August 23rd, 1999
Ol' Thumper

by Southpaw

Ol' Thumper
Ol' Thumper comes to me from a distant grandfather. It was one of the first graphite versions. A 'Blue-Sky,' by Garcia, who had not yet worked out all of the kinks at that time. I think it should better have been called Ol' Thumper due to it's distinct action. It is a very strong fly rod; 81/2 feet for an 8 weight line, very small stripping guide and a bit bigger tip-top, which still holds up the leader knot. Light blue with distinctive wraps, the bottom half is a cast-off from the telephone company, it does not bend at all. The top, in contrast, is more related to the willow tree. Very bendy. I am guessing there are a few who fondly remember these rods now with a slight chuckle and grin.

I am fortunate to live near five rivers that have largemouth bass and bream, three of which get enormous fishing pressure with the metal flake boats as they have the largest 'bucket-mouths.' I avoid those and one river which is very in-accessible; that leaves the river I do fish. Sometimes I fish alone, sometimes with a partner, but always the same stretch of water. By the bridge, the third built on the spot in my lifetime, this one is substantial though, with huge, pressure-treated red-cedar pilings, deep into the substrate.

The river, known mostly for it's bream and panfish, does hold some largemouth all of which seem ready to take my favorite popping bug. Wildlife is everywhere; birds, turtles, deer, everything is very pleasant. Even with the occasional snake thrown in. This year has been very hot and dry. Temperatures into the nineties by ten in the morning, bright sun on the water all day long. I know the books say fish early and late to avoid those conditions. That will not work for me on this place.

Fishing early means you run into everyone and their cousins. Some of them you j ust do not want to talk to; the ones still talking it up about how big the fish was they got. So, then there is the fish late idea. Good for some places, just not here. Come twilight there is a four layer deep assault of mosquitoes waiting in the woods. With that type of attack the average person develops some mighty quick moves for self-protection, and some unusual moves with a casting bug to say the least.

The name Ol' Thumper comes from the way you wind up and toss most bass bugs. Well, the way I do at least. While I am in my boat, I start my cast low to the water. You see, you really need to have a lot of rod moving before the leader starts to move at all.

As I lift up on Ol' Thumper, the tip-top is moving back toward the back-cast. My casting elbow is flaring and flapping outwardly. I instinctively lean forward on my boat seat and inhale. While this is happening the bug and leader are starting to pass over my head. Sometimes just a bit too close. At times I barely avoid being hit by ducking. Then, as I anticipate the rear tug of the rod, I start my forward cast. I lean forward for the achievement of the maximum distance that is needed. While doing all of this, I am still holding my breath. As the near super-sonic speeding bug whizzes by my fishing cap, I exhale a sound that sounds like a 'thump.' Kind of a 'through-clenched-teeth' sound. At exactly that same instant, without fail the speeding bug travels by making the distinctive 'purr' sound.

Putting it all together, as movements you get 'Ol'...thump...purr.' I expect there are many of you who know the sounds of bass bugging. So, there you have how the rod got its' name.

While on two recent days with my fishing partner, things have started to get weird; downright major weird is more like it. The temperature hits 97 and the sun is broiling; and we are still getting into some fish. Some nice fish, bucket-mouths, and some bream to boot. When all of a sudden my leader goes straight tight. Rearing back in a slow motion, I start to set the hook. Everything then just goes limp. Just like that. I'm thinking I did not tie the knot correctly and am losing another bug. I do that a lot lately. Then, just like magic, up pops my bug. While my face is resisting the 'what the' look, my fishing partner says, "Hmmm, big fish?" I move the boat over to where the bug is just resting on the surface, thinking for the moment that there is a big bass down there looking up at me. Something to think about sometime. I reach over the side, pluck the bug from the water, and tie it back onto my leader.

Only moments later, as I'm thinking about what might have been attached to my leader, the same thing happens all over again. Leader, fly-line and now the rod bend deeply, (except the butt section of course) fast onto a mighty bass. Just like that. But, this time Ol' Thumper and I stay with it. This is a true fight. Down and dirty. No holds bared. Hard and tough. The fish dives deep and rolls in the weeds, then in a heartbeat, climbs right out of the water and makes a belly-flop that sprays water all over my partner. Quick as lightening, another deep and long dive into the depths of the river. With my mouth hanging open in amazement, I am in awe of this powerful fish and thinking at this time I may be on the losing end of this fight. Then the bass surfaces again and soaks my partner yet another time.

Well, moments later, I am lipping a bucket-mouth that I guess weights about eight pounds and is about 18 to 20 inches long. My mouth is still hanging open, I am mighty sore in the shoulder. With a sincere tip of my cap, I revive the bass and release him back to his home. My fishing partner, in a minimalist way mentions, "big fish, huh?" Reeling in my line, I grunted a kind of yes. I was thinking with all that happened, I was very luck to say the least.

On our next outing my fishing partner and I visit the same river, but a bit upstream this time. The day is hot as usual and I spend more time watching my fishing partner than fishing, only occasionally tossing my bug into the water. On one toss the bug disappears. No tug-0-war, no freight train hit of a bucket-mouth, it just slowly goes down with only slight resistance. My usual open mouth look, my eyebrows stitched together, and as I start to strip in some line, my fishing partner says, "You got something there?" I am still without an idea. I'm seeing a dark mossy orange thing spinning and twirling as I bring it up.

With great wonderment I tentatively raise the leader and there hooked on the hard part, not the soft part, but the hard lip of the shell was a Painted Turtle all safe and hidden inside, and me with one of my dumbest looks on my face because where he is hooked, I'm thinking, "I'm using a floating popping-bug here, right?" I am wondering how did this happen, when my fishing partner asks, "Any fight to those turtles?" while giggling and laughing at me. Well, with that I just sat there trying to figure it out and my fishing partner catching some nice bass and lots of bream.

After I came to the conclusion that there is no way to explain how I caught the turtle, I started tossing the popping bug again. Next, I do not know how to describe what happened. I saw my bug hit the water with the usual splash landing sending waves and rings around. Then, the best way to say it is I saw a huge mouth open up. My thought at the moment was 'Jonah and the Whale.' my popper was going to be 'Jonah' without any doubts. My next thought was to steel myself and Ol' Thumper for the collision of the coming freight train. But it did not happen. The birds were singing, the water was still, the sky a murky hazy blue, the air thick with humidity.

A loud and clear SNAP type of sound burst into the air. It happened so fast I did not know what happened. Just like that, Ol' Thumper was broken in two. Above the upper half, just an inch above the ferrule joint. The fishing partner at the moment saying. "Big fish, huh?" Me with the look of total despair and yes that open mouthed look of bewilderment, grunting a weak yes. After the surprise wore off I reeled in the upper part of my rod and fly line, minus part of my leader and the popping bug.

So, when it's really hot, things are going weird for some reason or another, and you catch a turtle, might I suggest to you that you just reel in you line and watch your fishing partner for the day. That's what I should have done. Oh yes, there is a chance that through a friend of mine I may be able to get Ol Thumper fixed up, ready to go get some more bucket-mouths; maybe find the one that broke the rod. Of course, minus a little bit of the upper part, that is. ~ Southpaw

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