“The pond we will be fishing today is overstocked” my friend told me as we motored down the two lane asphalt road towards our destination. “The owner insists that we keep every fish we can catch. I promised him we would do just that”. The pines and scrub oaks flashed past the rolled up windows of my SUV, now laden with a thick layer of that yellow-green airborne gift we southerners are accustomed to receiving each spring. “Will it be mostly bass in this pond?” I inquired. “No, there is a mixed bag of bass, crappie, and bluegill in it’ he responded. “You know, it has been a long winter and I really don’t care what kind of fish we catch. I just want to get hooked up to a few feisty fish today” I replied. “Well, you know what they say ‘The tug is the drug’ “was my buddies’ response.
“Turn left at that dirt road just ahead’ I was instructed. The trip had been relatively short and that suited me just fine. Fish Fever had me in its grips and the sooner I could get a lure in the water the better. About a mile into the dusty old road, a small pond came into view. It was not large and appeared to have been manmade and quite old. “Do you know how long this pond has been here?” I asked. “Not entirely certain, but more than a hundred years. So, the fish have had lots of time to grow old and fat”. “Just like me!” I said. We both laughed at that one.
I pulled my truck up to pond’s edge and opened the driver’s door. It creaked and groaned just like my worn out old knees. George had already exited the vehicle, bouncing merrily towards the back liftgate. I sometimes think he just enjoys showing off his amazing level of fitness. I never know whether to be dumbfounded at his agility or jealous since we are exactly the same age. “Hurry up and get this open so we can get after those bass” George said impatiently. The tailgate at last opened and George collected his tackle box and headed down to the small aluminum boat tied off on a scrub oak at the water’s edge. Meanwhile, I rummaged around and found the smallish bag with my gear in it. “Damnation!” I muttered. “What’s the matter?” George asked. “I forgot my big tackle box! Left it on the shelf in the garage. Just in too much of a rush to get back on the water.” “Well, don’t fret” said George. “I have plenty of lures and rigging stuff. Of course, tackle is never cheap on the water!” He laughed out loud, and was so amused at his own wittiness that he continued to chuckle as I walked to the boat, my pitifully small bag in one hand and my favorite bass rod and spinning reel combo in the other. “At least I did remember my fishing rod” I added, frustration showing on my face.
We loaded our stuff into the boat and assumed our fishing positions. I took the bow, George seated comfortably in the stern. We donned the inflatable lift vests we found onboard, and I picked up the broad wooden paddle that had been lying on the deck. “Where should we start, George?” I wondered, deferring to my friend’s greater fishing experience and knowledge. “That blowdown on the far bank looks good to me” he snorted, knowing it lay at the far end of the pond. “Are you serious?” I asked. “Well, actually, yes. I have fished this pond a couple of times and those submerged branches hold lots of bass waiting to ambush baitfish. Sorry it is so far away.” In a display of false bravado, I replied “Hey, not a problem. I have been working out hard on a rowing machine. No sweat. I got this”. We both knew I was lying.
We eventually made it. George even claimed to be willing to do some of the paddling, but I insisted on preserving my male ego by doggedly keeping at it. Once we were at a proper casting distance from the tree, George rifled through his box. “I think I’ll start with a green lizard rigged Carolina style. He was ready in record time and began a series of skillful casts, dragging the plastic lizard past the length of the tree. No takers. Meanwhile, I realized that I had but three lures with me. My bag contained a pumpkin colored plastic worm, a medium square billed crankbait in shad colors, and a white buzzbait. I considered asking George for something else, but decided against it. “George,” I am such a good fisherman that I bet you a Coke that I will outfish you with just these baits”. “OK. You’re on, my friend”. I tied on the crankbait since George was using a plastic bait on the bottom. I like those square bills since they usually will bump up against underwater wood and just pop over the obstruction rather than hanging up. PLOP! Into the water it went on the opposite side of the tree. I worked the bait back but again, no response. George and I worked that tree for maybe fifteen minutes before deciding to make a move. I paddled us to a group of promising looking stumps and we began casting. George casted left and I went right. We fished in silence for a few minutes before George said “ No hits yet, so I am changing”. He cut off the lizard and put on jerk bait. “ Hmmm, I said, kidding my good friend, “ That seems appropriate!” We shared a laugh and George cast again. He worked that bait close to an old cypress stump and WHAM! A huge strike. “Looks like you got a nibble there, George”, I said as he set the hook and tightened his drag slightly. “Yeah, I think so too” he said, turning his reel handle in intermittent circling motions. We peered into the dark waters straining to see the fish. The bass leaped into the air writhing in midair and fell back to the water. “HOOWEE!!” exclaimed George. “That’s a good one, George” I said. “Be careful with him”. “Oh I got him, don’t you worry” George said, reaching towards the bass with a landing net. He soon held the fish by the lip posing for a hero shot. “George, I hate to tell you this, but I forgot my camera too!” “Well, no problem. I am just happy to have caught this guy. Maybe I’ll get a quick photo at home before he goes into my frying pan”. The fish suddenly wiggled and jumped out of George’s hand and back into the water. “Guess we won’t be taking that one home!” he said.
I made numerous casts but without success. I too decided to change lures. I went with my plastic worm and soon resumed casting. After twenty minutes of effort, I suggested we try another spot. We moved to a shallow flat type area with aquatic grass along the bank. I tried my worm what seemed like a thousand times but not even a bump. George was not having any better luck, so once more we made a move. A brush pile in the middle of the pond held promise, and we set up near it. George exchanged his lure once more for a spinnerbait. He offered one to me, but of course, I demurred, having bet I could outfish him with my meager gear. We made multiple presentations around the brush and were once more disappointed. It seemed neither George nor I could even buy a fish.
By now we had been on the water for nearly three hours, with only a single bass for our efforts, and that one had escaped. “All right, George. It’s crunch time. I am going to my last lure- a buzzbait. If this doesn’t work, I’ll say uncle”. I have had good success with buzzbaits in the past and seeing a surface strike on one is always thrilling. George also changed, now going to a broken back rebel. I paddled us around the perimeter of the pond, casting repetitively as close as I dared to the stumps and tree trunks along the bank. Still no luck. For his part, George remained stoic, secure in having a one fish lead on me. He was getting no bites either. After an hour of trying, it was clear that I had been defeated by both George and the fish. “OK. I give. Time to pack it in George. You win”. I wound in my lure for the last time for that trip. I looked down at the buzzbait and was totally shocked by what I saw. The bait was new, having recently been purchased from the local Gander Mountain store. “Well, it is no wonder why I didn’t get a strike on this bait!” “What is wrong?” George asked. I sheepishly held the lure up in front of his face. The brilliant shiny white store tag was still wrapped firmly in place around the hook, rendering it completely useless! I had forgotten to remove it in my haste to land a fish. I was beyond embarrassed, but after a short silence, George and I burst into laughter. “I do not have a fish, but I have a great fish story!” I exclaimed. “Man that Coke is gonna taste extra good today!” said George. I guess the tackle box and the camera weren’t all I forgot today”. I said. “What else did you leave at home?” George asked. “The most important piece of gear of all- my brain!