August 5 –
As a trout fisherman and a fly fisher, I tend to shy away from bass fishing unless it is put squarely in front of me. It is not that I look down on it or dislike it, it is just that I lean toward a fly rod more than a spinner or bait caster – until today.
Today I was with a premier bass fisherman, a pro, a contest winner, a guy who knows where they are and how to catch them. When I talked of joining him on this beautiful lake he cautioned me that the fishing wasn’t what it was. He set me up with low expectations and warned me before I made the trip. I went anyway, of course. I soon realized that he was overly modest in his assessment of the fishing.
I left my fly rod in the car and set up my vintage Wright-McGill Champion spinning rod (circa 1961) with an old Mitchell 300 reel, freshly spooled with 8 pound test. I brought my tackle box filled with Spooks, Flatfish, Bombers, Hula Poppers, Jitterbugs and spinner baits, as well as a set of lures I bought on eBay. I like to buy old tackle boxes filled with what looks like junk hoping to find some gems for my lure collection. When I first opened the last one I bought it had not one winner, no collectibles, and what was there was a mess. I set it aside and didn’t even look at it again until Joe called. In pulling together my gear, I came across the box and took the time to clean them up. They were altered by their former owner with reflective stripes, dashes of silver paint, some with red. Some hooks had been removed and some trebles reduced to doubles. As I worked on them I began to realize that what I was cleaning off was fish guts. These lures worked!
Joe brought a half dozen rods with us on the boat which puzzled me at first. I was intent on using my old rod. He told me of the wacky worm and the weedless frogs, the Texas rigged little wigglers but I wanted to use my new secret weapons, now gleaming clean.
Joe proceeded to catch fish after fish as I popped my old lures in place after place with no takers. I put on a broken back red and white copy of a Heddon and soon had a small (very small) bass on. In the same time Joe had 4 very large bass to his credit (all released, of course). I took a photo of him and his fish and after the 4th one he felt bad for me and asked me to hold his next one (4 pounds, at least) for a photo. I told him that it wasn’t right to take a photo with another man’s fish but he insisted (such was his faith in my casting and lures). I lipped the big boy and immediately lost my balance, falling to the rear seat, the bass slapping me in my face. “I told you the Fish Gods wouldn’t like this” I shouted as I released the fish, both of us laughing.
I could not argue with the master. I got the itch to use my rod out of my system and picked up one of his with a wacky worm. He showed me the technique and where to put them. His casts repeatedly landed right where they were and they responded with aggressive bites immediately on the first twitch. My accuracy was not accurate, at all. It took some time for me to get the cast, the flip and the pitch working for me, but it came along with an epiphany: Not only was this bass fishing very challenging, and technically difficult, but it was fun. I soon boated my own big fish and so began my conversion to a bass caster.
The next day I brought my rod but spent most of the day pitching plastic worms and hauling weedless frogs through the lily pads with his. The boat, although not a “bass boat” like on TV, had a trolling motor that got us into the tight spots: near shore, fallen trees, and huge glacier deposited boulders which I am sure have claimed many a prop over the years. Joe knew the water and every snag. The weedless frogs were hollow life-like imitations with a double hook of large gauge tucked in closely to the sides and turned upward. It skipped through even the heaviest cover.
He told me of a neighbor who asked him how the fishing was and him telling of 30 fish days. The neighbor looked at him with a doubtful eye, saying he had fished this lake for 30 years and never had a day like that. Joe didn’t argue, he just invited him out for a day. He soon became a believer.
So a word of advice to all you fly fishers and trout catchers out there. Don’t let the NASCAR like appearance of the bass boats and the logo emblazoned uniforms of those at the top of this sport turn you off. There is a world of great fishing out there for you to discover, once you lay down that fly rod – for a while.
For more on this subject check out Chapter 15 – Don’t be a fly rod snob – in How to Fly Fish for Trout, the FIRST Book to Read.
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