While camping at a favorite vacation spot, I stealthily rowed the boat closer to a known Bass hang out. The boat; an ancient vessel, was about 14 feet long, constructed of iron and cinder blocks, painted green, and had several leaks. The boat had its’ own smell. I am reminded of the boat on those rainy mornings when the worms are flooded out of their houses. It is an intoxicating aroma, especially to fishermen who know that the smell means that fish may be biting. Because of this I renamed the boat, “Rainy Mornings”, It sounds poetic, but maintains the grimy, icky essence that is fishing.
Falling into steady rowing rhythm as the hinges creaked in the oar wells, I continually checked my progress, trying to paddle as direct a route as possible to the hotspot. Such was my focus that I nearly jumped out of my seat when a bird “buzzed” the boat squawking like an old man shooing the neighbor kids off his lawn. Annoyed by the interruption, I shook my head and continued to coax the bow gently closer to a patch of lily pads that marked the spot, and provided cover for a hungry monster bass that I knew lay in residence.
I imagined the bass lurking near the edge of the pads waiting to ambush anything that came along, whether it be a frog, worm or crayfish. From the rumors I heard during check in the morning before something with feathers or fur could easily find its way onto the monsters menu. Then suddenly, the bird again swooped down between the boat deck and the lily pads. I assumed he was screaming for me to get off his lake. I could feel the element of surprise leaking away as the bird shrieked by once more. His last sortie over the bow afforded me a chance to identify the bird as a “Kingfisher.”
When I worked the spot the night before, the strikes that the bass made felt like lightning hitting the fishing rod. However, each time the fish struck I over reacted, and would try to set the hook in a similar manner to pull starting a 10 horse lawn tractor. I would then breath deeply in my disappointment, and try to remember to let the bass take the worm for a bit longer before setting the hook. This seemed easy, until the fishing rod launches from your hand like a rocket when the bass strikes again.
Thus defeated, I rowed the boat back to the dock to consider my options. Staring into the campfire, I reflected upon what I was doing wrong, and began to think about what I could do differently. I reasoned that a different method of fishing, and perhaps a smaller bait profile might sink the hook in the finned beast. It was then, that I remembered that brought my fly rod with an assortment of fresh tied woolly buggers.
The woolly bugger is a classic leech imitation that I found to be successful on the lake in the past. So, this morning, I made sure to load my fly rod, and woolly buggers into the boat before releasing the hook-shaped anchor and paddling to my destination. Letting the boat drift closer to the hot spot I carefully set the oars in place, and picked up the 5- weight, medium action, Greenstick fly rod. Knowing I only had one or two cast at the pads before the fish would discover that he was being hunted, I remained as quiet as possible as the kingfisher made a pass every couple of minutes, turning my attitude sour, with the knowledge that he was spoiling the hole.
“Nutty bird!” I grumbled to myself, as it made another howling pass. Judging the distance to be within my acceptable casting range, I let out about ten feet of line and began false casting toward the lily pads. After the third cast, I let the bugger fly and watched it drop with a plop just past the lily pad I was aiming for. I slowly pulled in line with my left hand, while holding the slack line against the rod with my right index finger. This enabled me to have a drag in place if a fish made a strike when I wasn’t expecting it. As the woolly bugger, with its undulating marabou tail, swam past the pad I marked events began to unfold. I could feel a couple of light taps on the line, before the fish made the decision to take the bait. When the line went taut, I set the hook into a nice 10 inch bass that came flying out of the water like all good bass do. He wasn’t the biggest fish in the lake, and certainly not the monster of legend, but he fought a strong fight all the way to the bow where I took his photo in the net before unhooking, and releasing him.
As I took the snapshot, the Kingfisher whizzed by adding his two-cents. I could only shrug and shake my head at the noise. Annoyed, but not deflated; I thought that a few more cast toward the lily pads might earn more rewards, so I fired a few false cast I let the line fly go. I wish I had braced myself for what happened next. As the wooly bugger sped to its destination, the Kingfisher chose that moment to put an end to the intrusion of his lake, and swooped down on the woolly bugger, and snatched it up with his beak! The bird then used the aerobatics of a jet fighter as tension was put on the line causing his flight pattern to become somewhat erratic until the slack line was used up, thereby dropping the flopping, angry bird into the water. I had heard the mythical stories of catching a small fish and while retrieving, have a much bigger fish intercept it, thereby turning an ordinary fishing trip into a fantastic story. Assuming this is what I had stumbled into, I had made a mental note to take a picture of the angry, annoying bird in my net when I landed him. This was to be used as evidence to show my skeptical friends.
This was forgotten when the biggest bass I had ever seen flew out of the water with the Kingfisher in its mouth! I watched as the fish returned to the water, but could not help noticing the line that was still attached to the bird. I quickly grabbed the rod and braced my feet against the side of the boat as the line streaked off the water like a fast burning fuse. The rod immediately bent double, and as line disappeared off of the spool I tried to keep up with it. Feeling the big fish start to tow the boat out into deeper water, I realized I had two options; lose the line, or lose the rod; because by now it was clear to me that the fish was running the show. I held on excitedly, taking note that this would probably be the biggest fish I would ever be connected to, and waited for the line to run out, which it eventually did, emitting a slight “pop”.
As the boat gently bobbed about over the small ripple of waves which were produced by the light spring winds, I replayed the events over in my mind, and decided to paddle over to where the Kingfisher hit the water. It was easy to find, because there were feathers floating all over the surface. I netted as many as I could find, and as I pulled in the last few I spoke aloud, “Who’s the Kingfisher now? You nutty bird.”
Walking back up to the camp site upon returning to the dock, a fisherman asked how the fishing was. I pointed to the anchor with my handful of feathers, and with a smile on my face said. “I need to make a bigger fly!”