Along The Trail 3-31-16

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Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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The filtered sunlight lit the pond and the surface shimmered like a million diamonds under a light breeze. The clear water was stained coffee brown from a winter’s worth of leaves raining into the pond.

I flip open the tackle box and make my choice – “Bass or bluegill?”

“Hmmm…”

I glance out over the surface of the water. Panfish were schooled near the top. I twist on a curly tail jig and toss it out. The first cast of the year is always full of anticipation.

The ripples settle and the lure slowly falls to the bottom. 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, I twitch my rod tip and bounce the jig along….

I peer deep into the water and see a bluegill giving chase to the curly tail. I slow my retrieve and the fat little fish makes one last grab and tugs at the lures tail, just missing my hook. I grin, check my knot and then pitch it out again.

“1, 2, 3″…I silently count in my head as the bait settles through the water layers. I raise the rod tip and a hard pull on the other end. The fight is on as the fish races back and forth. The line zig zags and circles back and forth, a dead give away of a panfish. I reel the fighter in and I’m surprised to see a nice red ear hooked up. A close cousin to the bluegill, but a much more difficult fish to catch and ounce for ounce a better fighter.

I pop the hook free and admire the little fellow and then drop him back into the water to fight another day.

The scenario plays out several times over the next hour or so. The panfish strike violently and several of the rubber baits are destroyed by the little fish. I’ve had my fun with a handful of panfish, but bass are cruising in the shallow water and one in particular has got my attention. I go through the baits in my tackle box and settle on old reliable….

I cast my spinning outfit far along the bank as the balsa wood Rapala silently lands on the water. A soft ring of ripples slowly disappear and the lure lies motionless. A quick jerk of my rod brings the bait to life. It bounces on the surface and then settles to rest. Dark shadows come from underneath as a school of small bass investigate. A slow twitch of my wrist and a bounce of the stick bait is too much for one of them and he explodes on the bait and inhales the lure as he lands back in the pond. The bass races for the depths and fights like a monster. I crank the spinning reel and pull the 12-incher to the bank and gingerly lift him to me.

Fat and healthy, the olive green scales and blue-black lateral line shine in the evening sunlight. I slip the fish back into the water and cast for another.

On and on, cast after cast, bass after bass are hooked, lipped and released back. All of them carbon copies, solid keepers, but not the big one I’m after. I can see a few good ones cruising along a drop off, coming into the shallow water chasing minnows. I cast to the bigger gals, but none of them take my offerings. The shadows are growing longer as afternoon turns to evening. Redwing blackbirds roost in the cattails for the night and squawk their displeasure at me being in their spot.

One more quick lure change before darkness runs me out. A long plastic worm, another old standby for pond fishing. My favorite color, something called red shad, but regardless of what the color is called, it’s been a good one.

I make a couple of cast towards the last spot that I had seen a couple of the bigger fish, but no luck. A few small, hammer handle bass follow the worm but flash away at the last second before I lift the bait from the water. I make a couple more casts with no luck.

One last cast….

The lure touches down and slowly falls. I feel the line on fingertip tighten and watch as it zips through the surface of the water. At just the right time, I heave back on the rod and set the hook! The fight is on and a minute or so later, a hefty 3-pound largemouth is hauled to the shore. I hold the chunky bass up and admire her in the low light of dusk. All is quiet, the steady breeze has calmed, there’s no noise of jets overhead, no cars on the distant highway.

Just me, the fish and the cool chill settling in along the edge of the pond as evening creeps in.

I kneel down to the water and place the egg swollen bass back into the pond and watch as she cruises into deeper water and out of sight. My knees pop as I get back to standing and shake the water from my hands.

The fishing was good, but the time outdoors was even better.

-David Hewitt