Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

November 29th, 2004

Wisdom

At the south side of one of my favorite ponds, the edges of it converge into a point, an arrow pointing the way to four-lane highways and, later still, the marsh and the Gulf of Mexico.

Near this convergence there are reeds and cattails, brown and withered though winter still has not reared its head enough to really have any impact. When I stand at the tip of the point, I can cast to both sides easily.

To my left, on the west side of the pond, a peninsula of thin, dense marsh grass juts from the bank like an exclamation. Over the nearly two years I've been fishing this pond, I have always found a fish or two there.

Just before dusk one night, I tied on my favorite just-before-dusk bug, the Accardo "Spook" in black/red. Though the air has chilled, the water still retains some heat from the sun.

The Spook landed near the marsh grass point, and at once, the water blasts skyward as if leaping away in terror. I feel the weight of a fish when I snap back the rod tip, but then it is just as suddenly gone, and the Spook flies behind me.

Cursing, the time-honored wisdom chants itself in my head: If they feel the hook, they won't bite again. But, I reason, perhaps he didn't really feel it at all, just caught the body of the popper.

I place the Spook there again, but nothing happens. The conventional wisdom must be correct. That's why it's called wisdom. A few jerking pops of the Spook draw the attention of a few small bluegill that slap at it with their tails. Disgruntled, I reach into my pocket for a smoke, light it, and just as I'm putting the pack back into my pocket, the water leaps skyward again.

The rod was tucked under my arm, of course, but it didn't matter. The fish near the marsh grass didn't strike, it knocked the Spook into the air. Without even a failed hookset, the popper sailed fifteen feet away, landing within a jumbled pile of leader and line.

Now I am irate. I gather the slack out of the my line and cast back, but the Spook sits there, as the ripples of its landing expanding outward, fading like opportunity lost. I give it a few twitches, then a healthy pop.

Kapow! I lift the rod, the tip bends over, then like a catapult ungirdled, flips away from the reeds, and the Spook follows, landing at my feet.

Strike three.

Again that little voice whispered to me: Fish won't strike again if they feel the hook. He had to feel the hook that time. Probably felt it the first time, too, that's why he blasted the Spook out of the water. He was pure-dee hacked off at it. The third appearance of the popper resulted in a more enraged, vengeful strike. That I missed again.

It took four bad casts to finally make it good. Back in its spot near the point of that marsh grass. I'm not great at false-casting even with a tiny dry; with a big Spook at the end of the leader, I tend to flail the water like a mad dog until I get the fly where I want it. It's a good thing I'm not a trout fisherman.

No way he'll bite a fourth time. Wisdom says it can't happen. There's rules in the world, and there's rules in fishing

An eruption like the Tungusta Blast scared me so badly I nearly jumped out of my boots. The rod bent over again, line zipped through the guides

And poof! He was gone.

It was all I could do not to throw the rod down, run about madly, thrashing through the mud and water, kicking at red ant hills and flailing my fists at the heavens in fury. Four! The same stinking fish hit four times, and I didn't get a hook into him!

I sat down on my tackle bag to brood. Perhaps there was a school of fish there? That was the only explanation, but why couldn't I hook one? I inspected the point of the Spook. It was sharp and sound. Grumbling about wisdom, I cast to the east side of the pond until I got enough line out, then moved the Spook over to the marsh grass again.

With a gentle slurp, so gentle I almost didn't see it, the Spook slid away below the surface. Only a few small swirls marked its vanishing.

I struck the fish like there was no tomorrow.

This time, the rod bent, and stayed bent. The fish took off for the grass, but I put pressure on him, and he panicked, moving toward the center of the pond now, taking my line with him. That was fine, go boy, go! All the while I'm thinking to myself, "Fifth time! Fifth stinking time!"

We danced for a few minutes, until finally, he breeched the surface of the pond and I saw the bass wasn't near as large as I thought he would be. Perhaps three pounds? Surely no more. But this bass had the heart of a lion.

When I lipped him out of the water at last, he writhed in what I am sure was not fear, but rage. If he had teeth, I probably would have lost my thumb. The Spook had found its mark in bone, and it took forceps to remove it.

I held the bass up under the rapidly fading sun, and said, "I hope that was as much fun for you as it was for me," then laid him back into the water. Leisurely, as if nothing extraordinary had just happened, he twisted away, back to his spot in the marsh grass. Just to make sure, I cast to the same place several times, and received no hits. There was only that one fish there. One really arrogant, determined bass.

There's a lot of room for time-honored wisdom. It doesn't become wisdom for no reason. But there's times when laws don't work. Four times that fish hit before I hooked him, and on the fifth time, he just took it slowly down like a debutante sipping tea from fine china. Time-honored wisdom sometimes must fall to the wayside in lieu of the mood of the prey.

I broke down my rod in the last moments of daylight. There were bullfrogs croaking in a chorus of deep hollows, echoes from the depths of caverns. With the tube safely in my backpack, I walked slowly along the eastern edge of the pond. Frogs jumped away startled by my passing, and with each splash of escape, its comrades croaked more loudly, as if raising the alarm. Off toward the center of the pond, fish were rising, but the light was too dim for me to make out more than subtle expansions of silver, like gently sprinkled fairy dust on polished glass. I probably could have caught a few more by feel and hearing, but my day had already been made by one arrogant, ill-tempered bass and the determination to not let wisdom stand in the way of trying. ~ Roger


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