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Part Two hundred-one

First Fish

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

Well, sort of...

Opening Day has come and gone here in Pennsylvania. It is a day of ritual, a time of tradition passed down from father to son for generations back. It's also often a mad scramble for the stream bank at 8 am, people fishing elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder.

I just don't get it. Born and raised in Southern California, my trout fishing experience was limited to stocked trout in man-made reservoirs. Trout season? Whenever they wanted to bite was trout season on the fields of my youth. My Opening Day weekend was devoted to yard work, tilling up the back yard and seeding the grass, repairing the fence, assorted other household tasks that hadn't found their own way to being done. Sunday afternoon was soon upon me, and the weather was a wonderful 70 plus, a light breeze, and the smell of spring in the air. I definitely had to do *some* fishing.

I also had a new rod to christen, a lovely plum colored 4 wt that had been built up from the blank over the winter. I put the rod tube in the back of the truck, put the reel on the bench seat beside me, and headed out. Opening day Sunday is definitely better than "true" opening day, but trout weren't on the agenda. I headed out to a favorite small pond, hoping the fair weather found the bass and bluegill up and active.

As I pulled into the parking lot, a co-worker was getting off the water, loading gear and neighborhood kids into the back of his car. We talked briefly, as I showed off the new toy.

"We did decent, a few nice bass, tons of bluegill. Tommy hooked 'Fred' - damn near lost his outfit. Told him not to take his eye off the rod. Luckily, the reel caught in a rock, and he busted the line."

Fred is a bass that inhabits this pond, pushing double digits in poundage, and well into them for length and probably girth. I say probably, because no one's landed the fish yet. Another co-worker has had Fred on the line a half dozen times. And no matter how long he plays, or how hard he works, the fish always finds its way loose.

I hooked into Fred about a month ago. A chilly day was quickly taking over what had been a warm weekend. The water was the eerie clear of winter, when the floating vegetable and animal life that usually clouds the water have all died or gone into hibernation. I had seen the dark shadow drifting slowly in the depths. I laid out the weighted white woolly bugger about 3 yards ahead. I watched the white form sink into the water. I didn't see it disappear. It just did. It was there, and then it wasn't.

I knew what had grabbed the fly and the adrenaline went into overdrive. The first big fish of the season. I felt the weight, for the briefest of moments. Then the 4# test parted. The water swirled and roiled as the fish fled the scene. I stood staring, dumbfounded.

I wasn't looking for Fred today though. Just some relaxation, and a chance to play with the new rod. I tossed a Skip's Predator about the surface of the pond, to no result. A few disinterested inspections, but nothing of intent. I saw a small, light colored mayfly break free of the surface and streak towards the sky. I trimmed the predator loose and tied an a white foam Comparadun. The first cast got sipped off the surface, and a hand sized bluegill surged against the rod. Slashing, cutting and circling, the fish danced and I followed, reveling in each surge, each vibration that tremored up the line, through the rod, and into me. The first fish was unhooked and lowered back to the water. As I slid the fish into the water, I suddenly realized how easily and effortlessly I had been casting, beyond conscious consideration. I'm not a great caster, hardly even a fair one, but I had worked half the shoreline on auto-pilot, and the rod had behaved admirably.

As the 'gills grew tired of the Comparadun, I switched over to a small white bugger, time to see how this rod does working a small streamer. I lay the fly out over the water, and a quick strip just at or below the water's surface drew slashing, ambushing strikes from the 12-15" bass. The vigor of spring was in these fish and they leapt from the water, heads and bodies shaking, emerald and gold, glimmering in the sun. Fish from just under a pound to one pushing 3 pounds. One cast down the shoreline brought a large head to the surface, pushing both water and fly, before disappearing again into the depths. It wasn't Fred, but it was nice.

Finally, the incoming storm front began to blow the wind hard across the surface. I switched over to my go-to bluegill fly this year, a seed bead soft hackle. The casts that managed to find the breaks in the gusting wind were rewarded with strong takes and stronger runs, as slab bluegill made a meal of the small fly.

Opening day? I could live with opening days like these. ~ Jason

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