Heat and drought have pushed the bass and most of the bluegill out to deeper water in the little lake behind my house.
And too many years of catching big bass on topwaters, spinnerbaits, and swimbaits at Lake El Salto in Mexico has spoiled me; mining the depths with finesse baits just isn’t appealing.
So I’ve been heading over to my neighbor’s dock once or twice a week to fish with him for bluegill, catfish, and --- my favorite! --- grass carp. He has an automated feeder that throws out pellets at 6:30 and again at 9, and the fish start gathering there about 6, along with turtles, ducks, and even a muskrat for the second feeding.
Only problem is that the fish have become so conditioned to eating pellets that they now ignore worms and even the bread balls that I offer the carp.
My friend turned off the feeder for a week and we tried fishing again last night, hoping that the fish would be more cooperative.
A few bluegill ate worms, as did a big softshell turtle. But both catfish and carp still wouldn’t touch our baits.
Finally, about 8:30, a few dimples started to appear on the surface of the calm, clear lake. Hoping that I could entice a big bluegill or a small bass, I started throwing a small minnow bait with an ultralight. It wasn’t my first choice. But it was rigged and ready.
About the fourth or fifth cast, with the bait only a few feet from the dock, a long, gray fish suddenly dashed out of deeper water and grabbed it.
Turned out to be a 5-pound-plus channel catfish, not bad for 6-pound line and a buggy whip rod.
That surprise element is one of the most appealing things about fishing for me. And it can come at any moment.
While fishing for bass in Oklahoma a few years ago, I caught a 20-pound-plus flathead catfish on a spinnerbait. And up in Nebraska, I caught a 20-4 northern pike on a smallmouth jig. In the Florida Keys, I dueled a goliath grouper for 45 minutes, after it ate a small grouper that I was reeling in.
And way back during my college years, I was bringing in a small bass that had eaten my topwater. As I reeled it the last couple of feet to shore, a tremendous explosion showered me with water and a fierce yank nearly pulled the rod from my hands. I never saw what ate the little bass and nearly hooked itself on my lure, but that brief moment in time will be forever with me.
When you throw out that bait . . . you just never know.