Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

June 14th, 2003

The Cast Not Taken
By Roger Emile Stouff

There were oodles of small bass, some no longer than four inches, most less than twelve, hitting at nearly any fly I chose to offer them.

The bream were hungry, too, after a spate of bad weather and repeated storm fronts finally settled out. Just playing out a few feet of line, ten feet from my boots, strikes would startle me into a bad hookset.

At its south end, this pond makes a v-shaped transition into a gentle, shallow slope. Even though the undergowth along the bank here is slight, I usually stand in the water in my knee-high mudboots because it's easier. I can cast to each side of the pond where it makes this apex.

While unhooking a spunky little largemouth, movement just on the peripheral caught my attention. I looked up, and something huge was moving through the water, just under the surface, making an arrow-shaped wake as it went. The angle of the light was such that I could not see it, but the creature must have been huge. I knew - or at least strongly suspected - there were no alligators here. As the wake moved near shore, it diverted back toward deeper water, then continued a meandering, leisurely traverse of the shallow bank to the east.

Of course, I knew it was a bass, or did I just want it to be? No alligators here, no beavers, no nutria. Nothing else in this pond could have left such a swelling in its passing. The rod in my hand was a four-weight, with decent moderate-fast action and a healthy backbone, but even the two or three pound fish put an uncomfortable bend to it, urging me to coaxe them gently. Whatever was moving along that shallow bank, startling small bream so much they leaped nearly ashore in terror, might be more than this little rod could handle.

I put the small bass I had just unhooked into the water carefully, silently. Should I cast? The popper on my tippet was one of my favorites, which the fish in this pond seldom turn down. I was confident in my reel's drag system, believed the rod might just suffice if I played my cards tenderly.

Just then, the fish made a wide, sweeping turn and its wake now spread behind as it moved toward me again. I was still as stone. A dozen yards away, it veered west, and just ahead of its arrowpoint, a significant maelstrom suddenly swirled as the fish casually, without much fanfare, slurped down some prey. It continued a slow trek along the west side of the pond.

Finally I made a decision: The rod's under warranty. I played out some line, and with what was probably the best cast a passable caster at best ever made, sent the popper just ahead of the moving wake, about to lay down.

Right then, a car pulled up on the road which passes near the pond. In a frantic lurch, I snapped the line back. It fell into a muddled pile right behind the wake. The fish kept moving, undisturbed.

The anglers who come here, hardware casters, catch a fair number of bass out of this pond, but I've never seen them catch anything very large. In fact, there are few large fish here, I believe. I have caught only three impressive largemouth in it over nearly two years. It is, however, one of the few places where I regularly outfish the spinnerbaits and plastic worms.

Two persons leaped from the car and rushed to the far edge of the pond, casting at once. I was far enough away, at the other end, that they could see me but not the massive wake moving now back east, circling, little bluegill jumping away like raindrops splattering on glass. The fish, perhaps sensing this new presence, kept to my end of the pond.

I cursed fate quietly. Here I am, in the presence of the grandpappy of what is surely a largemouth bass, and I don't want to cast to it because I might hook it and reveal that, in fact, this pond is home to at least one huge fish. Of course, if I land him, I'll release him after taking a few photos, and the baitcasters will see this, return later to bombard the water endlessly in search of a prize to bring to the taxidermist and adorn their living room wall.

What to do? I was nearly trembling with anxious indecision, and I must have looked quite the fool standing there, rod hanging low, looking out over the pond, apparently right at the two new arrivals. I retrieved my line and cast far from the wake, which was continuing to move here and there inside the point of the pond. Occasional slurps revealed the fish was in fact actively feeding.

I could imagine it down there, just beyond my vision, a behemouth of epic proportions, just meandering along, king of all it knows. No other occupant of the pond dared cross it. That was perhaps why it moved so slowly, so carefully, so silently as to sneak up on prey without spooking it. Across the pond, the two anglers were catching small bass and putting them back at once, which relieved me. But the monster wake in front of me had turned now, and was heading north.

"Come back," I whispered, not even really aware that I was doing so. "Come back, you don't want to go over there, come on, come back..."

When the big wake turned and sucked down a Junebug, I realized I had not been breathing. It veered then, off course, back along the west bank. I praised it quietly.

During the last twenty minutes of light, the bass never ceased moving along my end of the pond, feeding quietly. At last, when the two visitors finally packed up and left, I was left with too little light to see very well. There was no sense in casting, I couldn't be sure where the wake was, though I thought I caught the brief outline of it to the right. I broke down my rod and packed it away, made the long walk back along the pond's bank to the waiting truck on the road.

Just as I was passing the northern corner of the pond, before entering the overgrown meadow between it and the road, a splash behind me nearly made me jump out of my skin.

Turning, a huge ring of ripples was expanding outward, just a few feet from dry land. Immediately, the shadow of a huge, finned back arched again, and in the dimness of the fading day I thought I saw a magnificient tail briefly surface then vanish again. The ripples slowly faded, and the darkening pond settled into smoothness again, save for a lone, v-shaped wake moving off south, slowly, no need to hurry, no need to fear anything.

"Good night, old man," I said to it softly. The big fish always knew I was there, I realized, and it always knew the other two fishermen were there. Fish don't get to be that big without knowing such things.

Back in the truck, I turned around on the road and eased away, glimpsing just the barest sparkle of starlight that marked the pond's existence, out beyond the concrete. As I drove away, I was glad I had never made that cast. ~ Roger


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