With cool days already here and fall coming officially this weekend, I think back fondly to an October fishing trip to a farm pond when I was 15.
When I was 8, I caught my first fish (as well as a dog or two) on bacon. From there, I graduated to worms, my bait of choice for most of my childhood. I found the wigglers by turning over cow patties in a nearby pasture. Of course, the poop had to be aged to just the right texture to attract the critters. I turned over many that weren’t.
Although I fished exclusively with worms for years, I carried a couple of “lures” in my single-tray tackle box. One of them was a knockoff Bass Oreno and the other an inline spinner. They came with a fishing kit that I bought through an advertisement in the back of a comic book.
But I didn’t catch a bass on artificial bait until I discovered the plastic worm on a propeller rig. That was my first “confidence” bait.
It also inspired me to fish with other lures more often. Using money that I made from babysitting, cutting weeds, and cleaning boats, I bought a yellow Hula Popper, an orange jointed Inch Minnow, and a Shannon Twin Spin.
I never caught a fish on the Twin Spin --- and still haven’t --- while the Inch Minnow proved a great bait for catching bluegill and green sunfish in farm ponds.
But the Hula Popper. Wow! On that memorable October afternoon, I cast the popper nearly all the way across Turner’s pond. The water was flat calm.
Based on years of experience since and what I have learned from the pros, if I were to throw a topwater on water that still today, I probably would twitch it.
But I had nothing to guide me in the proper technique that fall day. And, since the bait was a “popper,” I popped it. In fact, I popped it as hard as I possibly could, sending ripples all across that pond.
As the pond returned to glasslike following my second pop, water under the lure exploded, and I suddenly was tied fast to the biggest bass that I had ever hooked.
Of course, it wasn’t large enough to pull drag on my Johnson Century spincast reel. But at 3 pounds, it was a trophy in my eyes as I dragged it up on the bank. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the sight of that fish, and, after I had placed it on my rope stringer, I looked down to see my hands still shaking.
In the decades since, I’ve caught thousands of bass larger than the one that I caught at Turner’s pond that fall day, including more than a dozen that weighed 10 pounds or more.
But I’ve never caught one that excited me more than that 3-pounder did. In honor of that, I’ve kept that old yellow Arbogast Hula Popper as one of my most treasured keepsakes. And when fall comes for another year, I always think of that special day.