The morning started at 5:30 with a couple sausage, egg and cheese breakfast wraps, coffee and an apple fritter on the ride to a permit-only lake. Grant had a couple backpacks with his camera gear. I had my 5 wt. and several boxes of warm-water flies…and a spinning rod in case I needed a “rain-maker.” It was early in the season—the bass might need some convincing. We paddled away from the dock by 6:10 with the sun, some noisy geese and a chill on the water.
Growing up in Upstate NY, I learned from a very young age that you stand a far smaller chance of getting skunked on the water if you fish for whatever’s swimming. Of all the fish I’ve chased and caught as a kid with my dad—salmon, browns, rainbows, lakers, pickerel, perch, panfish…even suckers—bass spoke to me in a language I dug. They hung out in places that I could get to as a 10-year-old with a 10-speed instead of a canoe. More often than not, they’d find my artificial offerings worthy of a good thrashing…epic battles between a kid in Chuck Taylors and fish with anger issues. My haul of largemouth on any given summer day was as good a definition of my standing on this planet then as it is now.
For the better part of the first hour, I peppered a couple hundred yards of undercut banks, overhanging bushes and submerged trees with a dark minnow pattern. No dice. I switched to a favorite crayfish pattern I learned how to tie from a friend and fishing guide in Northern Virginia, working shallow shelves, weed-bed edges and drop-offs. Still nothing. The wind had come up and was not in our favor, which made it tough to get the flies back into likely spots, let alone anywhere near a strike-zone. I rigged the spinning rod with a tube jig, apologized to Grant for the switch and made my first cast.
No worries, he said. Cant’ get pictures if we don’t catch any.
He pointed out a spot for me to cast to. His gut (and his camera lens) told him there’s a fish there. I obliged and promptly hooked up with a decent largemouth. Not only was Grant taking shots, he was calling them… nice. I landed a couple more as we made our way past a series of downed trees. The beaver had been busy.
It was around 10 when we paddled into a wide, deep draw at the northeast end of the lake. Protected from the wind, the weed-beds were still about 3” – 4” below the surface and a huge blow-down occupied the shallower water near the cattails. It was murky below 12” and there were small rises everywhere…bluegill after bugs. I picked up my fly rod and tied on a tan #8 soft-foam pencil popper. Big enough to get the bass to pay attention…and keep the panfish off the hook. I laid the first cast out into the middle of a weed bed, stripped it once over an open pocket and set the hook as a nice little largemouth crashed the surface. I spent the next hour sight-fishing for bass suspended in some of the wider, sun-lit pockets and enticing blind ambush-strikes from the thicker weeds and blow-down. The fish weren’t huge, but they were just as angry as always.
On our way back to the dock, we decided to check out the long shoreline on the north end. The wind settled down to a warm breeze, sun about at its height, and we drifted just steady enough to not need the paddles. I cast the popper back up ahead of us toward shore, teasing it around half-submerged branches. I hooked and lost a few, hooked and landed a few more, including a “kicker” from under a big, half-submerged log to end the morning. I felt like I was 10 again.
As the weather and water get warmer, I’ll be back out on the lake with both of my boys. You can bet, they’ll be after whatever’s swimming…looking for some epic battles of their own.
Photography: Grant Taylor
**This originally appeared in Bloodknot Magazine, August 2010.