By Bryan Wilhelm
It happens, no matter how clever you are.
Regardless of that new technique, you have in your kit that is reported to be amazing… It happens. For every angler who fishes with a partner, there will be occasions when your partner teaches you a lesson on how to catch the big ones.
There is a lesson to be learned, each time this happens. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, because you know you are a better angler. But, you have to bite your lip and take note of the lesson to be learned.
We all rush the season. As the air temps become mild enough to bear being in a boat for a few hours, we rush to get out fishing. With high hopes, that first river trip of the season is launched. Again and again, mistakes made in the past are repeated. We fish too fast. Our technique is wrong. Whatever! Somehow, we remember what worked last year and we get dialed in.
Yesterday, my best friend and I went out. We often fish together. My wife thinks we are inseparable. It was the first trip of this year on one of the best big smallmouth bass rivers in the universe.
Jack and I have shared a boat many, many times. You can say “we are compatible.”
Almost, better than that. Jack doesn’t expect much. He understands that I am busy with getting the boat on the spot, getting set-up, boat control and more. He never wastes time with useless conversation. He is focused and on-point.
Last minute phone calls to guides and angling buddies for the past several weeks confirms the right of Spring is upon us. Catches of big smallmouth bass have been reported recently. You know what it means. You have many years experience doing this gig. Getting ready doesn’t take much time. All is ready. This is what you live for.
Water temps are in the mid 40’s. It is cold, but rising. Daylight hours are ever increasing with each day. The past 3 days are a recent history of ever-increasing daytime temperatures. The moon is right. No rain is forecasted.
There is a nervous excitement about all this.
Hooking up the boat, an hour drive to the river, pay to launch and parking the truck after putting in… all are foreplay for what is about to happen.
From experience of many years past trips, the best spot is the first stop.
It is 10:00 am. They should be here, but, oh no, they aren’t. Where are they?
Other boats near yours are catching fish. What’s up with that? What are they throwing? Tubes? Jigs?
You just catch a glimpse of their tube lure thrown over after releasing another small fish.
It is frustrating. You move. Set up. Help Jack. And you get to it. You catch one. Then another… and another. Great! Most are small. But you are catching.
Jack seems okay watching you do your thing.
Jack has his own way of fishing. It’s not for me, but it works for him. He puts on what you might think is a much too large of a bait for this time of year. Then he simply puts the rod down, with the rod tip up, propped against anything that works. His line and lure drag behind, swimming slowly, ever so rhythmically. No special action is imparted by the angler. That is Jack’s technique.
You catch another. This is fun… but where are the big girls? You think… Oh, they will come. Paying attention to all that is going on, you note there is a stone fly hatch coming off, a few big cadis flies too. Jack’s rod tip bounced. Again, a twitch. Then it’s down. His rod is bent over like it’s dragging a boot. Behind the boat a 4 pound plus, small mouth bass jumps. Jack, you son-of-a-gun. You did it! You caught the General!
You help Jack get his catch aboard. What a nice fish. She’s here, soon to spawn, so you are certain to handle with care and release her straight away.
What a great day. It’s good to be alive. High fives all around.
Later that afternoon, on the drive home, you review the events of the day in your mind. You both are tired, exhausted, but good tired. It was memorable.
But something strikes you like a brick to the forehead. Jack outdid you.
You caught more, but Jack caught bigger. He wound your watch. He took you to school… on your own playground. With all your years of experience…how could this happen? Little is said. The whole drive home you both are silent. In the other seat, you see, Jack has a sort of grin!
There are several things to be learned about early Spring trips and Jack’s do-nothin, dead stick, fishing technique.
1ST – those bigger female river fish want calories. They crave meat. When it’s minnows they are looking for, they become selective.
2ND – Water temps are low. It takes time for these fish to see, approach and take any bait. Jerk, jerk, jerk, pause… just doesn’t get bit. It takes time.
3RD – Jack always ties on a 3-5 inch suspending jerk bait, like a Rapala, X-Rap, ghost minnow. He never holds his rod. And in Spring, on the river, he usually takes the biggest fish of the trip. Ever notices the bass you catch are almost white? Next time you go fishing in Spring, try a white, pearl or translucent, light colored, suspending, minnow bait.
My fishing buddy Jack…
Take me fish’in.