Return to Fishing by Steve Scaramastro
The last time I went fishing was April of 2018. I work in a VERY cyclical business and we have been in a horrible downturn for the past few years. My income has been cut by 90% and I havenít even wanted to spend the gas money to go to the lake. Compounding the problems at work are that the few times when I felt I had to go fishing to keep my sanity, the boat gave me problems.
The first time was a few months ago. Iíd had enough of the stress and decided I had to go fishing. I hooked up the boat, drove two hours to the lake, and on the ramp discovered my batteries were dead. They were fine the week before when I tested everything, but I had just wasted a day, and several hours of driving for nothing.
I was so disgusted with the whole thing that I parked the boat, covered it, and didnít even want to think about it anymore. A few months later I again hit a point where I had to go to keep my sanity. I uncovered the boat only to find that in my fit of anger on the prior trip, Iíd neglected to remove the plug, and my boat had slowly been flooded as it sat in the driveway. Weíve had a crazy rainy spring and so much water leaked into the boat that it filled my bilge completely. My fuel tank, and battery charger were completely submerged, and had been for weeks. Luckily, Iíd pulled the batteries after the last trip. One was completely out of the boat, and the other two were still hooked up, but were on top of the deck. I almost puked when I saw it. At a time when there was no money, I had done something that might cost me a bunch of it. At the least I figured the battery charger was toast, and I might have water in my fuel tank as well.
Three days later I it was dry enough to check everything, to my absolute astonishment, the battery charger was fine! When Min-Kota says something is water proof, I believe them. That thing has sat underwater for God knows how long and continued to charge the batteries to which it was connected.
I had averted a disaster. A few weeks ago, I had a buddy in town and we were going to go fishing. I pulled the cover off my boat and saw was infested with ants. I mean every hatch you opened revealed a crawling mound of thousands of ants all scurrying around with eggs. Again, I almost puked. We changed our fishing plans to do some bank fishing.
That weekend I killed all the ants and cleaned the boat from stem-to-stern. It was ready to go the next time I wanted it. I rented a cabin at the lake and told the family we were going for the weekend. By God, I was going fishing. Everyone was so happy. I got there first, put the boat in, and let it idle for a bit while I rigged some last-minute tackle. Everything was great. The guy next to me commented on my motor being so quiet, and how heíd always been impressed with the Suzukiís. it is indeed a very quiet motor, many times people canít even tell itís running.
Then I idled out of the marina, hit the gas and was super excited to be back on the water. The boat was taking a while to get on plane. Something didnít feel right. About two hundred yards out, under full throttle, the boat began sinking back into the water. Power was fading and there wasnít going to be a hole-shot today. Now the motor was sputtering, then it died. My God, could my luck get any worse?
I was able to limp back to the marina and barely got the boat back on the trailer. All I could think was that the fuel had gone bad. The motor was sputtering and had zero power. It also acted like it was missing on a cylinder. I reacted as calmly as I could, devised a plan, then executed some basic maintenance. I manually pumped all the fuel out into some gas cans I got from my park ranger buddy, then went to town and put new fuel in it. Sadly, that didnít fix the problem.
I dropped the boat with a guy I trust and told him to call me when it was fixed. He said it would be two or three weeks. To my surprise it took just three days. Bad spark plugs. I couldnít check them at the lake because I didnít have a long enough extension to reach them, they are buried in the head on this motor. Yesterday I drove to the lake to get the boat and get back to fishing. This was it, for the first time in almost a year and a half, I was finally going to get an afternoon of fishing.
I put the boat in the water like it was a new toy on Christmas morning. I exited the marina so happy that I actually made a video of the event. I pointed the boat north, hit the gas, annnnnnd there was a problem. The stern dropped like it was trying to launch, the RPMís screamed past redline, and the boat hardly moved. I actually couldnít believe it at first. Was this really happening? Is the boat broken again? This canít be happening to me. I tried again, just in case the first time I was hallucinating. Same deal, RPMís screamed but the boat went nowhere. This was looking like it would be my fifth failed fishing trip in a row.
Recognizing that every mechanical problem has a mechanical solution (rather than an emotional one) I trimmed the motor up to start diagnosing my newest problem. I wanted to scream and cuss, but as far as I know, that method has never fixed a motor. I stood on the stern for a moment, expecting to find a prop that had spun on the shaft or some other horrid problem. In the time it took to blink once or twice, a water-logged branch in the shape of a ďYĒ drifted up from below my motor. ďCould that be the problem? Could it really be that simple? Was that thing somehow interfering with my motor?Ē
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best, so I sat back at the helm, hit the gas and rejoiced as the boat shot onto plane. There was a ton of wood floating in the lake due to heavy rains and higher water levels weíve seen this year. Iíd have to pay close attention to the garbage in the water today.
The Plan of Attack
I settled into an approach that used a 4-inch Zara Spook as my first attack, followed by a 10-foot diving crankbait, then lastly a Texas rigged lizard. This would allow me to try to cover the entire water column and try to pick up any aggressive bass in the area first. I really wanted to get nailed on that Spook though. I thought about throwing the thing all afternoon regardless of the outcome.
The first few hours were uneventful. I tried a few spots and made a few miles of low-speed sonar runs looking for bait. On this lake itís a common occurrence to find clouds of bait that fill the water column from the surface to the bottom and run hundreds of yards long. Yesterday I could find nothing though. It was almost eerily quiet down there.
Later in the afternoon I found myself in a long, wide creek that juts south off the main river. Iíd caught nothing to that point in the day, but as the sun got lower my odds would only improve. I pulled up on a point that formed the south side of a very small cove, the mouth of which isnít even 100 yards wide. The summer is in full swing, with over 18 inches of rain in the past month and a half. The foliage is lush and green, forming an impenetrable emerald wall at the forest edge as it rises to great heights on the hills above you. As I idled into the placid water at the base of the cliff, that emerald green forest reflected at me from the surface of the lake. It felt like a good time to be on the water.
The sun was behind the hills, shadows were growing long, and there was just enough breeze to keep you from roasting. An ancient dead cedar tree had fallen off the edge of the hill some years earlier, its roots still attached to the cliff 12 feet above, with its bone-white, sun-bleached branches dipping into the rocky, watery depths below. If anything in this lake held a bass, this tree was it.
This part of the shore is formed by several miles of high rolling hills that drop sharply into the lake. As you idle down the bank youíll have towering forested hills along the shore, plunging cliffs, draws where the hills drain into the lake, and coves of various sizes. Sometimes the cliffs and ledges will be made of dirt or sandstone, and other times will be some type of rock. Some of those rocks are solid, while others break up into large square chunks of granite looking stone. Gravel bars transition in and out the entire way. IMG_20190718_180448
by s s
, on Flickr
You might idle past a long stretch of flat muddy bottom at the base of a cliff, then watch it transition to gravel and chunk rock as you approach a point that forms the mouth of the creek. All along the way youíll pass the skeletons of trees that fell into the lake long ago, their arms reaching up for the surface, sometimes breaching it and many times not. In many places the cliffs drop to the lakes surface right next to the creek channel. When this happens youíll basically have two sheer drops, one above the surface, and another just below. At the base of a vertical wall youíll have a small bank of gravel, then two feet off the bank youíll drop into 20 to 30 feet of water. I canít tell you how many times Iíve had a lure get destroyed six inches away from the bank on this lake. Bass will feed and shelter in and amongst the craggy rocky bottom in even just a few inches of water at times.
That was the scene in which I operated yesterday afternoon. I idled into glassy water near the skeleton of the ancient cedar and began to dissect the area. I started by running the Spook past the end of the tree, just where it dropped into the deepest water. I ďwalked the dogĒ several times with my spinning rod but got no action, and switched to a Texas rigged lizard. I was just 10 feet off the bank and made a soft cast diagonally into the branches nearest the shore. Dense woody structure that dropped into a boulder strewn body of water had to contain a bass, there was no doubt in my mind. Bump. I got hit right away.
My first fish of the day was a small specimen of a largemouth bass. I didnít care at all about the size of that fish. The notable achievements here were that my boat was officially back in action, that my instincts were correct on how to adapt and catch bass, and that my hard-headed tenacity to not quit when things were bad had led directly to success. Itís always important to reinforce that behavior: never quit.
As I tossed that bass back to the warm waters of the Tennessee River I looked northward up the bank. Once I passed this cedar tree, the bank made a big transition over the next few yards. The cliff in front of me became less muddy and more rocky, and the waterline was less weeds and more gravel. I eased up the bank and watched the thick green weeds give way to the round tan pebbles that built up and formed the point. Scattered across the gravel were larger block of rock that ranged from fist sized, up to the size of a lunchbox. As I approached the point the bottom dropped off sharply into deep water.
The bank sloped quickly, which creates a strange feeling while dragging a bait on the bottom. I watched as my cast delivered a watermelon fleck lizard right up against the bank. I could see the lizard, half in and half out of the water, sitting between two fist sized rocks. I slowly dragged it into the lake and watched as it tumbled out of view just two feet away from the bank. The ledge dropped off and I lost feel of it for a few seconds. Soon enough I felt it hit the bottom and began my retrieve. I could feel it get hung on a rock here or there, and with a gentle bit of finagling I could free it, dragging it up and over the obstacle. All the while I kept a fine feel for the lure to see if anything down there was fooling with it.
On the first few casts I felt the distinct triple-tap, machine gun type hit that a bluegill will deliver to something thatís annoying him. I smiled. It was nice to finally be in touch with something, even if it wasnít the adversary I was after. Nature was here, and it still worked like itís supposed to.IMG_20190718_192428
by s s
, on Flickr
On perhaps my fourth cast, Iíd worked the bait as far as I thought was necessary and was about to reel it in when it felt like something hit my pole with a steel rod. A small steel rod mind you, the type a fish could swing, but the jolt was unmistakable. Something had hit my lure hard, and then abandoned it. That told me the depth zone I needed to work. I cast again and quickly got my lure to the zone. BAM! I again got hit, but this time I reeled down, swept back, and set the hook. A fight was on!
It knew it wasnít a big fish, but it was doing an admirable job of fighting. When I got it near the surface, that changed. As soon as we saw each other, that fish hit the gas and dove straight down. It ran so hard that I thought my line might break. My rod was bent hard and I kept waiting for the drag to slip, but I got no help from the reel. The fish must have strained the line right up to the weight where the drag would kick in, I was surprised at the fight in this little guy. When I got him up to the surface again I discovered the reason: smallmouth. I plucked him from the water, removed the hook and just marveled at this fish for a moment. A greenish/bronze fighter with dark green tiger stripes on his face, and he never met an aquatic creature he couldnít whoop.
I tossed him back and as I re-rigged my poor lizard, I took in the beauty of this place. I was afloat on the clear waters of Pickwick Lake, standing on my boat at the base of high, green, forested hills, surrounded by natural beauty. I could see miles of creek, sheer rock cliffs, ribbons of shoreline that were donned with gravel and chunk rock, submerged trees sticking up from their watery graves every thirty yards or so, and beautiful coves every two hundred yards. Around that time, I heard war drums. Thunder was rumbling through the hills. I turned and looked up the creek to my north and saw that the hills and hollows on the north side of the river were slowly disappearing into a mass of gray clouds and sheets of rain. It was at least six miles to my north, but Iíd have to check the radar. I had a ten-mile run to my truck and I really didnít want to get caught in a thunderstorm.
My next cast was with the spook. After hooking that smallmouth I had visions in my head of luring a huge bronze-back out of the depths, then watching it destroy the big white top-water bait before going on an unending run of breaches and tail-walks. I had to throw it.IMG_20190718_193706
by s s
, on Flickr
This particular Spook is solid white, and Iíve got blood red trebles on it. The hooks are new, sharp, and ready for action. I parked the lure a few feet off shore, further into the cove and around the area where the rock bank starts to transition to mud. Iíd twitch that spinning rod a few times, making the Spook jump and throw water everywhere. It makes quite a disturbance in this tranquil setting. If two frogs had an MMA fight on top of glassy water, this is what it would look like. Everything in the area had to be hearing this. Twitch twitch twitchÖBAM! On the second set of twitches, a fish came up from the rocky depths and hammered it. I saw a flash of green-sides, white-belly, and red hooks rolling and then disappear.
The fish wasnít big, but the moment was big. I was now back on the lake and things were going my way. The boat was doing like it should, the fish were doing like they should, I was out in the wild, and focused like a laser on the fishing. Everything was perfect.MVIMG_20190718_195811
by s s
, on Flickr
It was getting late, the hills to the north were getting slashed with wind and rain, and I decided to hit one or two more spots on the way to the ramp. I caught maybe five or six bass that evening. None of them were big, but it was a triumphant return. I had just fished alone in the heat for six hours with no breaks and no food. It was crazy hot. I was a sweaty mess. I was a long way from the truck, and I had a long drive home. I pulled up my trolling motor and stood on the bow for a moment to take everything in. The air was still and humid. The water as flat as glass with the green forest above reflecting back at me. The only noise was that of a few frogs winding up for the nights festivities. A bird flew by in absolute silence. In that last moment of the day I was soaked in solitude. I had finally achieved that mind-clearing, stress-relieving state that only time in nature can deliver. Itís been missing in my life for a long time, but itís back.
See you on the water,