A Float Tube, A Bass Pond and The Fly Shtick!
With visions of catching my first Pa. largemouth with a fly rod, and good company, the 45-minute walk to the big pond, they call a swamp, didn’t seem too take that long. Besides that, the early morning hike was good conditioning for the ankle and leg joints for the next 4 hours or so of float tubing.
Standing along the breast of the small dam I started unpacking my gear while Jeff started inflating his float tube.
Looking down over the pond the weathered gray lifeless tree trunks are strewn out, individually, around the middle and far side of the pond. You just know there are big bass lurking deep along their sunken base. With the early morning stillness and knowing we are ‘back in’ made for an eerie feel. The water is calm and reflecting the cloud cover above. Rays of sun penetrate through the forest trees as it begins to rise over the hillside behind us. There’s geese honking in the distance wakening to their undisturbed domain. I notice ripples atop the water where fish are already scouring the shoreline shallows in search of food before the heat of the noon day sun.
After patching a small pinhole in my 15 some year old round float tube and refilling it with air, Jeff and I start down the grassy bank to begin our largemouth quest. Jeff fins his U-tube towards the strewn out crop of sawed off tree trunks as I head for the left shoreline.
I tie on a #10 orange Humpy and cast to the first rise a distance away from the shoreline ripples. I lay a straight smooth soft cast and my Humpy drops on the water surface peaceful like. A little twitch and a quick response I set the hook and bring in a small bluegill. Finning a little closer to shore I drop the Humpy where the ripples were earlier without a response. Slowly I drift and fin my way up the shoreline casting into the shallows. Another soft landing and I watch a ripple in the water toward my fly. A small swirl and my Humpy disappears. I pull back and set the hook. This time it’s no bluegill. A small fight and I reel in a 9" largemouth. Not a big one but a largemouth no doubt. My first in Pa. with the fly shtick.
"Got one," I yell out to Jeff somewhere in the open water.
"Orange Humpy, ‘bout 9""
I float out a distance from the shore and start tossing out a brown bead-head woolly bugger amongst the tree stubble around me. With each cast I concentrate on my backcast and then forward rod movement. The wrong timing and the heavy bugger may swat off my hat or worse yet latch into my float tube.
Watching my fly line sink with the weighted bugger my line starts to pull away. I already have my slack pulled in. I learned this from fishing down south last summer in a private lake.
Down in Virginia, My girlfriend’s brother-in-law asked if I wanted to fish Sunday morning in the small lake in the private development he lives in. I was hoping to fish the blue-ridge parkway but time wouldn’t allow it. Fishing’s, fishing so what the heck! We rowed out in his john-boat Sunday morn. There was a wind against us the whole morning so rowing into the wind wasn’t too fun. We’d anchor where the hot spots were suppose to be but not many largemouth cooperated. He lent me a spinning rod and I threw stick baits, rapala’s and spinner baits and other contraptions. He had his 3 or 4 rods in the back of the boat preloaded with his favorite lures. It wasn’t a contest by any means. Let’s face it, it’s his home waters and he’s a southern boy. They grow up warm water fishing. I, being a yank, just tried to keep things close. When the wind finally died down after a few hours I couldn’t resist piecing together my 5 wt. 4 Piece fly rod. A little under-power but like I said I had planned on fishing the blue-ridge for trout. We weren’t catching any big hawgs and I know how to play big fish anyhow. I tied on a beadhead brown woolly bugger and stripped out some line from my reel. He sat back and watched. I false casted until I got enough line out and shot the bugger in front of the rock shoreline. As my bugger sank I thought I had a strike but by the time I got the slack out and tried to set the hook, well no dice. After a few failures I figured the bass were taking the bugger on the way down, unlike most trout. I usually leave slack in the line until I get to the right depth and then let the bugger swing. Being in the lake I was waiting for it to drop and then I’d strip it in. I finally figured out to keeping the line tight at all times and being that the bass had big mouths and I was using only a size 10 bugger I must set the hook quick and hard. After catching on, I started to catch bass more often than we did earlier. It got to the point he just enjoyed watching me and rowed down the shoreline as I tossed the bugger to hungry bass. I didn’t catch any whoppers but I did show the southerner us northerners can catch bass too!!
As my bugger falls, my line pulls away, I heave my 9’6" rod up and back setting the hook into the fish’s jaw. The bass fights forward, surfaces, than dives deep towards the shoreline, still some distance away. The fly line runs through my tensioned fingers until the bass draws it to the reel. I let the reel drag take the fight along with the rod and occasionally palm the open spool. If I was wading I could put the butt in my gut for leverage but being in a round float tube I have to use both hands on the rod and stiff wrists. The bass’s force actually moves me and my tube towards him. Feeling the line tension in its mouth it turns to the left and proceeds to fight its way out to deeper water. Seeing the distance and tug of the fish will bring an exposed tree trunk between us. I struggle with my legs and fins towards the shallows to eliminate the trunk between us. I have no choice but to give the bass more line, as not to tension him too much that he will double back completely around the tree. With my fly line against the tree I reach my rod out towards the shoreline continuing to struggle around the tree.
It worked, the bass straight lined it enough I am able to get around the tree. Now it’s open water between the bass and I. I put the brakes on and let the rod bend putting pressure on the bass to turn. With a little struggle he turns and retreats towards me. Laying the bass on my stripping apron he ‘stretches’ out to about 15".
"BROWN BEADHEAD BUGGER" I yell out to Jeff, "NICE ONE!"
Through the rest of the morning Jeff and I fin around casting in and around the tree trunks. I finally notice some riffles along a peninsula of flat grass jutting out into the water. I fin my way towards the peninsula and find I’m able to stand up in thick moss and branches on the bottom. I tie on a green cork popper and toss it over towards the shallows. I continue to toss the popper and slowly strip it in while twitching my rod tip to make it pop. Casting over to where I thought a deeper channel was that led to the shallow waters, I set the hook on an aggressive bluegill. Again I see riffles along the shore but this time I cast up and away from the fish in hopes he moves that way along the bank. I hesitate a second than slowly strip and twitch the popper towards me. A riffle starts to follow as I try to keep the same speed of the cork popper coming towards me. The bass inhales the cork and I set the hook. A little fight and I bring in another largemouth about 12" or so.
The morning ended with the sun high in the white clouded and blue sky. I thought at first it was the heat that softened my float tube but found out otherwise. The longer I tried to fish the softer the tube got and the deeper I sat.
"You look like an Amish straw hat in that round tube" Jeff blurted out.
I turned around and back finned towards the shore where we put in. I could have finned my way to the closest shoreline but I found out last year fins in soft mud doesn’t work like snowshoes in snow!!
The closer I got to shore the more the tube softened and the more water creeped over my bib chest waders under my armpits. Upon reaching dry land I tugged the tube up the hill and started pumping air in it to see where the leak was. Needless to say the more air I pumped into it, the small seam hole I found got bigger and bigger until it broke wide open. Whew, a close one. I couldn’t imagine being out in the middle in my neoprene chest waders with a sinking float tube!
The walk out took a little longer than the walk in with a few more rest stops. Jeff and I conversed about the usual things we do. Fishing and hunting and of course steelhead fishing. I guess I was so excited about catching my first PA. largemouth on a fly rod this morning I forgot to bring a cigar for the walk back!