Unless you hunt exotics or have MLD permits, the guns were cleaned and put in the gun rack back in January. The bows were stowed in their cases until the next range visit. The doldrums between the end of hunting season and the first Largemouth bass, White Bass or Crappie fishing trips can be excruciating.
Cold winters make the doldrums worse but then warmer winters, such as this year, can cause their own form of anxiety as the weather is perfect, the winds calm and the lakes are beckoning to us but the White Bass runs haven’t started, the Crappie aren’t building nests over last Christmas’ submerged Christmas trees and the much-coveted lady Largemouth bass, busting at the seams with eggs, haven’t spawned over their own nests.
Fishing guides on lakes around the state are already building momentum for people chomping at the bit to break the winter cycle and hit the water for limits White Bass, Black Crappie and White Crappie. If they’re lucky they’ll find a Largemouth hawg to reel in, photograph and release back to the depths of the lake or river or land a limit of White Bass or Crappie.
Anglers going out after the White Bass and Crappie are looking to fill the stringers or livewells to capacity with their legal limits.
Largemouth Bass anglers are masters of many techniques from flipping jigs along the edges of the shore into thick brush and working a couple of flips then moving on, to casting Texas-rigged worms in lily pads and working them through the heavy submerged vegetation without getting hung up.
When the shoreline bite isn’t happening they go out off of points and fish structure, ripping crankbaits just over underwater mounds, testing the depths with each cast until they find where the fish are holding. They use topwater plugs and frog soft plastics can lead to adrenaline dumping strikes when a Largemouth breaches the surface and engulfs the lure. Carolina-rigged worms and spinnerbaits are other options and the different blades available for spinnerbaits run the gamut from willow-leaf to Minnow swing blades to Magnum hybrid blades.
When it comes to Largemouth bass fishing there is a flavor for every taste. The flies available in every color every shape, weight and color. Wooly boogers, perch imitations, large poppers, small poppers, spiders and even mouse imitating flies that look like something you’d find eating your lunch in your workshop and not in the belly of a bass. Wet flies or dry flies are the fly anglers religion just as bait fishing vs lure fishing is the conventional anglers Mason-Dixon line, “Bait fishing? Those guys are potlickers!” The fun of fishing!
The means to reeling in that next trophy also run a wide range of options from baitcasting reels, spinning reels, spincast reels and fly rods. For fly fishing many bass anglers prefer 5wt or 6wt fly rods and reels. Some go heavier with 7wt or even 8wt, but the heavier the rod, the more tiring it is. Fly fishing is constant action and you’ll wear you wrist and arm out quickly with the heavier gear. And much like the conventional tackle guys, some fly anglers prefer lighter weight gear because it makes the fight all that more exciting. Which really translates into, “I had a great fight when I hooked this 14 ounce perch,” because you didn’t catch anything else.
Bait-casing reels have probably caused more people to lose their religion than any other type of fishing has. The dreaded backlash, aka, “birdnest,” is a constant threat. Every angler knows that Murphy is standing there over your shoulder, waiting for you to cast with all of your might to add another foot or two to your distance. He strikes anglers when they least expect it and when they most expect it. Murphy doesn’t care if you know if he’s coming or not. In the business, the refer to those backlashes as “professional overruns.” It’s the difference between being a pro fishes all day, every day, and being the casual angler who only hits the water every day after work and on the weekends.
When it comes to backlash, some anglers will use a crochet hook to work out the knots while some will put the rod down, pick up a different one and continue fishing. Every angler knows that those seconds or minutes you spend trying to get those knots out are the very seconds and minutes you miss that new lake or state record. Murphy is cruel but perhaps he’s cruelest of all to anglers.
For White Bass and Crappie the most popular option is using live minnows or jigs. It’s not unusual for a couple of Crappie anglers to walk into a bait shop and walk out with 10 dozen minnows. Many anglers submerge their old Christmas trees or other brush in lakes to entice mama Crappie to come in and make a nest. In the world of lakes, Crappie are food for other fish like Largemouth bass and catfish so they rarely venture into the open. They like to be around brush and other areas that offer some protection from marauding bass. Their nests also need protection from the ever-present Bluegill and perch who would come in and feast on their eggs and fry, which are baby fish who are barely capable of feeding themselves. But, Crappie eat Bluegill and other perch so sometimes they get a meal from a fish that was looking to come get a meal of their own. Nature is vicious. Fish don’t tend to die of old age.
Then there is the boat, which some refer to as a hole in the water that you keep throwing money into. There have been divorces where the husband told the wife, “You can have everything, just give me the boat.” Boats have really become expensive with some bass boats running in excess of $100,000. Yes, that’s right, that is one hundred thousand dollars, to buy something to go catch a fish with.
Top of the line bass boats have sonars that can see a Soviet submarine off the coast of Norway from west Texas and can tell you your future. Many of the “fish finders” now show a three-dimensional view of the underwater structure. FROM THE SIDE! So you have the lures to catch the fish, the rods to cast the lures and the boat to get you to that hot fishing spot that is going to surrender a new local bass club record.
Today’s boats have trolling motors that can pull a barge along the shoreline at 10 knots or keep you circling over underwater structure almost indefinitely. The trolling motors go for hours and most are controlled by your foot. A bass angler who couldn’t remember to take out the trash or who brought in 20 bags of groceries in one trip because he, “didn’t have more hands,” will control a trolling motor with his foot, cast his lure out while scanning left and right like the Terminator for fish breaking the surface, watch his fish finder for squiggles that indicate his quarry beneath his boat while memorizes water quality, clarity, depth and temperature while simultaneously talking to his buddy fishing the back of the boat. “I caught that fish on a chartreuse and silver 3” Rttl-Trap fished about 4’ down with a slow, jerking retrieve. The fish hit it on the downfall about 6’ off the bank by that taller cattail over there on the left.”
“You forgot our anniversary but you remember that on April 8th, 1983, under partly cloudy skies with an air temp of 68 degrees, you caught an 11 lbs 4 ½ ounce largemouth bass at 7:32 a.m. while fishing a motor oil colored 7” inch Texas-rigged squiggly tailed worm in 3’ of water that was 66 degrees, mostly clear, had a 7.7 pH with a 4.71 mph wind blowing?” When her lawyer calls you, just ask for the boat.
If that isn’t enough you get to talk about the 10-year loan for the $70,000 bass boat. And the wife will see your arsenal of baitcasting reels, spinning reels, spincast reels, fishing rods ranging from IM7 to the dependable Ugly Stick, the 6’ medium action rods, the “wormin” rods, the 5’ ultra-lights and she’ll ask that inevitable question: “Why do you need so many rods and reels?” If you ever find an accepted response to that question, please let me know so that I can share it with the world. It might be the one thing that saves humanity.
Angling isn’t a purely male endeavor. The number of female anglers and professional female anglers has increased substantially over the years. Women are getting involved more and more in the sport and, if nothing else, will learn to decipher their hubby’s fishin’ code talk. But in many cases women anglers prove to be quick learners with a significant advantage in the “attention-to-detail” category. In some cases a man will fish 10 miles of shoreline to hook one 3 lbs bass whereas a woman will fish in one spot for 2 hours and by sheer force of will get the fish to take the lure. Even fish know that they won’t win an argument with your wife.
If you’re a tournament fisherman, you have a 95% chance of spending more than you’ll ever earn. If you’re not a tournament fisherman, you have a 100% chance of spending more than you’ll ever earn on fishing. Although, you can’t replace the fun of a long day on the lake, chasing fish and telling stories of the good old days with your fishing buddy.
In years passed the man of the house would hit the lake/bay/pond/river on his own, leaving mama and the kids at the house. That started changing about the 90s when state fish and game departments began encouraging family fishing. Docks and piers were built on many of the lakes so that people who didn’t have boats could get out there and wet a line with a good chance of hooking something, preferably something more than a submerged tree branch.
Fishing has become a family affair and it creates bonds, just like hunting, hiking, bowling and other activities do. People take pride in showing others how to do something, such as fish. When someone you taught to fish is successful, especially your child, that is a proud moment for the mom and dad. We’ve all seen that first wide-eyed look of astonishment on a child’s face when he or she hooks their first fish and realizes that something on the other end of the line is tugging back at them. Then we hear the exclamations of amazement when they actually get that fish to the shore or into the boat. Many children might be reluctant to touch the fish at first, which makes the moment all the greater when they reach out that finger and poke the fish and then jerk their hand back with glee.
That one moment, that one touch creates a magic that will last a lifetime.
Whatever your angling passion is, soon the fish will be up in the shallows or schooling across a lake and the excitement will be there. The hope that envelops you each day as you head out to see what the fishing gods have in store for you endures forever, with each trip. The high level of hope and expectation are never diminished; it shines just as bright when you’re 90 years old as it did when you were 9 years old. And that rush of adrenaline will always course through your veins when you feel that strike as that lure, or when the next world record bass, Crappie or catfish engulfs that minnow.
The fish are there waiting on you. They’ll always be there waiting. You just have to go out there and test your skill and knowledge to land your quarry. But that is all part of the fun.
And remember, the next time you hit the water, take a friend or a kid with you.