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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Omens

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 bit...it 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.

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