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
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
"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
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
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.
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 email@example.com
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