Desperate for water, but aware that the Atchafalaya
River Basin had yet to clear up its muddy flow, I
grabbed a couple rods after work and headed to a pond.
A cold front had passed through over the weekend,
but it only dipped temperatues down into the
mid-forties. I thought perhaps there might still
be a fish willing to strike, if I held my mouth
just right. Upon arriving at the pond, I started
setting up on the tailgate of the truck. I use an
Okuma soft tackle back pack, which I simply adore,
and I have managed to adapt it to carrying a couple
of rod tubes by lowering the butts into the lower
side-pocket and using the strap midway up the pack.
It holds four plastic tackle boxes below, not true
fly boxes but they work great for me. I can keep all
my knotless leaders in little pouches, and there are
multitudes of spots to tuck cleaning pads, bug spray,
pliers and the like. I keep four reels in a shaving bag
in the upper compartment of the Okuma pack.
I assembled my seven-weight nine-foot South Bend cane,
realizing that March is a great time for the bigger
bass, and I knew there were some lunkers in this
little pond. While looping the leader to the fly line,
a young fella pulled up on a four-wheeler, his chocolate
lab huffing alongside.
"Going fishing?" he asked.
"Well, I'm going casting," I said with a smile,
though I was hoping I didn't appear overly friendly.
I had only about an hour of daylight left. "You never
"Oh," he said, clearly disappointed. "I was going
to let the dog swim, but I'll find someplace else."
I found this show of courtesy refreshing. "It's big
enough," I said. "You can let her swim on one side,
I'll fish the other."
"No, really," he said. "I'll go find another spot.
I don't want to mess you up. I brought a rod out here
one day and every time I'd cast, she's go after it.
I gave up pretty quick."
With a smile and a wave, he and the dog meandered
down the road in search of other water. I wish
everyone were as polite.
Rigged up now, I shouldered the back pack and put
on my Stetson. South Bend in one hand, I walked
the fifty yards to the pond. The wind was breezy,
making me grateful I had rigged the big cane rod,
though I had a six-and-a-half foot graphite
four-weight in its tube in the back pack if
things calmed down.
There are few things I enjoy more about fishing
than casting a bamboo fly rod. I am no purist:
I have graphites and canes. But I find I can cast
farther and better with bamboo, and though the
weight of a nine-footer wears on my casting arm
after a while, it's pure delight for me. My cane
rods are decidedly production vintage: Grangers,
South Bends, better grade Montagues and
Horrock-Ibottsons. All reworked with modern guides
and spacings. If I break one on a big bass, well,
I'll cry a little, but far less than if I broke
a Leonard or a Thramer.
Over the winter, I had stocked up on flies through
Ebay, since I don't tie. I have found that bass
love flies not intended for their big mouths. In
this particular case, I had on the leader an
Atlantic salmon fly, I'm guessing size six, and
on my third cast, a twitch of the line suddenly
was followed by a giant pull. I lifted, the South
Bend curved over, and I was sure I had a respectable
About a minute later, he broke the surface, and I
saw it was a big, dark bluegill, a good one pounder.
A one pound bass would not have fought nearly so
well. Though he would have been a blast on the
four-weight, the South Bend still gave me a thrill.
After taking a couple pictures, I let him back into
his pond. I'll always be amazed by the fight in a
I worked my way around the pond, casting the salmon
fly, which was adorned with mostly silvery feather
and a splash of red and yellow. Dusk was nearing,
and the world one moment was bright and washed out,
the next golden and saturated, as if reanimated.
Near the far side of the pond, the line twitched
four times in rapid succession, and several minutes
later a three-pound bass met my thumb. No Atlantic
salmon, but then, Louisiana folks can't be choosy.
I caught three very small bass, all half as big as
the bluegill, over the next few moments as the day
faded across that westward horizon, splashing
dragonfire across the scant few clouds. A half hour
before dark, the pond was suddenly full of rising
fish, and I quickly put a popper on, my all-time
favorite, the Accardo "Spook," which brought in
three more pound-and-a-half bass.
The temperature was dropping, and I was in short
sleeves, the sun was so low now I could see my fly
only barely. I dismantled the rod and dried it, put
it in its sock and tube. I found a silver flask in
the Okuma bag, sat down on the bank and watched the
fish rising, unmolested by me, chocolate labs or
fire-breathing dragons somewhere over the curvature
of the earth to the west. Somewhere behind and to
the north of me, Atlantic salmon would be rushing
up cold rivers when the time comes, and somewhere
else, anglers not so unlike myself are donning waders
and chasing rainbows and browns in their favorite
streams. To the south, battles with redfish and black
drum are taking epic proportions in the retellings.
In the final moments of the day, before I made
the walk back to the truck and home, I thought of
my father again. Last chief of my people's nation,
he was perhaps also the last of the rank of
Chitimacha known as the Suns, the lineage from
which the chief was chosen. I thought of all the
things he had given me: Love, a safe and happy home,
wisdom and boundless vision. But perhaps the thing
which will follow me with the most devotion, until
the end of my days, is this pursuit of fish with
the rod, and this soft, solitary silence of distant
fire at the end of the day.
Like many teens, we seldom agree on anything during
my adolescent years. Time passed, as time is apt to
do, and I quit fishing for more than a decade. Other
things, things I deemed more important - though they
weren't - occupied my spare time. Most of my tackle
rusted and deteriorated. Pursuing fast cars, girls
and keeping up with the Joneses, I spent more than
ten years never wetting a line or taking a bream.
Over that time, my best fishing pal moved away and
was replaced by another, who moved away as well,
and Dad retired.
I remember the day everything changed, everything
came full circle. It was a golden dusk in late fall,
before the grip of winter had come but the heat of
summer had faded. I had gone over to my parents'house
for something or another, and noticed Dad's car was
absent, the boat shed was open and empty. Walking
along the path to the bayou, through the natural
arch between bright green junipers, browning cypress
and evergreen oaks, I could see a silhouette in the
last hours of the day blazing out in gossamer hues
of reds and oranges. The sun conjured shimmering
wraiths of bright white, unleashed silver magic,
on the unmoving bayou surface. Glimmering light
sketched the shape of that old bateau, tied off
to a cypress beyond the edge of the bank; the old
man, straw fishing hat, still-powerful shoulders
and a handkerchief dangling from a back pocket;
four fishing rods, thin black shadows, propped up
on the gunwales, motionless. A halo of shipwrecked
sunbeams fringed everything, but nothing moved. Not
the boat, not the cypress needles, nor the old man,
save for his head, which slowly panned from side
to side, as he watched the dusk overtaking the day,
a day spent as he wanted to spend it, in an old
wooden boat on the water.
"Hi, pop," I said quietly, as if my voice would
somehow shatter the vision, send it raining into
pieces like a broken windowpane. The years I had
not fished, and that he had spent fishing alone,
accumulated in the tree limbs, scattered across
the clouds and sank into the motionless water of
The outline of the straw hat tilted, but he didn't
look back, kept his gaze fixed on the rays fanning
out from that brilliant eternal flame in the west.
"Whatcha say, boy?" he answered kindly.
At the edge of the bayou at my feet, the water might
just as well have been ice it was so still. "Caught
"A few cats and one little perch," he said. "Tide's
not moving much."
"Slow day," I observed.
"Slow day," he agreed, but I knew, somehow, at
some level I had until then forgotten, that though
maybe the fishing was slow, a slow day was precisely
what he wanted, what he watched fading across the
horizon of cypress peaks down the bayou.
I sat on a stump and we didn't talk anymore, we
just watched that slow day pass into night. Years
and years of disconnection fell away like the leaves
which autumn claims. I was aware that while the dusk
was communal between us, the only thing separating
us was my seat on dry land and his on the water.
A chasm of years began to close along with that day.
The edge of the sun dipped lower, finally vanished
behind the tree line; orange, pink and billowy white
brush strokes swept across the sky; tiny specks which
were distant birds climbed high winds on their flight
south, and I remembered the wonder of a slow day on
the water and never forgot again. ~ Roger