© Copyright 2019 by Don Shook
Winner--2019 Animal Nonfiction
Ages ago, when a boy, I accidentally caught a two-pound bass on a cane pole rig using a night crawler. My Uncle Johnny had shown me where to cast the bait. I was thrilled and the experience sealed my love of fishin’ for life.
A bamboo pole, an eight-pound test monofilament line, and a tiny barbed hook was my only equipment, my uncle’s advice my only technology. From that point on, I would pursue the wily largemouth bass with a vigor rivaled only by my pursuit of the lovely Ellen Morgan during my stint as a high-school quarterback. Over the years, I certainly landed my share of fish, though I never hooked nor scored with Ellen.
Eons before Man decided fishin’ was a sport and not a relaxing pastime, he depended on it for survival. Fishin’ began the first time a fish mistook a wading Neanderthal’s toe for a worm and was kicked ashore. It smacked a tribesman in the mouth, tickled his taste buds, and was quickly devoured by the tribe.
Since then, Man’s love affair with piscatorial pursuits has continued unabated until the advent of the 250 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. Along the way, this fascination perpetuated “one that got away” stories about mystery, adventure, relaxation, and plain ole fun associated with fishin’. Then the motor, and other technical items, took these things out of the realm of pastime into a category known as “sport fishing.”
However, sport fishing, especially for the largemouth bass, has evolved into little more than which best equipped technician can employ the most electronic gadgetry in the most scientific way to “catch” the most or biggest fish.
days of sitting in the shade on a dirt bank, dangling a wiggly worm
strung on a tiny shank hook in the water beneath a red ‘n white
bobber, and hoping for a full stringer of tasty bream or crappie, are
enjoyed only by the young, the poor, or the privileged few who, like
me, still know what a catharsis this kind of fishin’ can be.
During late spring of ’62 my college roommate, Bob Shearer came bursting into our apartment behind the old field house yelling excitedly, “Hey, it’s such a great day, let’s go fishin’!”
That sounded like a terrific idea. It was a gorgeous sun-splashed day; temperature, barometric pressure, everything just right for catching fish, and who really wanted to sit in a classroom on a perfect East Texas spring afternoon?
I told him I had no fishin’ gear at the college, but he replied that I shouldn’t worry; I could borrow one of his rigs. So quicker than a firefly flicker we were headed down the Greenville highway toward a large stock tank sitting just off the west side of the road.
When we arrived at the “fishin’ hole” it appeared half the school had similar intentions. At least thirty students and a few ole hands lined the banks…fishin’ corks bobbing in the water before them. We sighed, disgruntled, but resolved to “wet a hook” anyway. The day was too glorious to go back to class.
We took the gear from the trunk of Bob’s car, walked down to the water’s edge and found an empty spot on the bank. On the way, I asked one of the fishermen if the fish were biting. He replied, “Well, I’ve been here all day and ain’t had a nibble. Same with everybody else.”
Discouraged, but undeterred, we prepared for battle. Bob fished a rusty yellow ‘n black Hula Popper lure out of his tackle box, which I tied onto my rig, anxious to land the “big one.” But before either of us could cast our lines, the sound of an enormous splash drew everyone’s attention to the center of the pond. Every fisherman, ourselves included, seemed a bit shell-shocked. In the almost geometrical center of the 3 acre pond was the visual aftermath of what had to be an enormous largemouth bass.
“Lord, he has to be a five pounder!” I gasped, as slowly expanding circles bled across the water, extending from the point where he’d splashed only breathless seconds before. “Five pounds…at least.” I repeated, while others, ‘round the bank, seemed not to notice, intent on their motionless bobbers dotting an opaque surface in the late afternoon glare. I suppose they thought the monster fish would head for their rigs next. On the other hand I knew “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
In haste, I flung the Hula Popper toward the circle, back-lashed, and left the shiny lure stranded on the shore, my line a tangled mess. “Great cast,” one of them mocked. Did I mention that fisherman are unrelenting, ruthless competitors?
The others laughed, no fancy rod ‘n reel for them despite the empty stringers at their sides. The splash seemed nothing special, my cast…less. “Need some help?” One wiseguy teased. Although I probably did, he’d never know. We also masked our feelings until our stringers were filled. So I ignored the question and the deriding chuckles along the bank, concentrating on the task at hand...
Undismayed, I cleared my line and quickly cast again. The Hula Popper plopped onto the water, slowly settling in a moment which ended with…eruption of his strike! The same fish had broken the surface again, only this time gulping my lure. The black ‘n yellow Hula Popper had vanished from sight. “My Lord!” I yelled, rearing back in an attempt to set the hook. “I’ve got you!”
In seconds, I had hooked the fish and the others attention. The weight at the end of my line was enormous. Then it was weightless as the fish spit the lure out and slack immediately found my line. The rod had straightened and resistance flown. “Crap!” I yelled. Bob shook his head. The others smiled or snickered, apparently glad I’d come up short. Perhaps they felt now they’d have a chance at landing the monster. But I was not to be defeated.
Disappointed at perhaps landing the biggest black bass of my fishin’ career, I cursed under my breath and slowly retrieved my lure. “Tough luck,” Bob remarked, “I thought for sure you had him.”
“Me too.” I replied as I examined the Hula Popper, straightened the hooks and cast again. Bob shook his head again.
“Are you nuts?” he asked.
“Man, that fish is gone. Even if he wasn’t he won’t bite again. He felt your hooks.”
“We’ll see.” I replied as he shook his head and continued casting toward various spots along the bank. The others also shook their heads, shooting demeaning glances my way. Despite their joy, they obviously felt a degree of pity for me.
Still upset and a bit angry, I glared at the Hula Popper swaying lazily in the almost motionless water. After waiting for perhaps 2 minutes with nothing happening, I gripped the handle of my rod, intent on reeling the bait in so I could cast toward a better spot. The Hula Popper moved and the water erupted. I swallowed my breath as my heart found my throat. “My God!” I shouted. The fish had struck again.
Only another fisherman can describe the unbelievable adrenaline surge a huge fish strike imparts. Nerve endings explode, pulses race, and Valhalla is achieved. This time I REALLY set the hook. In a microsecond, my rod tip bent forward, the remaining shaft following suit. I gathered my strength as my arm muscles tightened and my white motor neurons seized control. At once, I knew I had him. The pond water erupted in a spray of disoriented motion and the monster broke the surface, surging upward and standing on its tail. That’s when I jerked back and felt the unbelievable weight. With no small degree of effort, I began turning the handle...the fish resisted and jumped again. Peripherally I heard the clatter around the pond. Serendipity had arrived. But the monster was mine. I knew I had him. For the next five minutes, struggling to maintain my balance, I played tug-a-war with the creature from the deep. My Lord, he was strong. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bob shaking his head again.
After a titanic struggle, I landed the huge black bass that I then reeled onto the bank. Both fish and fisherman were exhausted. Breathing heavily I immediately set my rig aside, grabbed the line just above the hooked monster and lifted him out of the water. He twisted about, fighting for escape, his black ‘n silver body gleaming in the reflected sunlight. “My God, he’s gorgeous.” I gasped, as much to myself as anyone else. Bob nodded in agreement. The others ‘round the bank observed with a collective blank stare.
Then, thinking certainly beyond my youthful reasoning, I grasped the hook, yanked it out of his lip, and slowly released him into the shallows. He paused only briefly, swished his tail and vanished into the depths. I watched and sighed deeply. Bob smiled.
I looked up and shouted for all to hear, “He was a five
pounder…at least!” Smugly hiding my grin, I looked at
Bob. We re-packed our gear, got in the car and drove off…I
guess the others kept on fishin’.