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Silence is Golden

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, Kansas
Mid-April, 2004. I'd been counting, and for the last eight weekends there'd been 25-35 mph winds. Or if not high wind, a storm would hit at just the perfect time to keep me from fishing. An anti-fishing weather trend like this will turn me into not the funnest person to be around.

But finally one Saturday the Midwest hurricane season at least took an afternoon off. I exploited what the forecast said would be a brief window of opportunity, by putting my solo canoe on a nearby lake for some panfishing with fly rod.

The cove I drove to had a man in a bass boat fishing when I got there. I kept an eye on him while loading gear into my canoe. He was reeling in fish pretty steady, catching them on a small spinner it looked like. I felt a bit dejected seeing his good luck, but only because by coincidence he was working the exact spot I'd planned to fish. The longer I watched, though, it appeared he was releasing everything he caught. Hmmm...

We met 15 minutes later, him exiting the cove under power of an electric trolling motor, me entering the cove self-propelled. He courteously steered wide of me so that his heavy boat wouldn't wake my canoe, something he didn't really have to do since he was moving so slowly. This bass boater was a gentleman, and every lake needs more people like him. As we passed, he asked if I was doing any good.

"Three or four bluegill," I answered, "How 'bout you?"

"Same thing, caught some little ones back there; I let 'em all go."

"Better small than not at all," said I. He nodded, chuckled and continued on his way.

He'd thoroughly worked the spot I'd come for; likely any panfish there were spooked. I cut across the cove and began nymphing the opposite shore. He may have worked this water, too, but that would have been maybe 30 minutes ago at the earliest.

An hour later, two more keeper bluegill and four black crappie were cooling their fins inside my ice chest, making for ten keepers in possession. Forty-five minutes to go now until sundown. The light wind began dying entirely, the lake surface becoming a mirror. Prime Time had arrived; any minute more crappie might start creeping into this weedline to feed on bugs and minnows. If they did, I was positioned to cash in.

That's when I first heard then saw another bass boat, this one pulled toward me by an electric trolling motor set on Warp Factor 8. Standing in the boat were two young men and a young woman. All three were talking very loud, their conversation carrying clear as a bell 200 yards across the open water. A big dog was in the boat, too, constantly barking. Here they came, running parallel close to the weedline - my weedline.

They were after bass, casting buzzbaits at the weedline edge with a relentless, choreographed intensity. Splash-splash-splash, whir-whir-whir, yakity-yak, cast-cast-cast, bark-bark. To a stealth approach fanatic like me, this Type A abomination constituted a floating nightmare.

Fifty yards out and closing, their aggressive tactics and non-stop loud talk gave me a gut feeling that these bozos would stay glued to our common weedline until the last second. And sure enough: no farther than forty feet from collision they finally sheared away, taking a C-shaped course around my anchored canoe.

Furious at having my nearby next spots trampled and also my present spot rudely invaded, I almost flagged down these morons to give them hell for such piss-poor etiquette. At the last second I decided that just being rid of them as quick as possible would better serve my purposes. The boat literally hummed past me, so close I could have whipped a short cast into the barking dog's fur.

Barely clear of my canoe, they cut sharply back to the weedline and resumed their frenetic assault. Ten minutes later they had totally devoured the remaining perimeter of this large cove, catching exactly zip. Proof that you can lead a bass boat to water, but you can't make it think.

After they rounded the point and re-entered the lake's main body, I fished my spot for another 20 minutes (without any hits) then I lifted anchor and slowly paddled 100 feet forward to near the edge of a U-shaped pocket in the weedline. I love such places for the multiple retrieve angles they offer. But this spot had just suffered a buzzbait bombardment; was I allowing enough time for any fish here to recover? Only one way to see.

First cast into the pocket, my #10 Hare's Ear nymph got grabbed on the fall by what felt like a bluegill but the fish got off the same instant. Oh, you want to be that way, huh? Okay...I threw a second cast into the pocket, my nymph landing two feet closer to the weedline.

And...then...

Fish long enough, you get to where two seconds is all it takes to KNOW you're in trouble. The really big ones transmit a unique sensation through a fishing rod. It's like you're hung on a rock, but with that feeling comes one slow, powerful, almost a reluctant, pull. What's happening is, Big Boy down there has just glanced back to see if his boots are tied before he commences kicking your butt.

Immediately my fish went deep and bolted left-to-right toward open water. This was the same move a 6-lb. farm pond channel cat put on me last year, and it took 20 minutes to bring that fish to hand. An automatic sprinkler system now went off in my mind and I surrendered line between my left thumb and index finger, glanced down at the line loops in the floor of my canoe and prepared to put this fish on the reel, mentally downshifting from panfish mode to dig-in-and-slug-it-out channel cat combat mode.

And then before I could think, my line angled upward quick-quick and a massive largemouth bass lunged into the air shaking violently and threw my nymph at my canoe and crashed back into the lake and was gone. Gone!

From pickup to hook throw, the battle had lasted not even 10 seconds. Replaying the image of the fish at the apex of its leap, this probably was the biggest largemouth I've ever hooked into. (Assuming the hook was embedded, which I doubt.)

In my youth, losing a bass like this one would have plunged me into months of gloom because back then, boy, I was a bass hound deluxe. But now, kneeling in my canoe with my entire body trembling, it was not gloom this panfisher was feeling but a giddy astonishment - that a bass so big would grab an artificial nymph no longer than my thumbnail.

Then sweetest of all - oh, sweetest of all! - came the realization that this monster had accepted my quiet fly fisher's offering when only minutes earlier it had refused two broadside salvos from the USS Buzzbait.

A true "wall-hanger" had just escaped, but that is a bass I will never lose. It will grab my nymph then run, jump and hang suspended in spray-filled air in my memories forever. ~ Joe riverat@sunflower.com

About Joe:

From Lawrence, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's 'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.

Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor sports, writing and music have never earned him any money, but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the 'day job.'

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