway yet and I just racked up a bill to fix the trailer.  Mentally, I put it aside.  I could not worry about such silliness at the time.  I had a date with the lake and by God nothing would stop me.  I filled up and hit the road.

I drove east toward Pickwick Lake under azure blue skies with just the faintest wisps of cottony clouds here and there.  Under these conditions I usually get my butt handed to me, but I was still optimistic.  It was a beautiful spring day and I was determined to go fishing.  If the truck broke down, I’d pull the boat by hand.  Nothing would keep me from the lake.


About two hours later I had the boat in the water and had a pair of decisions to make.  “Where do I go?” and “What do I throw?”  The “what” part was easy.  Last spring I found some success with a Zoom lizard and that would be my primary bait today.  That lizard was so magical that I began calling it the “Lizard of Oz.”  After one memorable trip with the Lizard of Oz I came home and ordered a whole bunch of them just so I could have them everywhere.  I have them on the boat, in my tackle bag, in the truck, my nightstand, the fridge, and in my shaving kit.  I can’t stand the thought of not having that lizard when I need it.  So, that part was covered.  

As for “where” I figured I’d start with a broken dream from last year too.  A bonafide HOG caught me badly out of place last year and broke my heart.  It breached and shook and spit the hook right back at me before disappearing forever.  That would be the place I began.  It’s hallowed ground.  I’ll never forget the lessons the hog taught me that day, those very lessons guided my rigging earlier today.  I had that lizard on the right rod, with the right line, and my drag was set properly.  Today I would be fully prepared for a rematch.

After a short run I was in the arena.  I was right back where I lost the Battle of Panther Creek last spring.  Sadly I discovered that some of the timber I fished last year had floated away, and the weeds hadn’t grown much yet.  It was kind of barren.  To kill some time I decided to pitch the Lizard of Oz at whatever cover and laydowns I could see along the bank.  It seemed like a fruitless endeavor because all that cover was in 2 to 4 feet of water and I’ve never had luck finding bass spawning that shallow on this lake.  I was already here though, and I figured it would be a good warmup. 

Now that I was moving slower I had a chance to notice the things around me.  Everything was blooming and this creek seemed to be nothing but blue skies and butterflies.  The butterflies were everywhere, big yellow and black ones flitting on the breeze, alone and in pairs.  It just kind of added to the “springtime” atmosphere seeing them doing their thing.  There was a giant woodpecker somewhere in the hills above me going to town on a tree.  There under a warm spring sun I realized that a woodpecker sounds a lot like an M240 machine gun.  The sound and cyclic rate are remarkably similar, the only thing the woodpecker lacks is the booming echo.  

The air and water temp were both 66 degrees, and I was pitching a lizard at submerged timber under clear blue skies; there were worse places I could be.  In fact, at that point I had forgotten all about the busted trailer.  If it weren’t for the periodic deep coughing fits, I’d have forgotten about the bronchitis as well.  

I had fished perhaps four laydowns by this point and my casting was still a little rusty.  I was not accurate at all with the Texas rigged lizard.  One of my casts was so bad I actually said out loud “There ain’t nothing there.  That’s a terrible cast.”  The words had no sooner tumbled from my lips when I got thumped.  Something hit my lizard!  WHACK!  I set the hook.  Despite a terrible cast, in water that was “too shallow” I had just caught the first bass of the day!!!

I couldn’t believe it.  I had been actively fishing for less than 20 minutes, in conditions where I should be getting my butt kicked, and I just put one in the boat.  The Lizard of Oz had struck again.  

That fish really got my attention.  I immediately decided that I’d just keep the trolling motor going, and I’d move as fast as I could from cover to cover.  I’d stop and fish it thoroughly when I arrived at each stump or brush pile, but I’d be moving quickly in between them.  There might be a brush pile here, then 40 yards up a long algae-covered stump dropping off the bank into deeper water.  The bank was dotted with structure like that for a few hundred yards.  Some of the timber was bleached white by weather and time, others were victims of more recent storms and still had bark on them.

Soon enough I caught another fish using the same tactic.  I had cast across a “V” shaped trunk coming off the bank and slowly crept the lizard back to me.  I felt it climbing the backside of the first trunk, then saw the red flake along it’s watermelon back sparkling in the sun before it followed the Texas-rig head first into the murk that lay between the logs.  It was there that the lizard met the bogey man.  Thump!  The line cut to the right, toward deeper water.  I can’t recall exactly how I got the fish out of the limbs but soon enough I had fish number two in the boat.  The only remarkable thing about the catch was that it was so much shallower than I was used to.  Maybe I’d had some strange trips last year, but despite days of trying, I never caught one in less than 6 feet of water.  

The fish seemed to be telling me what they want, and I planned to listen.  If they want a slow lizard next to timber, so be it.  It’ll be lizards and logs the rest of the day.  

I fished my way out of that creek with no more luck, but I had boated a ton of confidence.  I pulled the trolling motor and sat at the helm.  I decided to head for another creek I knew of that had similar structure.  Somewhere in the distance another woodpecker fired a long burst at full cyclic rate and I smiled.  Nature is just out here doing it’s thing.  

Lizards and logs

A few minutes later I pulled into a creek roughly 400 yards long, 200 yards wide, and filled with snags and timber on both sides.  Early into the creek I was casting to a really shallow gravel bar perhaps 20 yards wide with a dead tree right in the middle of it.  The gravel and the tree both slipped away into deep green water, leaving you to imagine what might lurk down there.  I had to find out.  

As I worked the left side of the tree I made another terrible cast.  I attempted to throw onto the gravel shelf then work it deeper, but instead I clumsily cast it straight into the deep stuff.  That wouldn’t work.  I was a little shocked at how poorly I was casting.  I was wasting time with such poor throws.  I quickly went to retrieve and recast when BAM!  My lizard got smashed!!!  This was the second time today that a terrible cast got clobbered.  It was starting to feel like “one of those days” when everything goes right.  After a quick fight I landed a fairly small bass.  It was a violent strike, the hardest I’d felt so far that day, but it was a fairly small fish.  I figure he must have hit the lizard with a monkey-wrench and dropped it after I set the hook. That’s the only explanation I have.

About that time another fisherman idled into the creek.  I was on the South bank and he on the North.  It looked like it would naturally work out that we’d each fish the side we were on until we hit the back of the creek.  I didn’t pay him much attention but it looked as though he were throwing a spinnerbait and moving quickly.

We both reached the back of the creek with nothing to show for our effort.  He picked up his trolling motor and left.  That allowed me some time to work the very shallow back portion, then hit the side he had already worked.  

The back of this creek looked to be just two feet of water that was absolutely choked with submerged limbs that the wind and current had pushed in over time.  My polarized glasses allowed me to see many of the shapes that were just under the water and it was a crazy patchwork of limbs and trunks.  I couldn’t imagine a bass being this shallow on this lake, but hey, why not try it?

On perhaps my third cast into the thin water something grabbed my lizard and was politely removing it from the area.  It was just gliding to the right and I could almost hear my line scraping on the tree trunk over which it travelled.  I set the hook but got nothing.  Hmm.  Two casts later the same exact thing.  Something grabbed my lizard, marched it to the right, and wasn’t there when I set the hook. That bugged me enough that I pounded the area with the lizard.  I don’t know how many times I cast but the fish went quiet and I never heard from it again.  Next I turned my attention to a few other downed trees.  I got a light bump at the end of a tree in 3 foot of water, but it wasn’t substantial.  It felt almost like a bluegill tugging on the lizard tail so I picked up a small crappie spinner and threw it in there.  BANG!  A small bass crushed it almost immediately.  At this point I could tell that the fish I was catching in the really shallow water were smaller.  

I decided to pull back to deeper water, then work my way out of the creek with the Lizard of Oz.  There was plenty of cover to work with here.  

100 yards later I was in deeper water and working the side the other fisherman had hit on his way in.  There were wonderful targets all along the North side.  There were whole trees, broken trees, branches poking up above the water, it looked like an awesome place to throw a Texas rig.  If Disney made a place just for guys who like flippin and pitchin, this is what it would look like.  It was Laydown City.  

I poked and prodded the cover from every direction I could hit.  As I worked I marveled at how pretty everything was out here.  The hillside above me was alive with squirrels running through the leaves.  Pink blossoms were bursting out on trees along the bank, bright yellow flowers were blooming on the emerald green stalks of weeds poking up along the waterline.  Life was emerging from it’s hibernation.  It was a natural cycle as old as the earth, and during the short time I’m alive I plan to enjoy this cycle as much as I can, to immerse myself fully in it’s splendor.  I know many guys who are at home watching basketball right now.  While there’s nothing wrong with that, I just can’t imagine missing natures spring time big show to sit indoors on a couch watching other people do something indoors.  

I was absolutely dragging this lizard, there was nothing fast about the retrieve.  This was Bass Fishing 101.  I’d pitch it in, let it sink, then drag it a few inches and let it sit.  Drag and sit, drag and...bump.  It felt like something hit me.  Hookset, BAM!  Fight on.  This was a good fight.  On the outside of a brush pile in 12 feet of water something tried to take my lizard!  This fish was putting up a determined fight, it was clearly a better fish than the others.  He had some say in whether or not he was coming to the boat.  

Up he came with the familiar arc of a largemouth that is about to break your heart.  I saw a flash of creamy white belly with green scales and red gills pass the boat.  He sliced this way and that and finally breached with a powerful head shake as he tried to free himself of the Lizard of Oz.  Catching a fish is an interesting event.  Two brains are working very quickly to solve a problem from opposite ends.  His was screaming “Breach and shake!  Breach and shake!”  Meanwhile, mine was screaming “Keep tension!  Keep tension on that line!!!”   Ultimately all the running and breaching couldn’t help him, he ended up in my boat and then in my phone.  Snap.  Another picture of another fun fish.  A sturdy 3 lb. specimen.  Solidly built, fast, agile, powerful, it was a wonderful example of an aquatic predator.  

It felt like I had just learned something.  Pitching tight to cover with a slow moving soft plastic was clearly working on a blue sky day, but I also appeared to be catching bigger fish deeper.  It was too early to call it a pattern, but it was noticeable.  I took a picture and released him.   With two swats of his tail he was back in the murky depths from which he came.  He was perhaps the fifth fish I caught on that same lizard.  That bait had served me admirably and with great distinction and bravery, so I decided to retire him.  Despite having been attacked by at least 5 largemouth, getting hung on innumerable rocks and logs, and dragged through grass mats it was in remarkably good shape.  It’s way tougher than a regular lizard, so much tougher that I think they should rename this thing the Gila Monster.  

After releasing him I stood on the deck and surveyed my surroundings.  Every year some astronomer tells us when the first official day of spring is.  Who the heck is he?  Why does he get so say?  I say the “first day of spring” is the first day I catch a largemouth on a lizard!  That’s how I will mark it from this day forward.  It can’t possibly be spring without largemouth, and what a spring it was turning into on the water today.

A word on the “types of bites” might be in order here.  There are many ways a bass can hit your bait.  Sometimes they hit it like a freight train, other times it feels like they hit it with a bat or a pipe wrench, yet still other times its very subtle.  Today most of the bites felt as though the bass picked up the bait, put it in a bag, and was walking out to the trash can to dispose of it.  Most of todays bites were anticlimactic.  You had to be paying attention or you might not realize you got hit.  The fights had been good, but the bite itself had been a little on the sneaky side much of the day.

Two logs later I pitched the lizard to the backside of a log jam, into the water between the bank and the cover closest to it.  BAM!!!  The Lizard of Oz took a vicious uppercut and was being dragged hither and yon by an enraged predator on a tight line. It ran deep, out toward open water and closer to the boat.  It was putting up a nice fight and about the time I thought about getting the net I heard something.  The drag!!!  This angry fish was stealing drag from my spool!  What a fight! Soon enough I had him in the net, snapped a pic, and tossed him back. Things were certainly getting more interesting in the deeper water.

The birds were singing, my drag was singing.  Ladies and gentlemen, spring time has SPRUNG and I am basking in it’s glory!!!  This is what being alive was meant to feel like!

The action kept up like this for so long that I had to make sure I kept my phone in the right pocket to make the pics easier.  By the end of the evening I could hold that lizard in my left hand and point at the water with my right and a fish would jump into the boat.  I didn’t even need to use a rod and reel any more, I could simply summon them with the Lizard of Oz.  

BOOM!  Another green monster attacked my lizard. SNAP another pic.  I was absolutely slaying the largemouth.  All of my stress was gone.  I was having a ball.  I didn’t feel sick, I wasn’t worried about work, or my banged up trailer.  I was focused on fishing, and on the beauty of spring time.  

At some point I noticed the shadows were getting long.  It’s always tough to say goodbye to a day like this and I reluctantly checked the time.  6:15 PM.  Wow, I still had over an hour til sunset!!!  Let the beatings continue! 

That long bank meandered back and forth from gravel to mud, and every 20 yards or so the lake claimed another tree through erosion.  Those trees fell into 12 feet of water and made wonderful homes for all manner of aquatic life.  Tonight it seemed as though every time I tossed a lizard into a tree it got devoured.  The only thing that could have made it more magical would be if a mermaid riding a narwhal approached the boat and gifted me Neptune’s trident.  This day was so good I’ll remember it forever as the Bronchitis Beatdown.

A short time later the sun was behind the hills and I pointed the boat toward the ramp.  Everything in life felt perfect.  Driving into a sun that has already dropped behind the hills is always a treat.  Water, land, and the sky are all cast in a gorgeous shade of light one normally doesn’t see.  The heavens and the water are separated by the long inky black profile of hills backlit by the setting sun.  The glossy surface of the water yields to the dark strip of land, which in turn yields to glorious shades of yellow, gold, then deeper shades of blue that fade to black as another night falls upon the lake.  Another cycle is complete. 

As I blast across the smooth water in the cool late evening air I have a few moments to reflect.  This day is coming to a close, but with a little luck I’ll live to see another one.  If I do, what will I do with that gift?  Will I spend it indoors, watching other people on TV?   Or will I use that gift to really, truly live?  When I’m old and gray will I wish I’d had more days of indoor TV watching when I was younger?  Or will I long for the days of spring when nature proudly displayed her power to create life and beauty?  

Fishing is about so much more than just catching a fish.  It’s spring time folks, get out there and live!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


This was from sometime in early March.

Yesterday was supposed to be a great day.  The high temp was going to be 62 degrees, the wind was mild, the sun was shining, and the bass had “pre-spawn chores” on their to-do list.  I was dreaming of bucket-mouthed bass being hoisted from the water with craw-tipped jigs hanging from their jaws.  It was going to be an unbelievable pre-spawn beat-down.

The very long story made short, is that the day was entirely unproductive.  I could not get bit to save my life.  I’m sure this has to do with my stubborn nature, as I don’t like to fish the slow stuff.  Today was a post-front high pressure day with clear blue skies and I should have adjusted my tactics, but I didn’t...and I was paying a terrible price for it.  

After hours of sonar runs and fruitless casting, I decided to hunker down on a spot I call the Hogpen.  It’s name reflects it’s propensity to cough up big bass on a regular basis.  On a slow unproductive day, at least I could be confident by camping on this spot and beating it to death with my lures.  Surely, if there were one place on the lake I could get would be here.  

Cast after cast generated no luck.  Eventually those casts began creating bad luck, and I lost two lures in rapid succession to some unseen, unknown terror below the water.  It was maddening to lose $13 worth of lures in such shallow water.  What lie underneath me was a total mystery.  All I know is that it had grabbed two lures so firmly that I simply couldn’t remove them.  All I had to show from my last cast was the broken end of my line blowing in the breeze.

As I stood there grumbling and cursing my luck under my breath, a deer ran out right in front of me...just 30 yards away.  It was totally unfazed by my presence.  It simply ambled out on the gravelly point and trotted right into the water with a splash.  At first I was too stunned to even process what I was seeing, then I thought “I need to get a video of this.”

It seemed like the deer was running from something, probably dogs, and was using the water as an escape route.  It trotted off that gravelly point, and into the lake where it took a hard left.  The heading it was on would have it cross a small bay and make landfall another 100 yards up the bank, where it could easily escape whatever was chasing it.  

I thought it was a pretty clever move for a deer.  She’d leave a scent trail to the waters edge, and when the dogs chased it there they’d lose the trail.  Even if they saw her swimming they’d have to go back into the woods and try to blindly catch up with her.  

As it swam, I watched it’s head pushing through the water in an awkward “jerky” kind of manner.  With just it’s head visible, it was kind of like watching a beaver, except a beaver is a whole lot better at swimming.  For all the gracefulness that deer display on land...they sure do look ungainly in the water.  In fairness though, I imagine a beaver would look mighty awkward trying to jump a barbed wire fence...nobody can be perfect at everything.  

At this point the deer still didn’t know, or perhaps didn’t care, that I was in the area.  I began to get the idea that it would be really cool to have a video of a deer swimming next to my boat, so I grabbed my phone and started the motor.  

My little Suzuki DF90 is so quiet that when I started it, the deer never heard a thing.  At first I planned on idling over to her, but it quickly became apparent that while she looked ridiculous swimming, she was actually making pretty good time.  At idle speed there was no way I’d catch up in time to get good video, so I jumped on the throttle.  

The DF90 might be quiet, but when the boat began displacing water on it’s way to getting on plane...the deer definitely kicked it into high gear.  I imagine the deer was thinking “Those dogs have a boat?!?!”

As I began closing the distance the deer changed course, now she was angling for a closer spot on the shore.  At that very moment, this began to have less of a “fishing trip” feel to it, and more of a “greatest naval battles of all time” feel to it.  I half-expected her to turn and give me a full broadside volley.  However, not being armed with even a single canon, that tactic wasn’t available to her.  

She was still in open water and I still had a chance at some good video, so I bumped the throttle to close the distance on her.  I had my phone in my left hand and with a faster closure rate I was hopeful I’d be able to catch her.  I was focused on her stern like a pirate chasing the Spanish treasure fleet. 

Suddenly water really began flying as she pounded the water.  So much water was being splashed that it looked like giant tarpon were feeding in the shallows.  It was then I realized that she was now shallow enough to touch bottom...the splashing was from her jumping in the water.  She jumped and kicked through the shallows until all four hooves were on the gravelly bank.  To my surprise she didn’t re-enter the woods, she simply trotted along next to the shore.  

Since she was back on dry land I thought I could get more aggressive with the throttle and try to catch up.  I hit the gas and THUMP THUMP GGGRRRRRIiiind GRRRRRIiinnnnd...I’d run aground.  I instantly dropped the camera and initiated emergency procedures.  I could hear in my head the words of every captain whose shipped was every hit by a torpedo “All hands on deck, battle stations!”  I killed the throttle, trimmed the big motor up, and deployed the trolling motor.  I was too shallow to drop the trolling motor to it’s fully-deployed position, so I remained crouched on the bow holding it halfway into the water.  

As the trolling motor pulled me back to the safety of deeper water I had to laugh.  That little deer was a lot craftier than I had given it credit for.  She chose the water route to throw the dogs off her trail, then when I got on her trail she dragged me into the shallows where she’d have an advantage.  It was a move that any military historian would label as brilliant.  She beat me without ever firing a shot.  She beat me through solid tactics, by knowing the lay of the battlefield, by knowing her own strengths and my weaknesses.  

The day was drawing to a close as the sun and the temperature dropped in tandem.  I grinned as I watched that little doe trot down the shoreline with a gait that seemed completely satisfied.  She had played a solid hand and won, twice.

As she disappeared around a bend in the bank, I got back to fishing.  The sun was now setting on a long, frustrating, fishless day.   After 5 hours on the water the only thing I had to show for it was a short video of a swimming deer; which is not what I had in mind for spring time pre-spawn activity.  A cast or two later...BAM!  I hooked up with a largemouth bass who was feeding on the gravel bar not 10 yards from where the deer entered the water a few minutes earlier.  It was a nice reminder that I’m just a visitor here, and that life on the lake would continue as usual, whether I was here to witness it or not.   

I released that bass, stood on the deck, and surveyed my surroundings.  The sun was far away and over the trees, leaving only long shadows and a golden glow on the horizon as evidence that it was here earlier. 

It was getting both cold and dark, and it felt like the lake had won today.  It beat me at everything I tried.  Then another thought hit me, I’m not out here to win or lose to the lake...I’m out here to experience it.  When viewed through that filter, today was nothing other than a resounding success.  I’d spent 6 hours on the lake in the sunshine of an early spring day.  I’d travelled over miles of water looking at the cliffs and high forested hills that surround the lake.  I experienced flora and fauna that I would not have seen if I weren’t on the boat.  Even though it was almost completely devoid of fishing success, it was a day that I know I’ll look back on very fondly once I get too old to be out here.  It was a day that was well lived.  

I had a two hour drive to get home, which left me plenty of time to think.  After an hour of mindless highway time it hit me...that deer was an omen.  An omen is defined as:

“anything perceived or happening that is believed to portend a good or evil event or circumstance in the future”

In my case it was a good omen, but one that was lost on me when it happened.  Last year I had been fishing the exact same spot where the deer had jumped in the water tonight.  That day too had been a long and fishless one.  On that earlier trip I had also caught one or two bass right at sundown.  

The difference though is that last year I stayed until after dark, and that night turned into one of the biggest mad-house success stories I’ve ever had on the water.  I caught big bass after big bass on that spot.  It was an epic and seemingly endless beat down.  

In the middle of that big bass beat down last year, in the dark, a deer came off that same gravelly point and jumped into the lake not 30 yards from me.  I heard it running through the woods, clatter across the shale on the bank, and then heard the giant “SPLASH” as it threw itself into the lake.  A quick look with my headlamp confirmed that the deer was swimming along just out in front of me.  

This can’t be a coincidence.  The lesson I’m drawing from this is that from now on, if I ever see a deer jump in the lake, I’m staying right there, because it’s about to be ON!  In fact, I might start bringing a deer with me as a backup plan.  If I’ve not caught anything in two hours I’ll just kick the deer overboard for a quick swim.  I’ll obviously have a harness on him so I can re-use him, and as an added bonus, if my battery dies I can use the deer as a primitive trolling motor, the fish sure don’t seem to mind them.