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Part One hundred eighty

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An Hour's Diversion

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA


It started at lunchtime. I was just going to go out and grab something to eat at my desk. The usual 'MO' for a workday. But something nibbled at my brain. Gotta go down and take a look at the river. Just a peek. I'm sure it'll still be messy, I can go grab my food and get back to work.

The section of the Conestoga that I can fish from work has been something of an anomaly this year. Because of the way the run in this section is laid out, it has a tendency to stay muddy or stained well after the rest of the river is cleared. This year, the river's been stained since the start of spring. In 3 summers fishing it, I've never seen it that long stained or as overgrown with vegetation as it has been this year. Yesterday, of course, all that changed.

The water was mostly clear for the first time in a long time. I played around with the fish over lunch break, caught a few aggressive redbreasted sunfish and rock bass. Gotta come back after work.

Work wrapped up and it was down to the water. I started up at the upper pool, near the spillway and fish ladder. A few sunfish and smaller than fingerling smallmouth on the #12 Marabou Miss. I worked down the shore to the feeder creek at Deer Run. The influx of water here keeps the pool in front of the mouth clean and clear, but just beyond the pool, weed growth blocks out any reasonable chance of fishing a fly. On the bottom end of the pool, there's a break in the weeds about a foot wide. A properly laid out cast can be guided through the channel of weeds, often rewardingly.

My first cast into the gap got smacked by a sunfish as the fly splashed into the water. I missed the fish, and began a slow retrieve. The fly swam along, unmolested, to the near edge of the weeds. As I began to lift the fly up to recast, a flash of green and gold, and the rod bent towards the weeds. The fish dug into the weeds, and polite, persistent pressure kept bringing it out, to shoot off and find purchase in another clump of growth. I finally lifted fish and weeds into the clearer pool in front of me, and a small bass shot out of the weed clump, diving toward the rock edges in front of me. I lipped the fish, about 9 inches, carrying the weight of a fish half again it's length. Football doesn't just describe Sunday sports and tuna to me, anymore.

Several aggressive sunfish and another, smaller bass come out of the weeds to play. I work further down the shore. Casting in here is almost non-existent. The bank is overgrown with trees and large weeds, and three feet behind the bank is a concrete wall going up the 10 feet to the road above. Casting is either done parallel to the shore line, or tall steeple casts where the overgrowth behind permits. The weed growth isn't as bad down here, as the current tends to keep the rocky bottom a little cleaner than above.

I roll cast out towards a clump of weed and three fish shoot through the water, the first there inhaling the fly. I tighten up and the fish rockets through the , cutting circles and figure-8's in the water, and I smile in recognition. Bluegill. Two casts to the weeds yield up the other two bluegill that had chased the first cast. Casts parallel to the shore yield several smaller redbreast sunfish and smallish rock bass. Rock bass (aka redeye, goggle eye, etc.) have a reputation in this area as being good for one strong run, and then they turn into a wet dishrag. I've found this to be the case in late spring, but not so much in the summer. I tend to catch larger rock bass in late spring than I do in summer, so I'm wondering if it's something about the size of the fish, or maybe the water temperature?

I work back up to the weed patch that yielded the earlier bluegill and see a couple of more iridescent tails weaving through the water. I flip out to a break in the submerged weeds, just off the point of an overhanging willow tree. The fly plops into the water, and a small speeder comes out of the weeds and grabs the fly. As I tighten up to set the hook, I see a large shape moving towards where the fly first came down. I guide the hooked 'gill quickly downstream and let it dance through the water, away from the tree. After unhooking the fish, I flip out to the tree again, and as the fly settles, the big shape comes out again. I see the fly disappear, and lift the rod. Nothing. The fly bounces off the bottom and begins to settle again. I lift it out of the water and flip it tighter to the tree. The fly falls slowly, and suddenly, is gone in a copper flash. I tighten up again, and the water explodes. The big bull 'gill throws the shallow water into turmoil as he rips out to the deeper water. He's quickly out of my hands and on the reel, the click singing a short, sweet song.

There's something about river fish, an added strength and stubbornness that makes them such a treat to catch. When you combine that "river fish" mentality with the stubborn, bulldog attitude of a bluegill, it's a perfect combination. At 30 feet offshore, the 'gill is bulldogging for the bottom, turning and twisting against the pressure of the line. I work him in towards shore, and after a couple of panicked blasts out of the shallow water, coax him to hand. The 45-mile-an-hour traffic above me goes unheard.

I'm past my hour that I allotted myself when I got on the water. That never happens ;-). ~ Jason

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