I stayed up, afraid to risk going back to that Hitchcock dreamatorium. Instead, confident that I had battled out of my writer’s block before bed; I spent the morning with Erin Block’s split cane fly rod, finishing up in time to get ready for work. The day before I finished up two classes, and had a new batch starting the day after. This day’s work schedule called for a team meeting, planning the next month, and some general housekeeping. Then I had business cards to pick up for Troutfest, a t-shirt test order came in with the new logos, and a couple of letters of recommendation for some excellent students. In short, there wasn’t much time allotted for fish.
Time came and went, and eventually I found myself outside smoking. A glance at my wrist informed me it was 1300hrs. I stepped out of time for a second to notice the weather was amazingly warm, partially cloudy, and the day was over halfway finished. Priorities shifted in the equal and opposite direction. To quote a blogger that isn’t blogging yet, “Honky needs to fish!” I popped smoke and shagged ass. (Sorry Mom, that’s the only one.)
The shirts, and cards were on the water route, but I stopped off at la Casa to procure waders. Given the fishing I would be partaking in in the near future and deciding against them; I traded the felt soles for the FiveFingers. In short, I was going to wet wade… in February. Frustrated that I couldn’t have figured this out before the stop, I drove with an unusually high rate of speed sense of purpose. I ran my errands with haste and charted a course for white bass. The intel on the run had been sketchy and no one I knew was really certain the whites were actively running, but all doubt was removed when I arrived at a wildlife management area in Circleville known as “The Steps”. Both sides of the road were lined with vehicles; casual anglers mostly who only wet a line once or twice a year. I parked and eyed my arsenal. I selected my Eagle Claw Featherlight, rigged it up with my vintage Montgomery-Ward Sportking “click-n-pawl” that is spooled with full sink line, and tied on a black clouser with a chartreuse wing. I grabbed my tippet spool, the clouser box, and El Poquito (my faithful wet-wading sidekick) and ventured down to mix with the crowd.
“How is it?” I asked an angler walking away, visibly frustrated. “Slow.” he exhaled, “Died about an hour ago, haven’t seen a bite since.”
I have never been considered successful in white bass season, and I don’t like fishing the San Gabriel going into or out of Lake Grainger. It’s ugly. It is a sad ugly because you can see all the beauty and potential. However no one cares this far out from the “green” city of Austin, everyone seems to think the river will wash everything away and treat it like a toilet. I found a spot rather quickly, deciding to fish close to the exit to maximize my time left. The spot was one that offered plenty of casting room, yet was ignored by the masses. It was time to swing. I shot out three casts. The first one was to the river’s edge directly across from me, stripping back slowly. I had a hunch the suh-low retrieve might make a difference since the 3-1 gear ratios around me weren’t getting any love. No bite. For my next cast, I shot down stream and off center. I let the fly swing and stripped slower. Then I nailed some slack water up and over, letting the current drag the clouser till it stopped, and set the hook. I managed to repeat it two more times, in exactly the same manner, before the vultures descended around me. I contemplated foul hooking a trophy-sized Caucasian, but ultimately decided against it. It takes time to reel one in and they tend to be vindictive when hooked.
I decided to move further downstream, away from the crowds and hopefully having a chance at the big girls before everyone else. I chose a spot with plenty of back cast room, protection from the wind, and a glorious absence of other anglers sharing the bank. I tied on a white clouser with a small red wing and started burning line through the guides. I laid out an ugly cast (ugly casts catch fish too) across the river and let it sink while I lit a smoke. I took two good drags before stripping line back ever so gingerly. About a third of the way in the line stopped. It just stopped. I was only half paying attention and set the hook out of reflex. In hindsight, it felt like a snag. Had I been paying attention, I probably would have ignored it. Or not, I do have finely honed fishstincts you know.
The line started moving and the rod doubled over, not any worse than any other fish that day though. I thought I had a white on till it changed course and started to head-shake. I then hypothesized it was a catfish when the shaking started, but it still wasn’t putting much force in the fight. That started to change as the fish got closer to the bank. He started to put his weight into it and was moving away. Not fast, just bull dogging it like a drum. That lasted for about two minutes and I almost had it to hand. My opponent still hadn’t come up to the surface to be identified and apparently was becoming increasingly frustrated with his new piercing. Like a flipped NOZ switch, the reel started screaming as the fish tried one last time to throw me. That’s when my identification theory shifted to carp. The reel was belting out its death song as I watched the cork separate on the Eagle Claw. A random guy on the opposite bank (I later made his acquaintance, his name is Joe) pulled out his cell phone and started to record what was left of the battle.
Then the fish surfaced. I was ecstatic. The footage isn’t that great, but you can hear my emotions clearly.
After the fight was over, I released the fish. I stepped back to enjoy feeling like a fly-fishing warrior god (or Kirk Werner), then washed the sand out of my reel. Normally, I quit fishing after such magic is bestowed on me, but I resumed fishing. As happy as I was about the fish I had caught, I really wanted to put up some good numbers for the day. In short, I got greedy. Fate would have none of that though as I heard a boat putter up from the main lake. Shortly after hearing the motor, I heard the guide and wow, this guy’s voice carried like a garage door after curfew. The next part left me flummoxed; he beached the boat three feet from me, and got out. He left his waderless client in the boat to fish. I looked up at Joe across the water, and he was just shaking his head at the atrocity being committed. I reeled in and went to a new spot. There, I kept getting crowded by minnow-murderers, had people walk through my lane, and just generally muck up a perfectly good day. I decided to leave. I had my victory, a friend needed some help, and there was some bragging to do. Plus, having never caught a smallmouth buffalo sucker before, I wanted confirmation from the owner of Living Waters, a fish identifying professional if there ever was, before I let my excitement get away from me.
I shot over to Shawn’s house to help his wife out with an electrical issue on the way to Living Waters. After lending my expertise, Shawn pulled out his new 4wt CGR and we clipped the hook off a fly.
We spent the next thirty minutes casting and high-stick nymphing to cats. It is surprisingly fun! Kitty tarpon can put a nice bend in a 4wt, I highly recommend it.
And the fish? It was a Smallmouth Buffalo Sucker. Like a baus.