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Part One hundred sixty-nine

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Four Spots, Four Fish, Forget it!

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

Sunday didn't start with a lot of promise. 7 am, and already, the humidity draped itself around me like a woolen cloak. Had to get out and do a little fishing before the day sucked the strength out of me. Off to fish bluegill, to lift my spirits and put a smile on my face to keep the weather at bay.

It was not to be, however. For the second time in as many trips, "my" bluegill pond was desolate and unproductive. Where there used to be the flashing iridescence of blue tipped fins, there are now only the shadowy black tails of desperate largemouth bass. A full circuit of the pond tossing a woolly bugger, and I see maybe two dozen sunfish, and nearly as many bass. One bass suicidally throws himself upon my woolly bugger, and after a couple of splashy jumps, is released. I don't know where the fish have gone. The ones I do see are not interested in anything, they all seem on edge at the presence of the bass.

And the bass are far more present than they have ever been. Packs of three and more prowl the shoreline. I see more bass charging into the shallow rocks after bluegill on this morning than I have in all my trips here before. The only thing I can figure is that someone has come in and fished out the pond of sunfish. Taken advantage of their willingness to hit a bait and plundered this small jewel, hidden amid urban life. It has left the bass wolfen, prowling the shallows for the few meals that remain. Maybe in a week or two, the bass will be so hungry they'll hit what I throw out in front of them, even the big ones. But I won't be there. I won't tease them with the promise of a meal that will go unfulfilled.

The pond below this one has seen it's own downfall, not by marauding men, but migrating geese. This pond's bluegill were not as large, but far more numerous. It had lots of good bass; some of which I have seen harvested. Now, the pond is a thickened pudding of multiple greens, the water thick with the algae bloom that has flourished on the nitrogen rich droppings that the geese leave in the pond each night. I can see a few fish in the shallows, and they either can't see the fly drifting past them, or don't care for it.

I pack things up, heading down to an access to the Conestoga River I found last year, but never got a chance to fish. The riverbank is heavily wooded here, and wading is pretty much a must. This is another exploratory trip, I don't plan on doing too much. A few casts, a few follows from decent sized sunfish. I notice a trickle of dirty water coming from under overhanging upstream branches. A bit of bushwhacking confirms my suspicion, carp. I'd have to wade to the middle of the river to fish into the shore for this fish, and my earlier experiences have me feeling too apathetic to return to the truck and get my wading boots.

One more place to try, a tidbit of information passed on from a gentleman I met fishing. Sure enough, there are the ponds he mentioned. One is in front of a housing tract; I'll leave that one for another time. The other is an artificial wetland, designed to draw migrating waterfowl for the pleasure and observance of the people in the adjoining park. I trek down to the waters' edge and see a few sunfish moving for the deeper water at my approach. I toss around a brown flash bugger, to the curiosity of several sunfish, but with no action. I gently test the reliability of the 2 x 6 laid out from the bank to the intake pipe. Casts from the intake structure get a few strikes, but no hook ups. I switch over to a muddler pattern I got in a warm water fly swap. Standard muddler head, with a peacock herl body, and a turkey wing tail. Again, a few strikes, but nothing solid.

I go back up to where I was teasing the sunfish (or vice versa?) earlier. They're a little more willing to hit this fly, being a little more mouth sized, but I miss several strikes. The shallows above me are well weeded in, but I've seen something up in them, chasing bait out of the water. Now the water is breaking out ahead of me and I fire off a cast. I'm stripping the muddler in when I see the water breaking further out. I strip in quickly, to get another cast out, when the water boils out where my fly should be.

The light bulb flickers, fades, flickers again, and then lights, with a whiff of ozone. I throw out as long a cast as the upsloping, weedy bank behind me will allow. Strip, strip. Strip, strip, strip. Twitch. Strip, strip, boil! Strip again to see the fly line curling out towards deeper water. A 10" bass, aggressive and acrobatic, dances across the water. He turns against the pressure of the rod, and his back is almost emerald green, contrasting with the bright sides that flash a color that seems golden by the time it reaches up through the stained water. He comes to hand, and returns to the water, a living piece of jewelry in a liquid framework. The scene replays itself a couple of times, each bass slightly larger than the one before.

Time bears down on and me and I have to get back. Back to my family, the day's chores, the things that must be done. Back to my daughter's joy-filled young laugh and my wife's sparkling smile. This place locks itself into my mind as a place to return, to hopefully mine some few small treasures from it's waters again. The beauty here can even overwhelm the anger of the things I have seen and felt this morning. ~ Jason

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