I could call my spring fishing season ”The Spring of the ‘Fish Story’”.
This past Saturday was my birthday. I will not mention my age but it is no secret to careful readers of my columns. I always try to go fishing on my birthday, though I can recall only one birthday trip that produced a notable catch: two years ago when I went with Jerry Redmond in his bass boat on his Lake Ann. The bite was slow but I boated a nice one of 17 inches.
I went alone this year to a small lake that has been around a very long time. It has a reputation for stinginess in yielding good fish, but they are there, as I discovered to my joy back on April 11 when I duped three largemouths—one over 18” and the other two 19”— into grabbing a deep runner crankbait. My plan for the birthday fishing was threefold: I would cast with crankbaits or swimbaits while I fished with night crawlers for bluegill to use as bait. When I secured a bluegill of proper size I would fish it under a float rigged on a good quality open face baitcasting setup because I had been having success at catching quality bass by using this pattern.
From the outset there were problems. I had to untangle the two rigs I wanted to fish, the one with thin 4# test red line being very difficult for me to see even while wearing glasses. The bluegill bite was slow and initially only from bait stealers, but I finally caught two suitable ones, put one out on the line and the other in a bucket of water. I set the reel on free spool so that a fish could take line without resistance and placed the rig on a forked commercial telescoping rod prop. I had the pole rigged to catch bluegill on the same sort of prop and the closed face reel also set to allow line to spool out freely. My last recollection of the worm-baited rig was that the tiny float had drifted within two feet of the bank.
I began walking the bank casting the crank lure and was several yards way when I noticed that the line out for bass had its float under and line stretched out, so I rushed to it. This did not result in a fish on so I reeled in, saw that the bluegill bait was still viable, and then cast it back out.
At this point I noticed that the prop where the bluegill rig should have been was empty. The bare forks of the stick seemed to shout with vacancy. Had I removed the rod and laid in somewhere in the grass? Could not remember doing that but I walked up and down looking for it and peered in the water, but the rod—all 11 feet of it—and the reel were simply gone. How had this happened? I was sure I had pulled the trigger of the little closed face reel to allow line to run from it.
While I wandered about in futile search for what was not there I continued to throw casts and caught an 11-inch bass, unhooked and released it in a funk. The bait bluegill had been taking the float under frequently and sometimes holding it down long enough to mimic a strike. I watched it slide under again but line began to peel from the reel with considerable speed. The bluegill was a bit larger than I like for bait, so I gave the fish plenty of time and space to take the unfortunate little panfish deeply. I set the hook with a long stretch of line out and knew it was a quality fish. It fought deep and hard without surfacing, causing me to think once it might be a catfish, but when I saw color it was green.
Catching that 20-inch bass somewhat assuaged but did not dissipate my discomfiture over the loss of a valuable and prized piece of gear. The reel bothered me little, but the rod was veteran of several interesting fights and I knew I would miss it. This birthday fishing trip would be one of mixed feelings if I could not recover it, so I began casting the deep runner plug to the water in front of the empty prop in an effort to snag the lost rig after I had photographed and released the bass and re- baited with my second bluegill for bass.
Soon the float went under and stayed down way longer than the bluegill could have held it down, but the line did not run. I lifted the rod tip, began to reel in slowly, and felt resistance. When the tip of the missing rod emerged first from the water my reaction was incredulous joy. As I reeled in all eleven feet of the rod I saw a flash of green and realized that a bass of respectable length was still attached to the line. After getting the pole safely to shore I hand-lined the bass to land it because the two rods had tangled together.
By some fortunate accident the hooked bass, after dragging the purloined rod and reel considerable distance, had entangled the rig with the bluegill under the float connected to the other one! The bass had swallowed the small hook down to the gills but the hook had not penetrated its flesh. It had just caught around one of the gills in the bottom of the fish’s mouth and all I had to do was lift it off with the pliers I use for that purpose.
When I tried to cast the recovered outfit I discovered that it would not cast because the two shafts that retract into the spool to allow line to flow from the reel and emerge to pick it up for retrieves were not retracting when I pulled the trigger-like lever that operates them. This is probably why the reel was locked when the fish struck, enabling it to pull the outfit into the lake.
So I had a “happy birthday” after all on the heels of numerous aggravations and an almost-loss of good equipment. I came away with two quality bass “kept” in the phone camera gallery. “Fish stories” often involve the iconic “one that got away” and there are numerous incidences of fish that snatched poles into the water, but how often is the tale about one that got away with the pole but later caught itself on another? Seeing that strike when it occurred and landing that hefty bass after a conventional fight against that long wispy rod, would have been an unforgettable thrill but not nearly so good a story!