Fishing has been a part of my life since before I was born. I’ve mentioned before on this site that I was born about six weeks before my due date, which my Mom says is because she was fishing on Pyramid Lake that week, and the rough waters “shook me out”.
Growing up, we’d frequently camp as a family, and with that came time fishing. I loved the cork handle of my small spinning rod and had a fascination for underwater life wherever I could find it. Salamanders in the campground streams. Fry and crawdad in the creek behind my housing development. Endless Shark Week marathons. The saltwater tank at the Chinese food restaurant. I have always been drawn to the places where life thrives under the surface.
As a kid, throwing worms and eggs for little planter trout in streams near our campsite was the perfect cure to the boredom of watching your parents do camp chores.
When I was in high school and had a little more independence, I’d load up a bike and some tackle into my GMC Safari mini-van (is there anything cooler?) and head to the local residential lake. Shadow Cliffs was a 250 acre gravel quarry turned recreational area, when in 1971 the U.S. Bureau of Outdoor Recreation marked $250,000 for development at the site. The park features a main lake, picnic areas, waterslides (now removed), as well as a collection of interconnected bass ponds on the back part of the property. Interestingly, this area would be the backdrop for two highly shaping and significant life events, but that’s a post for another day.
I rarely caught anything in the lake or the ponds, but I loved biking into the deepest part of the park where the trails faded and everything looked more like wild public land than a groomed park for chatty new moms pushing strollers. Occasionally I’d retrieve a Rapala lure and pull in a largemouth bass, then release the fish back into the water, not because of any ethic of conservation but because I was a kid that didn’t have any clue what the hell to do with a live bass, and certainly not on a bike.
I recently had an invite to fish some bass ponds on a friend’s property not far from my home. He works in wildlife conservation and land mitigation and is an avid outdoorsman. I immediately knew of two or three reasons why I wasn’t prepared for an outing like this but also that I had to say yes.
Flyfishing was likely not going to be an option for gear and knowledge reasons, so after cracking open a tackle box from the dusty corners of the garage, I pulled out a few lures that haven’t seen the light of day in over two decades. Staring at the measly selection I felt grossly under-prepared and ill-equipped but I was still excited to rewind time and try something I hadn’t touched since before I could vote.
The hike in to the ponds was swampy and stunningly beautiful. I have seldom been so thankful to be wearing waders in my whole life, with the pungent stench of decomposing plant matter shooting into the air in the deeper sections. A single trafficked path, broken by feeder streams created by the beavers, led through the tall grasses, sometimes going over my head.
We split up and floated around the pond, throwing frogs and jigs on the edge of the weed-bed, hoping to grab the attention of a predator under the surface. That may sound dramatic but largemouth regularly feast on prey up to a third of their body size/weight. That’d be akin to watching me sit down and work a 65lb steak. During their 10+ year lives, they use their lateral line to detect movement in the water and help them hunt in murky water conditions.
Working those edges, you’d occasionally see the bulge of a wake following your frog back towards you. Most of the time, it would peel off, returning to the shadows and vegatation. Once in a while, it was fireworks.
Topwater takes feel like small explosions once your ears have acclimated to the symphony of birds cawing and singing, the wind moving through the valley, and the distant faint hum of a pair of paramotors enjoying the views of the valley from above.
We each got a few fish, and as light waned began our hike back through the swamp to the truck.
I’m always grateful for any fishing experience on private water. With that privacy comes a sense of peace and stillness. More than that though, I was thankful to be reliving some of my earliest connections to the water and the critters that live in it. With a rod in my hand as a child, I found something more important than fish, and to find that again was a gift.